The MCU’s Captain Marvel is well-paced, with a handful of moments of strategically-placed humor, is solidly acted from start to finish, and now has a crowning character to replace Captain America in the future phases.
Brie Larson, a few months back, spoke out against film criticism being dominated by white males, which you can’t object to; for every female critic, you average 3.5 male ones (it’s a good point, though one would think she would also point out the lack of minorities starring in big-budget films today). If you delve deeper, you would find 82% of the reviews performed by the top-100 Rotten Tomatoes-approved critics are white (in which, I would like to point out, maybe the cool kids’ gathering spot for film critics needs to reevaluate who should be added to their own top-100). As a white male critic, judging a unique feminist comic book film, on International Women’s Day, should I feel the pressure of the herding mentality while reviewing Captain Marvel? Ultimately, you have no other choice than to give any film your honest opinion, no matter the heat that may be around the corner. I’m here to say this: the film is a stellar addition into the Marvel universe, and Brie Larson is auspicious in it.
The film opens with Captain Marvel, in her origin story as the Kree warrior Vers, training with her leader, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), and she is his prized student of sorts. Just after Jude Law’s character “mansplains” to her how to use her head instead of her power to keep them at bay (you’d be hard-pressed to find a subtler way of portraying an overwhelming statement of ant-feminist machismo trying to keep feminist ambition at bay), the team gathers to take on a battle between the Kree and the ever shape-shifting Skrulls. They have captured one of their comrades, who infiltrated them, then they travel to get him back, but are led into a trap, and Vers is taken to their ship for answers; the enemy extraterrestrial race thinks she has something they are searching for and are flipping the pages of her memories to find it (memories that are new to her). She then escapes and lands on planet Earth sometime in the early 1990s, where Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and now rookie agent Paul Coulson (Clark Gregg, with hair and looking like he is playing Dennis Quaid in The Dennis Quaid Story) find Vers by a payphone next to a Radio Shack and a Blockbuster (not the last one in Bend, Ore.).
Captain Marvel/Vers is played with a cocky, almost brazen ambition by Brie Larson. This is not out of sorts from any action film starring a youthful male lead (think back to Tom Cruise in Top Gun; the Hollywood landscape is littered with them), and the team behind the latest installment is smart enough to know this is an age thing and has nothing to do with gender. Jackson has a lot of fun as a younger Nick Fury (he surely doesn’t move like a junior Nick Fury, though), and the chemistry between the leads is apparent, from a friendly/platonic standpoint (the film has one too many “feel you out and get to know you” moments for my taste). Jude Law and Ben Mendelson (as Skrull commander Tolas) are far from thin supporting characters, with Mendelson, in particular, owning the scenes he is in (in reptile makeup or not), which is nothing new.
The weaker moments of the film come from the flashback sequences; in particular, the ones that involved Annette Benning as Dr. Wendy Lawson, and needed more time to flesh out the backstory to sell the ending of the film. I wish they also made better use of the often under-used Djimon Hounsou (Amistad, In America) and the outstanding Gemma Chan (Crazy Rich Asians), so much so I almost wish the film added more running time, even though a Marvel film under 2.5-hours is welcomed.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has never had trouble with an overall satisfying character-driven origin story (even Edward Norton’s version of the Hulk had its moments). Captain Marvel lands somewhere in the top-third of Avenger films, but falls just short of Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: First Avenger, though just ahead of films like Thor.
This latest outing is well-paced, with a handful of moments of strategically-placed humor, is solidly acted from start to finish from its stellar cast, and now has a crowning character to replace Captain America, to lead its franchise into phase four of MCU. The film is not only a shining moment of action-genre feminism, but maybe even most importantly a very good genre picture that happens to be a lot of fun, with an overall positive message about female empowerment behind it. Having a film produced by the Hollywood machine that is not just another genre picture, but another good genre picture with a female lead, along with Wonder Woman, seems like progress in the right direction where we hopefully won’t have to distinguish between the two in the future.
That being said, considering the era in which the film is set, leaving Pearl Jam out of the film’s soundtrack is unforgivable.
M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.