Having waited my whole life to see Captain Marvel on the silver screen, unlike most comic fans, I was not disappointed. But I need to explain some things before we talk about Brie Larson in the titular role of Captain Marvel (2019).
Yes, I was a little sad it was not the original comic character created by Stan Lee and Gene Colan in Marvel Super-Heroes #12 (December 1967). He was an alien military officer, Captain Mar-Vell of the Kree Imperial Militia, who is sent to observe the planet Earth as it is developing technology to travel into space. The good captain would rebel against his Kree masters and become a champion of Earth until his death from cancer in the legendary graphic novel, The Death of Captain Marvel.
I was also a bit taken aback by the fact it was not Monica Rambeau (who was the first hero to take on the moniker of “Captain Marvel” after the Kree Captain’s unfortunate demise to cancer.) Monica Rambeau was created by writer Roger Stern and artist John Romita Jr. and first appears in The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16 (October 1982). She would later lose the moniker and consequently renamed herself several times until she settled on the name Spectrum.
The good captain would be reborn one last time in the character of Carol Danvers, who through the magic of comics would be transformed from a military liaison on Earth into a Kree-Human hybrid after working with the legendary Captain Mar-Vell, who was secretly spying on Earth in her first appearance in Marvel Super–Heroes #13 (March 1968). She would acquire her powers after being exposed to an alien technology called the Psyche-Magnitron, capable of turning thoughts into reality.
Brie Larson would inherit and inhabit the qualities of all three of these incarnations of Captain Marvel. In fact, I now see why Brie Larson, as Captain Marvel, made so many fan-boys lose it. She was unapologetically, heroic.
- Carol Danvers was a test pilot, a career which was, once upon a time, entirely male. It isn’t any longer, thank god, but such a time wasn’t all that long ago. To be a test pilot, you couldn’t just be good. You had to be one of the best pilots on the planet.
- But she wasn’t just a test pilot, she was one of the BEST test pilots. She flew experimental ships, including one that would be capable of space travel, which was created while she was working with Project Pegasus, a secret government energy project, which was concerned with more than just energy, if you get my meaning (wink, wink).
- Adding to the mix, we get to meet her best (girl)friend(?) who also happens to be a Black woman and probably the only other person who could match her skill as a pilot, Maria Rambeau. There was so much to unpack with Maria, it could be an article all by itself. None of that matters though, because in the end, she was just as amazing as Carol Danvers was in the cockpit. Yes, people made assumptions about their relationship, which no one confirmed or denied, as is the standard in good military procedure.
These three facts were enough to trigger some insecure fellows along the way. But then Carol had the temerity to be the kind of person who didn’t take no, or sit down, or wait your turn, or follow orders, or do as you’re told any better than most men who are considered maverick, go-getter types, and this was before she had superpowers!
How insufferable would she be when she finally got them? Completely. Unlike most origin stories, Carol revels in her powers, even in the beginning when she could barely control them. Once she cuts loose, she is simply glorious in the unabashed enthusiasm and freedom they gave her.
Captain Marvel (2019) debuted this weekend, a record-breaking superhero-movie offering with an estimated $153 million at the domestic box office since Thursday. Marvel’s first attempt at a female-led movie has taken in $455 million worldwide, which should be enough to guarantee her a place at the dinner table for a sequel.
THE GOOD: Carol Danvers gets a revised origin story, removing the fat, the confusion, the questionable decisions made with the character over the decades of her comic existence. She skips the Ms. Marvel stage in her character development and streamlines it with a degree of elegance I had to stop and admire. She has photon powers instead of Nega Bands. She has been genetically-altered with alien DNA and Kree super-science, making her a hybrid with presumably some of the advantages of the Kree, being stronger and faster than baseline Humans.
In addition, an Infinity Stone is woven into the story, tying nicely back into the Infinity War storyline. A bit of shifting of roles and genders, scientists for warriors, a shifting of polarities, where Carol is trained by Yon-Rogg but there wasn’t anything the writers did I couldn’t live with. Speaking of the writers…
THE BAD: The script was only adequate. There wasn’t anything wrong with it, but it didn’t completely wow me. The story moved. The heroes took their spots, the villains revealed themselves. The final confrontation was filled with a bit of failed posturing. Epilogue. A By-the-Dots Production. It was a functional movie whose job was to introduce a new major character, Captain Marvel to the return of the Avengers vs Thanos, Round II in Avengers: Endgame, due out on April 26, 2019 – not a barn-burning script, but not a dog either.
