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July 2019

Captain Marvel

Platform(s): Movie
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Marvel Studios
Release Date: March 8, 2019


Movie Review - 'Captain Marvel'

by Adam Pavlacka on March 5, 2019 @ 6:00 a.m. PST

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.

As the last film before "Avengers: Endgame," "Captain Marvel" is both a tie to the past, and a look to the future. The film is set in the '90s, and we see the origins of modern-day S.H.I.E.L.D., a superhero origin story where the hero starts with her powers, and we finally learn the truth about how Nick Fury lost his eye. There's also a film here about personal discovery, fighting against adversity, and generally standing up for what's right. Both of those halves form the greater whole that is "Captain Marvel."

We first meet Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) as a member of the Kree Starforce. Starforce is an elite team of warriors that is on the front lines of the Kree-Skrull war. She's strong, she's fast, and she's powerful. But she doesn't know who she is. Her memories start on the Kree homeworld, when she was a fully grown adult. She doesn't know anything beyond that.

While the powerful hero with no memory is something of a trope, Larson pulls it off well here because she plays Captain Marvel with a combination of strength and vulnerability. This isn't someone who's is going to get pushed around. Yet she's completely uncertain of herself, despite the image she projects because she doesn't know the truth about her past. Instead of being herself, she has been living as the person everyone expects her to be.

Captain Marvel's first act starts out a little slow as we get to know the basics of the character, but things quickly pick up once she lands on Earth. It's here that Captain Marvel and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) first meet, though this isn't the Fury we know. Yeah, there are shades of his tough guy persona shining through, but this is still a Fury who thinks that the biggest fight of his life was during the Cold War. He doesn't believe in aliens until the exact moment he has a dead Skrull in front of his face.

It's a journey of self-discovery for both of the characters, with Captain Marvel figuring out who she was before she became a hero and Fury figuring out who he wants to be going forward. Both Larson and Jackson play off each other well, and their charisma helps make a lot of the comedy work. They may be two strangers tossed together by happenstance, but both are determined to stop the source of the threat.

Ben Mendelsohn puts in a solid dual performance as Talos, the Skrull leader, and Keller, Fury's boss. Though the character is the same, the Skrulls are shapeshifting masters of disguise, so Mendelsohn puts on a different accent and different mannerisms, depending on which persona is on-screen. The nuanced role is important here, as Talos is driven by more than just simple conquest. Complex enemies can be more challenging opponents than simple ones.

Just because "Captain Marvel" is set in the past doesn't mean there aren't plenty of ties to the rest of the MCU. Aside from Fury, Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) appears briefly. Djimon Hounsou reprises his role as Korath from "Guardians of the Galaxy," as does Lee Pace as Ronan the Accuser. One of the deeper character tie-ins is new to the MCU but has the potential to appear in "Avengers: Endgame." We meet a young Monica Rambeau (played by a scene-stealing Akira Akbar), who encourages her mother to go on a mission with Captain Marvel by way of a guilt trip. Rambeau carried the mantle of Captain Marvel in the comics and was also known as Photon, Pulsar, and Spectrum.

Still, despite all these accomplished actors, I'd be lying if I didn't say that the real MVP of the film is Goose the cat. Played by four different cats (and a CGI cat), Goose is a core character, both as a friend to Captain Marvel and Fury, and as a foil for the alien attack force. Mark my words: Goose is a fan favorite in the making.

The effects are generally solid across the board, with the Captain Marvel power effects looking better than the early trailers, though there were two noticeable rough spots, one with a de-aged Agent Coulson. Young Nick Fury looked great, but young Coulson ended up looking oddly artificial in some scenes. The same can be said for Goose when he was in zero-gravity.

Visuals set the look and feel of the period for "Captain Marvel," but it is the music that really driveshome the time frame. Just as the soundtrack to "Guardians of the Galaxy" set the stage there, the grunge-inspired '90s soundtrack does the same here. If you grew up in the '90s, everything here was likely on one (or more) of your mixtapes at the time. And yes, just for the record, Captain Marvel does play Street Fighter II. It happened on-screen. It's canon.

It's the little details that flesh out the Captain Marvel character and make the journey of self-discovery feel like a real journey, and not something that's just tacked on. As a film, "Captain Marvel" is undeniably a tale of self-empowerment, just as much as it's an action movie, but the self-empowerment bits aren't just fluff. They're a core part of the story, and they're well-developed.

Digging deep into the character of Captain Marvel and the layers written in to the script is difficult to do without going into spoiler territory, but this is a woman who starts out the story living solely for others. She's not good enough, not strong enough, and needs to work harder than the rest to prove herself. As she gains confidence, the real her starts to come out as she asserts both her powers and her agency. Near the end of the film, there's a great scene where Captain Marvel makes it clear that she doesn't need anyone's approval.

In the end, "Captain Marvel" does what "Alita: Battle Angel" failed to do by giving us a kick-ass hero who's also multi-faceted. Captain Marvel delivers on both the "powers" part of the story, as well as the "personal" part of the story. Neither element is as compelling in isolation, but together, they make for an impressive origin and an exciting film. It's only been a handful of hours since I've seen "Captain Marvel," and I'm already looking forward to checking it out a second time.

Score: 9.0/10

"Captain Marvel" is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 4 minutes. It is showing in 2D, 3D, IMAX, and IMAX 3D.

Editor's Note: Be sure to stick around for the two post-credit sequences.

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