Director Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Screenplay Boden, Fleck, Geneva Robertson-Dworet
Starring Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan, Annette Bening, Clark Gregg, Jude Law, Arika Akbar
There is a phrase that the WNBA used when they first started as a league: We Got Next. This of course is a phrase that epitomized the league for those who were marketing it. Namely, NBA executives looking to fill the NBA arenas in the offseason. You know, during the summer, after the boys were through playing. As a season ticket holder to the ABL’s Seattle Reign, which had been the standing league before its resources were drained by the money of the NBA, I always resented the saying. The ABL played during the winter and early spring. You know, basketball season. The NBA couldn’t have that, though. No girls on the court when it’s time for boys.
As I got older, got married and became the father of two headstrong girls, I appreciated that perhaps all of these superhero films and space fantasy’s might not be as appealing. As it stands, only one of the two gave a damn about movies, and the other liked Rey, and that’s about it.
Em, the oldest, has been with me since this Marvel odyssey began and she liked the movies in ways different than me. She’s team Iron Man and I am ever team Cap. That most of the films featured boy superheroes is something we considered feintly. We both enjoyed Black Widow, especially when realizing she could do as much without the powers as many of the men could with theirs.
When other heroes came in, we didn’t talk too much about it. I really enjoy Wanda, even if it took a while to get her character rolling. As limited emotionally as Gamora appeared in opposition to her sister, Nebula, each has grown in vitality through subsequent appearances. We both were excited to see Hope Van Dyne take up the mantle of The Wasp, even if it took a couple of films to make it happen. All along, though, we’ve enjoyed the universe because it feels inhabited by real people.
Still, as the father of girls, one can’t help but want them to see people in their own image succeed in saving the day once in a while. Marvel’s taken their time getting to the point where their product is unshakably reliable. In the back of my mind, I wonder how much of this is a parallel to We Got Next, with different suits in charge. They’ve taken these baby steps in expanding their universe and so far it feels pretty livable for both father and daughter.
As part of the Kree Starforce, Vers (Larson) has been hunting the shapeshifting Skrulls, who, we are told, are in pursuit of a superweapon. This device will change the tide of the war in the favor of the opposition. In the midst of an early battle, Vers finds out snippets of her past life which she’d not seen in the six years since she was delivered to Hala, which is the capital planet of the Kree Empire.
Things go kind of sideways from there, and Vers begins her own mission in pursuit of the weapon before the Skrulls can find it. This quest brings her to Earth and in the realm of Nick Fury (Jackson) who at this point is a desk jockey working alongside Colson in S.H.I.E.L.D.
Soon they come into contention with their opponents, lead by the ever charming Ben Mendelsohn. The first few battles go about as expected, and then things begin to take a turn.
Captain Marvel feels like it’s trying to set right something that has been missing. And it tries to do this retroactively. While Black Panther felt like a celebration in discovering some wonderful secret. This time we have the feeling that we, like Jude Law’s Yon-Rogg, have been keeping the most powerful being at bay “for her own good,” training her to keep control of her power. The montages of her at varying stages of life being shouted down by men on and off screen as she falls and gets back up don’t really help in creating the feeling of joy we all want to feel when a woman finally gets the stage.
The acting is good here and there, but a little clunky over all. Larson’s portrayal is seemingly intentionally uneven. Whether going from serious to cocky, to jokey, then serious, it’s a series of awkward transitions. Is this due to her character’s training, her lack of memory or just weak dialogue? She’s been exceptional (Room) and fun (Kong) before without this type of confusing segueing from scene to scene. Larson’s interactions with other great actors like Jackson, Mendelsohn, Lynch and the delightful Akbar is kind of a mixed bag. There are times when she shares the screen but seems to be in a different world. It is likely a deliberate choice between filmmakers and the actress, but it doesn’t work as well as one would hope.
When she gets to kick ass, she really looks as though she’s having fun. Her character rampages through the last act of the film, busting through one restriction after another. Em and I felt the same in regards to the special effects. They get a little gummy with Colson and the delightful cat, Goose, but fortunately most of the other stuff is passable. Directors Boden and Fleck don’t seem to have a real strong suit in building action scenes. When a character has the undoubtable power of Captain Marvel, how much hand to hand interaction can one expect?
Boden and Fleck’s earlier work like Half-Nelson, Sugar and Mississippi Grind has been solid, character driven material with great acting. This time out, the direction feels a little like the character. Way more power than they know what to do with, but fun as hell.
Em is excited at the prospects of this film. She looks forward to seeing Captain take over a leadership role with the Avengers. Conversations drift back and forth between characters as she imagines whose place she will supplant. This is not excitement for girl power. It’s just a person who enjoys the evolution of the Marvel Universe. Will this supplant her love for Tony, Peter Parker or Loki? Does it have to? Em doesn’t think so.
Both viewers enjoyed the essential character of Goose, when effects don’t overwhelm. Fury’s interactions and the other character’s understanding of Goose’s real nature give a delightful twist on the power of something we’ve taken for granted, but always kind of wondered about.
For this 47 year old viewer, Captain Marvel feels comparable to Captain America: The First Avenger. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s a solid character that could be built up to something incredible. I look forward to seeing if the Russo’s can do for her what they did for the other Captain.
For now, this is the leader we get. All hope seemed to be gone, but we look forward to tomorrow.
CPE’s Rating (***1/2 out of *****)
Em’s Rating (**** out of *****)