After DC Comics’ overwhelmingly successful debut of “Wonder Woman” in 2017, many were anxiously awaiting the response of its rival, Marvel Comics. On International Women’s Day, Stan Lee’s brainchild debuted its leading lady, Captain Marvel, in Marvel’s first film since its creator’s passing in November 2018. While the movie failed to match the fanfare that “Wonder Woman” brought to the film industry, “Captain Marvel” provided its audience with feel-good entertainment. Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the film makes up for a slow start and picks up both the action and humor to satisfy Marvel connoisseurs and dilettantes alike.
The film kicks off by introducing audiences to Vers, a soldier for the alien Kree civilization, played by Brie Larson. As Vers navigates her way through her home planet, Hala, her dissimilarity to her fellow Kree warriors becomes clear. Her bubbly and energetic personality is in stark contrast to the colder demeanor of her mentor, Yon-Rogg, played by Jude Law. This contrast is emphasized when Kree values are explicitly explained, with aphorisms such as “anger serves the enemy” pervading the initial dialogue. This portion of the film aptly builds a new world for viewers quickly without overwhelming them.
While the opening conversations succeed in their expository function, they fail in creating an environment that could carry jokes. At this point in the Marvel universe, it is par for the course that certain characters do not take themselves too seriously, such as Iron Man’s Tony Stark or Guardians of the Galaxy’s Peter Quill. However, this effort went a bit too far in forcing jokes as the writing initially made Larson’s character seem slightly awkward instead of funny.
The film redeems itself once Nick Fury, played by Samuel L. Jackson, is introduced. From the beginning, Jackson’s on-screen chemistry with Larson is extremely evident. The humor began flowing more naturally with his relaxed demeanor, making Vers’ quick-witted remarks appear more natural. From here on, the film picks up and the excitement of a surefire superhero movie captivates the audience. “Captain Marvel” boasts reliable action features, such as journeys through the heartland, secret government intelligence, rekindled friendships and an outlandish fight scene.
Sprinkled throughout the film are playful nostalgic references to the 1990s. Be it in the soundtrack, with songs like Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” and TLC’s “Waterfalls,” or in the Internet cafes where Vers pinpoints the location of a restaurant online, the movie offers a wonderful reminder of many of its young adult viewers’ childhoods. In a sense, Boden and Fleck are providing viewers the opportunity to not only look back, but to also grow with Vers as time progresses. Vers’ powers are more limited during the initial stages, reduced to energy blasts from her hands, making her growth throughout the film especially physically evident. As she evolves into her role as Captain Marvel, she ultimately reaches her full potential at the film’s climax.
The Easter eggs in the film are not limited to our own chronology, either. Attentive audience members could find many references to aspects of Marvel’s other films in the cinematic universe. There were recurring characters, such as Agent Coulson and Ronan, as well as references to items like the Tesseract that have played critical roles in the entire series of films. These were excellent teasers for the finale of this phase of Marvel films, “Avengers: Endgame.” However, the high frequency of these references often overshadowed the significance of “Captain Marvel” as a standalone film. The film more closely resembled a placeholder for the next Avengers movie than a significant cultural moment with a female superhero lead.
However, several positive messages at the film’s core, such as the uplifting scenes highlighting female resilience and strength, attempt to compete with the “Endgame” teasers for viewers’ attention. At Vers’ most challenging moments, the film walks the audience through flashbacks where she has overcome adversity and naysayers. In each of these memories, men in her life taunt her, blaming her weakness on her gender. Despite these taunts, whether from fellow military cadets or her own father, she is able to power through. This resilience is a more explicitly inspirational message that the directors deserve credit for.
Another noteworthy theme in the film is its political commentary. As the story develops, questions of imperialism, power and authority abound. The use of words typically found in the news cycle lexicon is striking, with terms such as terrorists, refugees and military technology referenced throughout the film. These examples are much less coded than a run-of-the-mill science fiction movie, and it leaves audiences with more to think about than Captain Marvel’s story alone.
At this point in the development of Marvel’s cinematic universe, most films are Teflon for criticism. It is never a question of whether they will do well at the box office, but merely a guess as to how long they will. “Captain Marvel” is no exception, as it follows a long list of successful superhero films from the comic book giants. With its empowering female lead, good humor and continuous teasers, the film both satisfies fans and builds even more excitement for the next Marvel showdown.