Friday, March 8, 2019

Captain Marvel (2019)

Directors: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Notable Cast: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou, Lashana Lynch, Annette Bening, Gemma Chan, Clark Gregg, Lee Pace

It’s that time of year again. That’s right, it’s the first Marvel film to hit the big screen for the year (with two more on the way by the time July rolls around) and with it comes the usual banter about the substance and quality of the superhero genre takeover of the box office. This first film of 2019 belongs to Captain Marvel, a film that Disney and Marvel seemingly pushed forward as scrutiny from its dedicated fanbase began to criticize the juggernaut company for taking so long to produce a female lead superhero flick. It’s not often that the live action DC films beat Marvel to the punch, but in this case they did. Still, there was a lot of momentum going into Captain Marvel. Not only was this their first female lead film, but it was riding on the coat tails of a highlight year for the company. In 2018, both Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War came out blazing to massive box office numbers and incredible critic and fan praise. Hell, the former even won a couple of Oscars and was nominated for one in the best picture category. Ant-Man and the Wasp aside, which came and went with little in the way of punch and pizzazz, that’s some huge momentum going into Captain Marvel and it was going to have a lot to live up to in terms of quality and expectation.

While the film does certainly struggle a bit in terms of sacrificing itself to the usual origin story formulas, if you ask the crowd in my theater what they thought then you would hear massive raucous cheers. They did just that four times during the film itself. They were bought in and completely enamored with it.

This is exactly what Captain Marvel does best. It crafts a wildly entertaining film, filled to the brim with the usual Marvel quips, outlandish action set pieces, and plenty of in jokes for the fan base that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has accrued over the last decade. This is what it has to do because, quite frankly, the film itself is not nearly as bold and challenging as it might have been. Then again, that’s the Marvel way. Stick to the formula and only push the boundaries in specific ways. After last year though, with the brilliant design of Black Panther, the striking and dark swings of Infinity War, and the brilliance to the villains of both, Captain Marvel does seem like it’s holding back a little – which is almost ironic considering that “being held back” is such a key thing for the film and its titular heroine. The reliance on the origin story blue print and the now well established “cosmic” side of the MCU does feel a bit safe for the film.

Outside of that qualm, Captain Marvel does its job admirably well. Brie Larson fits into the lead role, striking that impressive balance with a character who is finding her identity while maintaining that rogue, quippy and rebellious nature which seems to run rampant with most of the popular Marvel heroes. The colorful use of its visuals are set to a mid-90s Earth setting (which is hammered home almost relentlessly by its use of timely song choices and the occasional joke like how long it takes a computer to unpack a sound clip) and they make for a fun (if not wholly original) change of pace that the audience was consuming vigorously in the theater. Truthfully, the film is able to run with these things with sheer will power and charm. The direction is solid enough as directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck adhere to the Marvel aesthetic with dedication and the casting is once again perfection. Bringing back a young Nick Fury, Sam Jackson digitally de-aged impressively, was a rather brilliant choice and his green reactions to the intergalactic war fringing on Earth makes for perhaps the best part of the film. The action is crisp – although certainly over edited, but that’s been an issue I’ve had with all of the Marvel films so nothing new there – and the manner that the film builds its narrative results in so much entertainment that it’s hard to truly dwell on any of its issues too much. Captain Marvel is not perfect, but it plays to its strengths and it works.

It should also be mentioned that, yes, Captain Marvel certainly has its own thematic subtext that will get those internet trolls in a frenzy. It doesn’t take much, even the existence of the film had them in enough of a tizzy that Rotten Tomatoes had to change their policies concerning fan ratings, but that text is in the film and it’s the prime reason to see it. The female empowerment angle is not nearly as strong as it might have been, dare I say not even going quite as far as Wonder Woman did a couple of years ago, but there are key moments where it works wonderfully, particularly in the final act with a montage that was teased in some of the trailers. Oddly enough, there is another statement the film is making concerning immigration and refugees. To say too much would be leaning into spoiler territory since it’s so interwoven with the actual plot and narrative, but needless to say it was a massively pleasant surprise to see the film take on two pieces of subject matter at once. Neither is a truly bold or shocking statement, but, like most recent Marvel films, it’s nice to see them trying to include some thoughtful subtext to all of the zooming and booming that is happening on the screen.

In the end, Captain Marvel was a fantastic first blockbuster to kick off 2019. It’s not quite as evocative or effective as the last handful of Marvel films have been as they have pushed further and further into some new territory, but the sheer entertainment onscreen partnered with some fun ideas and the oozing charm was enough to sway me away from critiquing it too harshly for its reliance on origin story structures and some safe choices in narrative. The energy is fantastic, the momentum carries, and the action is big, brash, and exciting. Truthfully, now that they have done their job introducing audiences to the character, I’m far more interested in seeing just how they maximize her in the upcoming Avengers: Endgame. As the end title card states, we won’t have to wait long to see her return.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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