In 2017, DC released “Wonder Woman” and this critic wept in the theater because she did not know how badly she had needed to see such a film. I never expected to feel that same swell in my chest for a film again, and then I sat down for the latest installment of Marvel’s powerhouse franchise, “Captain Marvel.”
ALL ABOARD THE MARVEL HYPE TRAIN! WOO- WOO!!!
In “Captain Marvel,” Carol Danvers becomes one of the universe’s most powerful heroes when Earth is caught in the middle of a galactic war between two alien races. Set in the totally fresh 90s, we’re given a taste of how one woman became Nick Fury’s emergency contact and a badass even by the lofty standards set by other members of the Marvel universe.
The film is written and directed by filmmaking duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (“Sugar,” “Mississippi Grind”) and stars Brie Larson as Danvers, Jude Law as Yon-Rogg, Ben Mendelsohn as Talos, and Samuel L. Jackson returning as
Before we dive into this review and, believe me, we’re gonna dive deep I’d like to attend to some quick housekeeping.
“Captain Marvel” marks the first Marvel film to enter theaters, following comic book icon Stan Lee’s death. The film seized a beautiful opportunity to create a final tribute piece. My breath always catches when the Marvel logo flashes on screen but the new version, capturing the highlights of Stan Lee’s previous cameos, gave me the best kind of lump in my throat.
His final cameo is just as sweet and sincere as any that came before. If nothing else, that makes “Captain Marvel” special.
Now, onto our regularly scheduled “Captain Marvel” review.
Something unexpected but definitely a major takeaway from the film is that it feels so nice to sit down for a Marvel picture that is so far removed from the events of the previous films. Due to its place in the timeline, “Captain Marvel” does not follow the same pattern as the previous films.
We see the origins of things that come up later but these items take on a new meaning. All paths lead to Thanos and the events of “Infinity War” but not in the direct, crumb trail that we’re used to. It’s nice to see something familiar but not be brow-beaten by its significance.
As an audience member, we get to enjoy “Captain Marvel” as just “Captain Marvel.” Its own story with its own agenda.
Speaking of agendas.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock (which honestly becomes an increasingly attractive concept, as time goes on), you’ve likely heard of the controversy surrounding “Captain Marvel” and the popular review site, “Rotten Tomatoes.”
Brie Larson’s bid for greater diversity among film critics and journalists attracted the attention of online trolls who sought to review bomb the film, essentially trying to drown the film at birth. Given the overall discussion around feminism and the film, it begs the question: Is “Captain Marvel” a feminist piece?
Absolutely and in the best way possible.
I’ll skip the obvious #girlpower elements of a female-led superhero film in which our intrepidus heroine is a total badass that kicks some ass, all while wearing a totally sensible costume that doesn’t make it all about her ass. That’s all here and that’s great, but that’s not the feminist thesis of the film.
“Captain Marvel” is built upon themes of female strength. Not just the physical strength to throw puny bros across the room but the power of emotional strength. A major theme in the film is Carol Danvers being confronted by her emotions and the pressures from those around her to not be governed by her emotions. Turns out emotions are her greatest strength.
It strikes a solemn note, in a society that often taunts female leaders with the idea that female emotion makes them unfit for their position.
There is a great moment in the film, in a climactic final battle, where a male adversary challenges Danvers to prove that she can defeat him without the use of her powers. To which she replies “I have nothing to prove to you.”
As a woman and, especially, as a female critic, I felt that this line was being delivered especially for me. And for any woman who has been challenged to prove that she belongs in a space. For any woman that has dealt with outside forces trying to minimize her power or silence her voice.
It’s powerful shit that is written in a language that is so well understood by those who have experienced it .
Therein lies the feminism of “Captain Marvel.”
Beyond this depiction of female strength, “Captain Marvel” also spends a refreshing amount of time on the value of female relationships. Friendships, the relationship of mother and daughter, and even the value of women being guided by female mentors.
It added a grounded softness that was almost more impactful than the larger themes I just addressed.
I can’t imagine a better choice than Brie Larson for this role, this execution, and the message that this film was so clearly leaning into. First off, Brie Larson is just so damn likable. Humorous, but tough.
There’s something more unpolished about Brie Larson, especially when you put her beside other statuesque ladies in the MCU like Scarlett Johansson and Gwyneth Paltrow. She’s beautiful but in this very unique way that is only bolstered by the way she works through a scene. Upon leaving the theater, I tried to imagine one of the more widely used Hollywood goddesses in this role and I just couldn’t.
“Captain Marvel” in all her scrappy glory was made for Larson. And it just works so damn well.
Of course, as Marvel Studios joint, they’re bringing the thunder with special effects and design but it was really nice to see that played down for the 90s setting. The dated technology provided a lot of laughs and it was so fun to see some of the hallmarks of the era playfully scattered throughout. But, refreshingly, “Captain Marvel” did not use nostalgia as a crutch (which appears to be a trend, of late, in Hollywood).
That being said, “Captain Marvel” as an absolutely ROCKING soundtrack and I’m here for it!
For those of you that open a comic book from time to time, sequences of the film throw fun little nods in to previous incarnations of the Captain Marvel character (there have been many) and it’s just one of the many great layers to this film viewing experience.
Jude Law is a little bland in his role but, honestly, I’m fine with it. Would I have appreciated a little better? Yeah, but the movie isn’t about him so I can’t be too bothered. I feel like “Captain Marvel” more than makes up for it through feline cast member, Goose, one of the most fun character introductions of the entire franchise. I shit you not.
In true Marvel fashion, we’re treated to a post credit scene that leaves us exactly where we want to be. Prepped and pumped for “Endgame.”
I envy every little girl that is going to have “Captain Marvel” for one of her earliest theater going experiences. This one’s for you.
A great standalone that is carried on the performance of some damn perfect casting. It will not go down in history as one of the great MCU installments, but it was a refreshing change of pace and that made it all the more enjoyable.
I highly recommend it.
“Captain Marvel” is in theaters now!
Featured image credit: Marvel Studios
Caitlin is a lean, mean writing machine based in Austin, TX. Her love of film began when she was shown “Rosemary’s Baby” way too early in life. She currently serves as the Lead Film Contributor for Shuffle Online; other notable bylines include The Financial Diet and Film Inquiry. Caitlin is a member of the Online Association of Female Film Critics and the Women Film Critics Circle.