At this point it’s almost impossible to be objective about a Marvel Studios film. They transcend the expectations of not just the genre itself, but of Hollywood and the machinations of a blockbuster. Each film is revealed in keynote presentations like they’re Apple products, the brand is tested and perfected to full capitalist submission, so much so that it feels like even a new character has been part of our collective conscience even before the film is released. And this is before we even talk about the where a film is placed in the, as of now, twenty-one film Marvel Universe.
No, the Marvel Cinematic Universe stands above the general idea of a film. It’s a label, a commodity, an executive-generated asset devised to perpetuate brand awareness. It’s supposed to mirror the status quo of modern Western society, not question or defy it.
Its creative footprint is faint, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The reason why I started this review with a small thought about Marvel, is because Captain Marvel is, fittingly, the studio’s representative film: the Marvel-est of all the Marvel films. Doesn’t have the visual flair of Thor: Ragnarok nor the political impact of Black Panther, but it has grabs elements from every single other film, a hodgepodge of action and comedy with a little social consciousness and a visual aesthetic that is similar to most of the previous twenty films.
This time in we’re back to an origin story, which we haven’t seen since Doctor Strange back in 2016. Vers (Brie Larson) is a Kree soldier mentored by Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) to become the most powerful fighter in the proud race of noble warrior heroes (sic). The long war against the Skrulls leaves Vers stranded on the Planet Earth in the 90s, of all the decades – it’s the worst time to visit Earth, we were severely optimistic after the fall of the Iron Curtain, social progress had stagnated so not to upset baby boomers, and Oscars loved to give awards to films about how much did racism affect white Americans – how times have changed.
Luckily Vers recruits the help of one Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), with two eyes and digitally enhanced to remove all his wrinkles. He helps her find a scientist (Annette Bening) the Skrulls are looking for, but also decode the one mystery in her own mind – Vers is haunted by visions of another life she seemed to have lived on Earth.
The synopsis is superfluous here. The real pay-off is the fact that, after twenty films, Marvel finally gave a female superhero its own standalone film. A fact that they constantly remind us of, like self-congratulating their own progressive thinking, which is odd because this is not the first female superhero in general, and it doesn’t mask the fact that it took them TWENTY FILMS and TEN YEARS to get here. Sure, better late than ever, and I was touched by the small empowering message that the film gently presents. This all culminates in a enormous montage that sees through different stages in the life of a woman to land on the biggest “fuck yeah” since Eowyn killed the Nazgul Captain. It’s the heart of the film, that resonates even more because, well, the film lacks a little bit of throughout the rest of it.
Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck do their best to keep the pacing going, though it’s evident that the first half gave them little to work with. A large chunk of exposition and setting the context, comes out as emotionless for the most part. But, to their credit, after the big twist is revealed halfway through, the film gains a gentle humanity that helps us digest the action-fest. It’s interesting that one of the biggest achievements is a little sequence centered around two friends reuniting, with a little adjustment to the dynamic. Boden and Fleck revel when the characters face internal struggles, but it takes them almost one hour to get there.
But is it any of this really important? Everyone will watch Captain Marvel (even if some virgin incels are thinking of boycotting to stick it to SJWs or something like that), because the release of an MCU film is comparable to the air of a new episode of Game of Thrones – it’s an episodic event whose whole is more important than the sum of the parts. To hit the nostalgia buttons of the audience, the 90s setting is overused to an almost embarrassing extent (hey remember Blockbuster, and payphones, and The Smashing Pumpkins). There’s no real reason to set in this decade but that’s the kind of transgression and artistic boundary that we’re working with here.
And I know I sound cynical, but I promise I’m not. Captain Marvel is good but it’s inspiring in that same way that the statue of the fearless girl in Wall Street is – it looks good on the picture, but let’s not pretend that it wasn’t put there by a multi-billion dollar corporation as a brand statement, and not to drive an agenda. And it still took them TWENTY DAMN FILMS to get here.
Oh Ben Mendhelson is in this as Talos, the Skrull captain, and he’s terrific!
As I was walking out of the screening there were four young boys, around the age of 8 or 9, excitingly enacting scenes featuring a female superhero. That’s the kind of weight that no can take away from a good film.
But as an MCU we’ve seen better and more interesting. Fair enough that it’s more entertaining than most generic blockbusters, but it’s more of a product than anything else.
Guardians of the Galaxy is still the only superhero film that cracked the code of a good origin story from start to finish, Marvel takes one entire hour to understand what it needs.
Oh, and TWENTY YEARS!!