Real Talk By: Cmack The Don
*This review contains some spoilers that are necessary to talk about the flick. Don’t say you haven’t been warned!*
The Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know is coming to a close soon, but there’s still some surprises and new material in store before the next phase starts, and our warm-up to Endgame this year is the introduction of Captain Marvel to the MCU.
The MCU started with the most well-known, famous Avengers-related characters, as at the time the other heavy-hitting Marvel properties, namely Spider-Man and The X-Men (and X-related characters like Deadpool) had been sold off to other film studios. Now that those characters have been firmly established, Marvel is branching off into introducing characters whose mainstream introductions have been long overdue, with Black Panther last year, and this year with Captain, formerly Ms. Marvel.
Captain Marvel introduces the Kree and Skrull conflict, which has been a mainstay of Marvel storytelling since the 60s, but hasn’t really been touched on heavily in any of the other Marvel films, with Kree characters showing up in Guardians of the Galaxy, but not a whole lot of backstory about how deep that beef runs.
The Captains adventures are set in the early 90’s, and anybody over their early 20’s who watches this will have at least a few fond (or in the case of long-loading times, not so fond?) memories of the references and lifestyle shown. The movie doesn’t lean on the nostalgia too much, but peppers it in at the right moments, which is something I was wondering about since this is the only the second Marvel movie not set at what’s supposed to be the current day and age. Speaking of age, if you’re a Pulp Fiction fan, you’ll recognize vintage Samuel L. Jackson back in full effect with the help of digital makeup that makes fearless Nick Fury look easily 20 years younger. There’s a lot of effects on display, but this was the most impressive to me. I’m used to seeing huge laser blasts and space battles by now, but taking age off someone’s face as they act in real-time is something I’ve still only seen done in a non-distracting way in a handful of films.
Captain Marvel has a rough, rocky start and has to find its footing. It starts with a lot of information given about the Kree conflict and takes its time finding its stride. It has the feel of a lot of the Phase One Marvel movies, a good portion of the movie is set-up and exposition for this corner of the MCU and this character, which is all important to know, but keep in mind to adjust your expectations from the wall-to-wall action fests that the more established characters are involved in at this point.
There’s been a lot of back and forth opinions about Brie Larson and her casting as Carol Danvers, but I personally thought she captured the character pretty well, although she wasn’t my original pick for the part. If you’re a Battlestar Galactica fan, then you know that there would’ve been no other better choice for high-flying ace pilot Carol than Starbuck, my girl Katee Sackhoff. From Riddick and Battlestar, she has the resume and chops from sci-fi pieces to deliver, and has shown to be great at playing ladies tough as nails. Brie brings a great likeable presence, and I think as she goes on, she’ll grow more comfortable in Marvel, but action and sci-fi isn’t her main background, and she’ll need to adjust, but Sackhoff wouldn’t have needed to. Speaking of the cast, Samuel L. Jackson delivers as always, bringing a bit more youthful energy and humor as a younger Fury, but not going over-the-top, with Jude Law being both parts friendly and reliable, and then slimy as the revealed villain later on. British actress Lashana Lynch delivers bigtime as Maria Rambeau, Carol’s best friend from the Air Force in this version (and mother to another heroine who has carried the Captain Marvel name as Marvel oldheads know), adding solid weight to every scene she’s in, and giving Carol’s past a rooted feel when the movie gets to her scenes. The show stealer for me though, was Ben Mendelson as the Skrull general Talos, presented as evil and ruthless at the outset, who turns out to simply be tough and determined, masking a family man on a mission with a great sense of humor. Mendelson was cast precisely to make you think he was the main villain, making his mark in Rogue One as the obnoxiously evil Admiral Krennick, and playing the Sheriff of Nottingham in last year’s horrible Robin Hood. The man can play a villain expertly, but I really enjoyed that the casting department let us see a different side of him. Even beneath pounds of Skrull makeup, I believed every moment of his performance, and he delivered in the dramatic and comedic scenes equally.
Like I said earlier, the main point of this installment was to set up Carol’s presence in the MCU and help newcomers understand the background of her story and what’s surrounding it, so even though there’s a lot of plot information, when the action kicks off, the choreography is well-done and how they make use of her powers looks great. They definitely took cues from Iron Man, as Carol is also like Tony in the sense that she’s a high-mobility, air and ranged attack based character. They show that she’s not quite as tough whenever she’s in close quarters, which isn’t where she shines. Also like the first Iron Man, while you see that she can do some pretty cools maneuvers, you also get the feeling that a lot more is going to be on display when she teams up with the O.G. squad to face down the most evil California Raisin in the universe in the next MCU installment. Aside from the clunky pace of the first act, one of the other big flaws of Captain Marvel as a longtime reader was the simplification of the Kree and Skrull conflict.
Although it was only recently revealed that the Kree did for the most part start their age-old war, the Skrull are presented as very sympathetic here, and mostly victims who are on the on-the-run from Kree oppression. Any Fantastic Four reader knows that the Skrull have been power-hungry and threatening themselves more than once, with numerous attempted Skrull invasions on Earth, like the Secret Invasion storyline. Members of the Kree race have also been shown to be kind, heroic, outgoing and self-sacrificing, with numerous occasions where Kree warriors have teamed up with The Avengers to protect the Earth and more. Much like many real-world deep-seated conflicts, the comics show that the Kree-Skrull feud has no true heroes or villains, only people on each side caught in an age-old power struggle between empires and civilizations much bigger than any one person. There are individual Kree and Skrull who are both horrible or heroic, but as a whole, neither is objectively that much better than the other, and while the movie has Talos giving a quick throwaway line about how his hands are stained with blood, framing the Skrull as family-oriented refugees definitely shows what side the writers took, and the opportunity to add more depth to that conflict was missed. Here’s hoping that in future space or cosmic-related Marvel films that they dive back into this story and the opportunities it has for complexity. One other quick dangling element that I have to address before I wrap things up: if Goose was staying with Fury in 1995 and puked-up the Cosmic Cube so that Fury would have use of it for the next few decades, where was Goose in any of the other Marvel films to date? That little fur-ball was one powerful cat, he would’ve been useful in a lot of The Avengers adventures until now, so I’m hoping that in Endgame they address what happened to him.
Overall, Captain Marvel is a solid introduction for the character that will tide Marvel fans over until the cosmos-shaking mega-event that will be Endgame, and sits in a solid mid-tier of the Marvel catalogue, around all the other Phase One installments.
Captain Marvel Gets a solid 3.5 Goose-Gobbles out of 5. Higher, further, faster, Captain.