Captain Marvel isn’t here for your sexist bullshit. In fact, the latest addition to the MCU gives absolutely zero f@#ks about your agenda or preconceptions as it just unleashes its first Omega-level hero on an unsuspecting and unprepared world. While the script and directing are a little clunkier than other recent MCU masterpieces, I don’t think Ms. Carol Danvers would want us ranking her or pitting her against her fellow heroes. And any problems with the pacing of the first act are more than made up for with a hugely satisfying, explosive finale.
Here’s the deal, geeks– we’re spoiled rotten with the likes of Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok . When something doesn’t quite measure up to those levels, it’s easy to dismiss or criticize. While I have a lot of measured criticisms of the film’s pacing and action choices, the best thing we can learn from Captain Marvel is she’s not here for your approval. She’s not here to smile at you. She’s not here to be compared to your other films and heroes. She’s here to kick ass and save the world. And that’s about it.
But as a film critic, critique I must, but making sure we don’t fall prey to easy sexist traps that have largely infected a lot of mainstream publications’ reviews of this. I’m especially looking at both right wing rags like the National Review and a lot of the (fragile)-white-male-dominated online geek press. Let’s get over ourselves and just enjoy this movie, because (shocking, I know!) not everything needs to be made for us.
Our titular hero (Brie Larson) begins the film as a warrior for the Kree Imperium with the codename Vers and a case of terrible amnesia that she can’t remember anything before six years ago. Alongside Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) and a team of Kree elite commandos, they are engaged in a long-term war against the Skrulls, a race of shape-shifting aliens. When she encounters Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), a Skrull leader, she begins to have strange flashbacks leading her to believe she had a life on Earth. where she then finds herself stranded in 1995 Los Angeles. She teams up with a young SHIELD agent named Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to stop the Skrull infiltration of Earth. Or so it would seem. . . as the shape-shifting abilities of the Skrulls and their conflict with the Kree are much wider than we thought, and this bleeds into major pieces of the broader MCU.
Fans are going to get a lot of service here, which is one of the main problems with any sort of prequel: the need to explain how everything came to be. The movie keeps poking and prodding at the broader universe, including multiple gags where they seem to be joking “Oh, so that’s how Nick Fury lost his eye.” It’s similar to the old episode of Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law where they explain the origin of Stephen Colbert’s Phil Ken Sebben and his iconic eyepatch injury where for several minutes straight he’s pointing sharp objects at his eye. We get the joke.
But the fanservice that does work is the tie-in to the broader MCU. No spoilers, but the payoff by the end, once we know what is actually happening? It’s like finding that one puzzle piece which reveals what the larger section is all about. It should go without saying, but remember to stick around through the credits for both a mid-credits scene that directly ties into Avengers: Endgame and a post-credits scene that bridges Captain Marvel to the events of The Avengers.
Oh, and Stan Lee. The opening for the film and its iconic Marvel comics image flip has been replaced entirely with Stan’s cameos, and a small dedication of the film to Stan the Man himself. This film also contains one of the most interesting Stan Lee cameos ever. It’s a little mindbending and I’m going to need time to wrap my head around it completely.
But perhaps what’s most surprising is the underlying meaning the film brings. Brie Larson’s cold, dispassionate delivery and demeanor makes it harder to connect with our hero, but that is entirely the point. This is what we tell women to do to succeed in a man’s world: don’t be emotional. Be sexy and available, but not too much or you’re a slut. But especially as a member of the Kree Starforce, she’s told to act without emotion. This is what war does to our soldiers. This is what war does to us.
The saying goes that the first casualty in war is the truth. And so we are challenged by this film to confront some uncomfortable truths about the stories we tell ourselves about war and ourselves as warriors. The overwhelming feeling I’m left with is this: maybe the United States of America are the Kree. Maybe we’re animated by hatred and xenophobia more than we’d like to admit. Maybe we empower genocidal maniacs (like a too-briefly appearing Ronan the Accuser) through our war-mongering.
And what snaps our hero out of it? Learning her human past. Reconnecting with her best friend and flight partner Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), the real secret weapon of this film. Rambeau shows us — and Carol — that she can be maternal and nurturing while also being a badass hero in her own right. It’s the quieter moments in Captain Marvel that work the best, which is maybe why we don’t give it the praise it deserves. Everything we’re criticizing the film for is actually a criticism of what patriarchy and war do to women, do to us. Maybe we should focus less on comparisons to Thor: Ragnarok and focus more on what the deliberate choices the filmmakers made in the first half of the film as a mirror of everything that’s wrong with us.
And then there’s that 90’s soundtrack. As a child of the 80’s and an adolescent of the 90’s (Go Team Xennial!!) there is nothing more precious to me than bands like Garbage, REM, and Nine Inch Nails that put me right back in that time and place. There’s also a surprising amount of pop R&B for a nice counterbalance. Watch for an article about the soundtrack coming soon, but beware– while some of the songs are not spoilers, per se, I think you miss out on the nice reaveals of a couple of them, especially a late scene with the Kree Supreme Intelligence and a climactic battle scene set to a specifically iconic mid 90’s bop that is going to drive the haters absolutely mad.
Speaking of? Haters– die mad about all of it. Take your lame attempts to tank the Rotten Tomatoes score and go die in a fire. Captain Marvel is definitely worth seeing, seeing on a giant screen with an amazing sound system that really lets you feel the groove of Elastica’s “Connection.” So go do it, and don’t let reservations that “Oh, but it’s not as good as Black Panther” worry you. Did that keep people from seeing Aquaman? Stick around for the finale– and maybe let Carol Danvers’ words resonate with you as she emancipates herself from Kree control and directly gives a giant middle finger to toxic masculinity that could’ve come out of the pages of a Riot Grrrl alt-weekly.
I can’t wait for Carol Danvers to show up in Endgame. She’s going to save everyone. ‘Nuff said.
3.75 out of 5 stars