***Spoiler Warning: Spoilers for Captain Marvel follow. If you’ve not yet seen it, what are you doing here? Spoilers! ***
There’s a pivotal psychological moment that plays out live from Carol Danvers’ memories that will strike just the right chord in most anyone’s mind and rings especially true to those who’ve overcome obstacles, whether gendered, racial, parental or worldly. We are all flawed and mixed up in our own ways, been knocked down by circumstance or misstep, fallen and gotten back up, but through the course of our lives, we don’t often take a moment to flash back on our own resilient natures. With our world reflected in the movies we watch, so many times we’ve seen that boy on the beach, sand kicked in his face and a determination to reframe his life, but as similar memories course through Carol, it becomes perfectly clear what we’ve been missing. The simple opportunity to see our stories from varied and our own points of view carries a power that transcends the screen, lends credence to our experiences in a way that feeds our starved inner selves, replaces an emptiness we didn’t truly know was there until we felt the fullness. As the walls break down and doors open wide to mirror outside a blindered viewpoint, there can only be the triumph of shared experiences. It is no longer only Captain America or Iron Man running in to save the world; it is Black Panther, it is Miles Morales, it is Black Widow, it is Captain Marvel and it is about goddamn time.
With a hint of Star Wars (got something up your sleeves, Mickey?) and some Guardians of the Galaxy backstory, we’re off to planet Hala where (Carol Dan)”Vers” (Brie Larson) trains with her mentor, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), a shifty mansplainer who taunts her with snide remarks about controlling her emotions to direct her power the way he’d like. Haunted by swirling memories of a life she can’t quite place, our heroine seeks clarity with the AI Supreme Commander who’s supposed to take the form of someone close to Vers, but Dr. Wendy Lawson (Annette Bening) seems a stranger. Confused by flashbacks that hold hidden importance for her and others, we’re thrown into the middle of a precarious mission, ostensibly to rescue a fellow Starforce member from a group of shapeshifting Skrulls — led by Ben Mendelsohn’s Talos — who capture Vers to dig around in her mind. As she rouses and thrillingly escapes, only to drop down in the middle of a Blockbuster Video circa 1995 (intrigued by The Right Stuff), Captain Marvel really hits its stride.
Called in by a wary security guard, a digitally de-aged and always delightful Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) arrives, baby Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) by his side, and the Agents (of S.H.I.E.L.D., that is) take their first of many meetings with an inexplicably powerful woman whose tales of alien invasions bring a smirk to their faces until they’re unable to deny what their own eyes see. It is here that I must stop and rave about Jackson’s utterly perfect timing, and the joy of seeing his expanded onscreen role. The effortless comic to Larson’s semi-straight woman (she does get in a good zinger or two), has me dreaming of the pairing in a buddy-cop show (I’m talking to you, Apple). Whether with cat or Coulson, Fury has a hilarious way with words and he injects the just the necessary lilt that carries us through what could have been an overly-serious film.
Likewise, both Law’s at times hammy Yon-Rogg and Mendelsohn’s spot-on villainous (seemingly) Talos provide excellent side-dishes to Carol Danvers’ unfolding and discovering her own life story; what could have veered into darker DC (Superman, Batman) territory keeps its not-too-melodramatic Marvel feel, mixing fun self-referential and depreciating humor to keep the story floating above any dark clouds. From the action — that subway chase is nothing short of exhilarating — and fights (Talos and Fury, with a nice rescue by Carol) to the quiet moments when Danvers reunites with best friend and fellow pilot, Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) and the adorable “Lieutenant Trouble” aka Monica (Akira Akbar), there’s a lovely ebb and flow under Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s direction. A gentle (well … ) and gingery Goose (played by Reggie, Archie, Rizzo and Gonzo) provides cuddles and laughs aplenty, then later terrifies when revealed to be a Flerken, only one of many fun surprises.
As her real origins and background (as well as details of the Kree and Skrull war) are revealed to her, Carol’s inner strength expands Danvers’ control over her energy-explosion induced powers in a natural evolution. After recovering her memories and understanding who Wendy Lawson was and what the doctor’s work was intended for, Carol and Talos find and decloak the ship that’s been hiding a group of Skrulls — including Talos’ family — and the Tesseract, last seen crushed by Thanos in Infinity War). Of course, this wouldn’t be a Marvel movie without a final showdown and so our fully-formed superhero lights up the sky like she was meant to, easily fighting off Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), Korath (Djimon Hounsou), and her suddenly cowering mentor, her strength rivaling any and all of Avengers (loved that name reveal) that will eventually join forces. In a fun aside and a flick of a claw later, Fury’s eyepatch gets its own origin story, and Danvers promises to help the Skrulls find a safe home. Leaving behind friends old and new, as well as the device that will bring her into the coming Endgame fold, Carol Danvers finally takes her rightful place in the MCU.
The friendship between Maria and Carol read perfectly, and very real — especially as it pertained to their military experience. As someone who was often the only woman, or one of two or three in a platoon of male soldiers, and knowing that feeling of having to prove yourself as qualified to be in that group just by virtue of your different gender, in that aspect the writers and actors hit all the right notes.
I have to give a special shoutout to little Lieutenant Trouble, who stood in for all of us who look up to Carol as a hero. I just really wanted Danvers to permanently give Monica that jacket.
Brie Larson did a great job in her first outing as a superhero; as Danvers, she exudes confidence throughout the film and handled every aspect of the required physicality. It’s inexplicably wonderful to see a woman in a role like this. She saved pretty much everyone, and she was the one ten steps ahead (even as she was trying to recover her memories). And, as my daughter pointed out, it was great to see a movie without a forced or unnecessary love interest/story.
I’d love to see Larson have the opportunity to kick it up a notch in Avengers: Endgame. Her performance here, slightly understated at times, reminds me of Captain America: The First Avenger and how we’ve seen Steve’s confidence and personality expand over the course of films.
Goose! That cat (those cats) were adorable and I love the unpredictable moments — this is one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a Marvel movie.
What a fantastic 90s callback, and how about that soundtrack? Garbage, No Doubt (perfectly placed song), Elastica, Salt-N-Pepa, Hole, TLC (sensing a theme here?), and Nirvana, REM and a perfectly placed NiN shirt.
How about that, women writing, directing, scoring!