Captain Marvel (2019)
Director: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Cast: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn
Synopsis: Carol Danvers becomes one of the universe's most powerful heroes when Earth is caught in the middle of a galactic war between two alien races.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive language)
Runtime: 2 hr 3 min
Release Date: March 8, 2019
The ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe has seen virtually nothing but success since its inception with Jon Favreau's Iron Man in 2008. In merely a decade, the comic book studio has produced a staggering 20 films, all intricately (though at times a little messily) intertwined with each other. It is truly, for lack of a better word, a marvel in itself that the studio has managed to retain the aesthetic quality of its films so consistently for so many years.
The twenty-first entry in this universe is the studio's first female led-film in Captain Marvel. The origin story of the title character, played by Academy Award winner Brie Larson, surrounds her life as she tries to piece together distant memories of her past while living amongst the Kree civilization as they battle the shape-shifting Skrull alien race.
Let's start with the good.
Captain Marvel delivers another fun dose of entertainment we have come to expect from these films. The humor, though not as sharp or witty as we're used to seeing (as we'll get to later) still delivers a few laughs and creates the satisfying light mood that the film wholeheartedly embraces. For her part, Larson certainly enjoys her role, and gives a strong performance as a character desperately searching for her identity while also delivering some comedy herself, especially with her interactions with Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).
The film's visual effects stand out, but not in the conventional sense of the word. Yes, the action scenes are expectedly visually solid just like other Marvel films, but the de-aging processes used in the film, particularly on Samuel L. Jackson, is strikingly realistic and one of the best examples I have seen in a film to date (the recreation of a character in Blade Runner 2049 still tops my list). You honestly forget that Jackson is 70 years old, not the forty-something man we see alongside Captain Marvel. This process, done by Industrial Light and Magic, is what it's cracked up to be--a game changer in the filmmaking business. We're rapidly approaching the point where virtually any actor, no matter the age, can play a vastly different aged character. It's an exciting development and process and one that'll likely only continue to improve as the years progress.
Now comes the bad.
Despite revealing a pleasing surprise regarding Marvel's past, Captain Marvel lacks the smarter, more character engaging writing that defined many of the Marvel films before it. Though Larson gives it her best, her character is undeniably flat for most of the film, with little depth or compelling material to benefit from. Part of this comes from the fact that the film is so pre-occupied with investigating her past, that it does very little with her present. By the time we have finally unearthed her true self, the film is over halfway over, with very little story or room left for her to grow.
The dialogue is also choppy at times, and the film's humor is largely contained to incorporating Goose the cat (who of course, is computer-generated for most of the moments), rather than opting for far more interesting and flavorful opportunities amongst its characters.
The 90's setting, largely advertised prior to the film, is disappointingly underutilized. The best sequence is (you guessed it) seen in the trailer where Marvel crashes through a Blockbuster video store--a clever play on the film's blockbuster status and the mode of movie rentals pre-streaming era. Some other technologies come into play briefly--like an audio file on a CD taking a minute to load in a computer and Marvel slowly doing a web search before search engine giant Google arrived on the scene. But, in a golden opportunity lost, the 90's world largely ceases to exist after these moments, and instead the setting moves to the desert and space, away from any possible interaction with customs, styles, and technology of the decade.
Captain Marvel is sporadically entertaining, but it lacks the stronger humor, depth, and more engaging stories of previous Marvel entries, and sits in the lower third of the studio's canon of films. While the first installment in a franchise is typically the strongest, one can hope Captain Marvel breaks that norm.
Written by Anthony Watkins, March 17, 2019