Personally, I can name half a dozen movies I thought were worse than Captain Marvel out of the 19 movies which came before it including: Iron Man III (2013), Thor: The Dark World (2013), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), The Incredible Hulk (2008), Ant-Man (2015), and Captain America, Civil War (2016). None of these are bad movies. They are just what I consider lower points in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
This movie isn’t a peak performer, but it gets the job done. In my opinion, movies are held to unrealistic standards. Everyone expects every movie to be a blockbuster and if it isn’t, the movie is considered a failure, which is far from the truth. This movie solidly entertains, but it targets a particular audience, so if you aren’t that audience, you just don’t see the appeal. But to girls and women everywhere, like Wonder Woman before her, Captain Marvel is a breath of much needed, superheroic air.
Sometimes a movie blows the doors off the theater, raking in bucks and awards (See: Black Panther, winner of three Academy Awards). Other times a movie acts as a bridge or a buffer, sometimes they make money, sometimes they don’t, but they hold a place for the fans until a major work is done, in the fashion Rogue One did, quite profitably, for Star Wars. And then sometimes it’s just filler between better franchise works in progress, like Solo, for instance.
Given the nature of the MCU with nineteen movies at last count, it would be almost impossible for every one of them to be a complete winner in every way. No matter what you’ve heard, Captain Marvel is no loser.
THE UGLY: Brie Larson. Wait a minute. I know what you’re thinking. How can I say the movie is a winner and yet complain about the lead actor? Easily. I contain multitudes and so does this movie.
I know she felt like she was under a microscope, and she was with statements and pronouncements taken out of context so often, it’s hard to know who’s right or who’s wrong, so I don’t intend to talk anymore about her except to say this: She almost never sold me on any of the performances when she was on Earth. On Hala she was a covert ops soldier with an attitude problem. It worked. That was the closest she ever got to convincing me she was actually working in this movie.
Once she came to Earth, she stopped acting. She forgot she was a soldier who had found herself on Earth, unexpectedly. She shifted her loyalties so easily, I didn’t feel the struggle, the pathos I would have expected. Maybe it was her anger management issues, but I didn’t buy it. And for the record, the flashbacks worked my last nerve. There are ways to use flashbacks, but this wasn’t it. I think I wanted it to appear to be harder for her to make the decision to rebel against the Kree who had given her a life, albeit a false one.
Her interactions with Nick Fury, who was so different from the cold and calculating man we will come to know twenty years in the future were meant to be light and funny, but felt a bit off-key. For the record, she won’t be moving any planets. She won’t be lifting Mjolnir, it’s been destroyed, remember? She will be able to bring something to the fight when the Avengers taken on Thanos. But she is not going to be winning this battle without help. Not by a long shot. She may be one of the most powerful heroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but Thanos has five Infinity Stones. Even if they are no longer integrated through the Infinity Gauntlet he won’t be a pushover. Welcome to the team, Carol; try not to die.
Why did I like Captain Marvel?
Here is a movie where the sum is greater than the parts. What did we get? A new origin story for a new superhero. She is the first extremely powerful woman in the Marvel Universe. Yes, Hope (from Ant-Man and the Wasp) was impressive, dynamic and interesting but her powers don’t lend themselves to bashing Thanos in his big purple mouth. The Scarlet Witch proved to be quite formidable in Infinity War, much more powerful than expected, but it was not enough. Gamora and Nebula are quite potent, but not on Danver’s level.
Carol is a powerhouse whose limits have not yet been tested but what we have seen thus far is most impressive. She clearly has a degree of impressive superhuman strength and a bit of fighting prowess. Carol is physically capable of holding her own with the big boys, the Hulk and Thor. She has the power of flight and apparently the ability to engaged in unaided interstellar travel, without use of the currently existing jump gate system. She has the ability to generate and project a field of photo-kinetic energy which protects her from damage and allows her to project photon-kinetic energy blasts. She has some degree of martial knowledge and strategic training both from being in the Earth military and as a member of the Kree Starforce. Carol Danvers is well-rounded, the kind of character the Avengers are in sore need of: a heavy hitter with over two decades of fighting against all sorts of threats in space.
We also got to meet Maria and Monica Rambeau. Monica Rambeau is a name out of the comics and seeing her, albeit as a pre-teen instead of an adult was a bit of a shock, and meeting her mother as an ace test pilot was a nice bonus. In the comics, Monica Rambeau is the second person to become Captain Marvel after Mar-Vell succumbed to cancer. She gained her powers after being exposed to an extradimensional energy source (similar to how Carol gets hers in the movie…) I am hopeful a grown-up Monica will have a chance to show up in the next movie. Maybe she will even get super-powers.
