With the proliferation of superhero films showing no signs of easing, many have been pondering whether there is any room left for them to be creative and innovative. If the latest release from Marvel Studios is any indication, then it appears that the genre has a strong future ahead of it, with plenty of idiosyncrasies that set it apart.
On the planet of Hala – home to an alien race known as Kree – lives a female warrior known to her compatriots as “Veers” (Brie Larson) who has spent the past five years drilling with her mentor, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) to control her preternatural powers. Having proved herself in training, Veers is selected for her first assignment, joining a group known as Starforce to retrieve one of their fellow soldiers from a world inhabited by their fiercest enemies – the shape-shifting Skrulls.
During their mission, Starforce is ambushed and forced to flee, but not before Veers is knocked unconscious and abducted by a Skrull army. They imprison her on their spaceship, where Veers’ memories are extracted and examined to find the source of an all-powerful object that would give the Skrulls a bargaining chip against the Kree. But before they can locate said object, Veers makes her escape, and finds herself stranded on a planet that is completely foreign to her, that being our own: Earth.
One of the first people to encounter Veers is Nicholas Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), a young, fresh operative working for the intelligence agency S.H.I.E.L.D. She swiftly loses the attention of Fury – thanks in no small part to the arrival of the Skrulls – and begins to ascertain the location of the almighty object sought by her foes, hoping it can be safeguarded. Along her journey, Veers cannot help but feel many of the places she visits are familiar to her, despite having no recollection of a life on Earth.
The twenty-first instalment in producer Kevin Feige’s long-running Cinematic Universe, Captain Marvel houses a number of milestones for the franchise, most notably being the first release to credit a female as its lead – an overdue achievement, some might say. Additionally, the film is also the first to credit a woman as a co-director, the first to credit multiple women as screenwriters, and the first to hire a female composer, Pinar Toprak, whose score is a hybrid of orchestral and electronic arrangements.
While Captain Marvel is clearly trying to defy the norms of its parent studio, one thing that hasn’t changed is Marvel’s track record of perfectly casting the central hero, because Brie Larson is delightful in said role. There is never a dud moment from Larson, who performs solidly whether her character is being witty or sincere, but ultimately, she proves most entertaining when working alongside another actor – most notable Samuel L. Jackson, who looks to be having fun as a pre-eyepatch Nick Fury.
Jackson’s more youthful appearance – done in acknowledgement of the film’s mid-Nineties setting – has been achieved with the help of digital effects, similar to the likes of Ant-Man, Civil War and Guardians Vol. 2. Incredibly, the technology used to de-age Jackson is so flawless that the alterations to his face can barely be detected, which can either be put down to how advanced it has become, or the fact that Jackson has barely aged in three decades. Regardless, it’s quite a sight to behold.
Not content with setting its story in 1995, Captain Marvel goes out of its way to become a Nineties movie, inserting as many pop-culture references from the period as feasibly possible. For starters, Jackson’s role mimics characters he played in the likes of Die Hard with a Vengeance, Pulp Fiction and Loaded Weapon 1 – that of a mismatched buddy to the lead actor; a dogfight towards movie’s end echoes one witnessed in Independence Day; and the soundtrack contains songs from alternative bands like R.E.M. and Nirvana, which is pretty cool.
Yet another element to appreciate about Captain Marvel is Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), the leader of the Skrulls. Initially pitched to the audience as yet another forgettable MCU villain clad heavily in make-up and prosthetics, the film eventually reveals Talos to be a figure of emotional complexity and nuance, thus preventing him from being another one-dimensional foe, and allowing Mendelsohn to overcome his typecasting as a greedy, sinister bad guy. (Also, props for allowing him to use his natural antipodean accent.)
Captain Marvel is a picture of many impressive feats, but indications of its troubled production history are evident throughout. Shoddy pacing and editing prove problematic in the first act, barely providing the viewer with enough time to comprehend what is happening, with an inconsistent tone adding to woes. Meanwhile, the third act takes the polar opposite approach, being predictable, slow and drawn-out, overstaying its welcome as a result. With that said, the middle portion of the movie cannot be faulted.
Some do not take kindly to Marvel Studios’ overreliance of its crowd-pleasing blockbuster formula – a more critical soul may even describe it as a “template” – but the fact is, it’s a formula that works, and has done for the past decade; Captain Marvel makes better use of this well-worn method than a majority of its contemporaries, being rich in special effects, action and humour. In fact, Captain Marvel is one of the funnier Marvel movies, up there with Ragnarok and Homecoming in terms of laughs.
Despite a shaky start and mediocre ending, Captain Marvel is yet another success for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, using all the staples of its franchise to be as entertaining as possible. Making the film better still is its adoration of Nineties culture, and a character who defies the many tropes associated with antagonists of this genre.