Captain Marvel brings a super dose of woman power to the cineplex this weekend. Along with champions of parity in film and strong female leads, fans of Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson, cat fanciers, and lovers of fun everywhere, you’ll want to be there for it. There’s one thing you’ll want to know about the movie before you go any further in perusing reviews. Captain Marvel benefits mightily from some pretty important plot twists, so be careful what you read about it. There’ll be no spoilers here, so you’ll not find much out about the story. What I will tell you will help you get acclimated to the goings-on, but won’t give away any surprises. Suffice to say the film is a wiz-bang origin story packed with action, humor, mystery, emotion, and some great spandex costumes.
Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) is part of an intergalactic team of fighters from a planet of powerful humanoids called Kree, who are in the midst of a centuries-long war with the Skrulls. Her trainer, mentor, and commander is Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), and she and the whole Starforce report to the leader of their world, the Supreme Intelligence (Annette Bening). Things go awry on a mission when she is captured by someone of the other side of the war named Talos (Ben Mendelsohn). The fighting comes home when she winds up on Earth, circa 1995, whereupon she gets tangled up with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and various other recognizable earthlings.
Brie Larson is not only believable in the role, she brings to life a script that crafts a great character with real-life roots, and superpowers that are arguably the most expansive in the Marvel universe. She’s part Superman, part Chuck Yeager. It’s a joy to see a character that has a snarky sense of humor akin to Aquaman while continuing to redefining what it means to be feminine onscreen. She is brusque, no-nonsense, brilliant, and capable, but she also repeatedly has to face her fears, confront her own weaknesses, and trust her instincts. She does not need to feign fragility to be feminine. Her tale considers both sexism and feminism is it was in 1995 and is now, often while eliciting chuckles from in the audience.
What is most fun about the film is getting to know more about Nick Fury’s personal history, as well as the origin of various aspects of the Avengers backstory. Jackson and Larson play very well against each other. There are many others that figure into the proceedings. Maria (Lashana Lynch) and Monica Rambeau (Akira Akbar) are essential to building interest and connection to Captain Marvel’s character. Lynch in particular is a standout. Actors Clark Gregg, Lee Pace, Djimon Hounsou, and Gemma Chan help forward the plot in important ways, and a cat named Goose (played by four real-life feline charmers named Reggie, Gonzo, Archie, and Rizzo) steals every scene he’s in, especially when he is partnered with Nick Fury.
There are a number of elements that make this movie an important milestone, especially for Marvel. It is co-directed by a female filmmaker, Anna Boden, which is a first for the studio. Film score fans should be thrilled that award-winning female composer Pinar Toprak is credited with creating the soaring, emotional music used to accentuate both the action sequences and intimate moments between characters. As the number of female composers hired for studio films is the lowest in all below-the-line professions, representing only 3%, it’s heartening that Marvel step up in this way. Gratefully, Toprak, a bit of a prodigy who already had a master’s degree in composition at 22, was more than up to the task.
One thing that is blessedly time-worn at Marvel is non-sexualized costume designs, and Captain Marvel is no exception. The suits and clothing are designed for comfort, practical wear, and the sort of functionality that a real superhero would need. There aren’t any cleavage cutouts or platform heels. (I’m looking at you, Justice League!) Captain Marvel costume designer Sanja Hays created a suit less concerned with teenaged boy fantasies, and more with a heroine that is both a soldier and pilot. It’s the sort of costume you could feel good about your tween wearing this Halloween.
The soundtrack is so integral to the story, it will remind lots of folks of Guardians of the Galaxy. Sporting lots of hits from the mid-90s, it punctuates Larson’s action in such a way as to expand on her persona. That she wears Nine Inch Nails and Heart t-shirts at various times of the film should say a lot. That compilation of songs is going to immediately rise to the top of playlists for millions of nostalgic music lovers.
Captain Marvel has a potentially impossibly long way to go to build a fandom that Wonder Women, the reigning goddess in the universe of superheroes, enjoys. This film doesn’t rival the work of director Patty Jenkins, in part because she had the advantage of Princess Diana’s longtime, worldwide appeal. Captain Marvel as a character is tougher, thereby might seem less compassionate, but that is exactly what this movie should help change. Captain Marvel is both incredibly powerful and very grounded, and she is no princess. Still, she deserves a fandom all her own, and Larson’s portrayal will bring many into the fold.
4 out of 5 stars