We also got a Nick Fury with two eyes and a dewy fresh Phil Coulson from back when SHIELD was young and less corrupted. In the intervening years since Carol leaves and returns to Earth, Nick Fury is a changed man. Maybe one day we will learn what transformed Carol Danvers’ Fury into the one wearing the black eye-patch, the long black trench-coat and a ton of secrets he uses to blackmail everyone across the planet into giving him what he wants…
Last but certainly not least we get the orange tabby cat named Goose. If we’re lucky, we will see him again. In the parlance of the mighty Marvel sage Stan Lee: Nuff said. Speaking of Stan, there was a nice homage in the Marvel credits lead in.
Let’s close this up, shall we?
Look, this isn’t an Academy-award winning movie. It’s just okay movie-making. The directors were not comic readers, and didn’t have experience with big budget films like this one. It shows. They didn’t do a bad job, it just felt a little less dynamic than what we are used to.
What the movie does well, however, is to show a woman who has been brainwashed and told she has less value, a socially normalized experience for far too many women in the real world. A woman who, when pushed to the limits, though I wish it was apparent in the acting, showed resilience in the face of mounting adversity and got back up one more time; believing in her self-worth and rising to the challenges presented. It’s a damn good reminder of what heroism is supposed to look like.
This is an origin story meant to act as a palette-cleanser between Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. Something to take your mind off the horror, a bit of laughter, a look back before looking forward. Overall the performances were understated and the acting talents left to simmer. Jude Law’s Yon-Rogg, a dedicated foe of Captain Marvel was a bit of a twist, since we were lead to believe he was Mar-vell in early trailers. His love interest, Minn-Erva showed up just as she did in the original stories, but their interaction was not nearly as exciting I thought it would be.
Ultimately, this movie’s greatest weakness is: It took no serious risks, it had few serious consequences revealed within the movie.
At no point, does anything feel as if it’s at risk. There is no loss. There is no sacrifice. All of the suffering is buffered and a bit antiseptic. Or perhaps, the suffering of the immigrants is buried just like it is in the real world. Perhaps we have become inured to such suffering brought on by perpetual war…
I enjoyed the movie because it represented a Marvel Universe which was more inclusive, more diverse, and more hopeful than we saw at the beginning of the MCU. A world which does not center men, white or otherwise, a world more innocent and unaware of the threats which lie ahead. It makes me believe Marvel is trying to create a better future for their franchise, even against the trolling opposition who would prefer the status quo.
Maybe that was the point of the movie. To show us, in a world where superheroes exist, the consequences can be dire, with long-term effects we can’t even imagine. Just ask Nick Fury. Oh, wait, you can’t. Unless our heroes are very good, or very lucky, or a bit of both, you never will again.
Playing for the Home team, the movie features Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson reprising his role as Nick Fury, Lashana Lynch as Maria Rambeau, Akira Akbar as young Monica Rambeau and Clark Gregg as the CGI-enhanced, dewy-fresh Phil Coulson.
On the Away Team (comprised of alien invaders) we have: Annette Bening as the Supreme Intelligence (and Mar-Vell), Jude Law as the irrepressible Kree warrior Yon-Rogg and his second in command,Gemma Chan as Minn-Erva. We get to see Djimon Hounsou revise his role as Korath and the leader of the shape-changing menace, Talos of the Skrulls, was portrayed by Ben Mendelsohn.
After Credits? Yes, there are two.
Brie. I liked you best in the first after credit scene. It was the first time you showed any genuine emotion aside from being absolutely certain you were going to win any outcome you were involved in. Bring those emotions to the next movie and you’ll be fine.
No more orange cats will ever grace my house. Ever. Not gonna happen. You’ll understand after you see the movie.
My favorite scene? When young Monica and Carol play with her suit’s color pallet, it showed both a trust and vulnerability I would have liked to have seen more of. Maybe it will be in the next movie. I’m counting on it.
Overall Rating: 7.5 out of 10. A worthy addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster and activist creating speculative fiction, scientific, political and cultural commentary from his office in Hayward, California.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He has published two books, ‘Hayward’s Reach’ (2011), a collection of short stories and ‘Broken Glass’ (2013) an urban fantasy novella starring his favorite paranormal investigator, Clifford Engram.