Spoilers might fly in low.
We can have a female-led superhero film. Done. Let’s start there and build upwards. Superhero films are genre films. They are formulaic in nature, they have to hit certain beats and provide excitement and antics to fit in their genre so that people get what they’re expecting to see. Genre films can subvert certain aspects of the storytelling but they must remain true to their genre to remain genre films. This movie bring things both old and new to the table, but remains a genre film throughout.
Captain Marvel is a genre film. Its genre is not science-fiction, nor fantasy but something in between: the comic-book based superhero-genre. It has its roots on the adventure serials later revived and readapted by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg (Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, etc.). Directors and writers Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck don’t mess with the superhero formula too much, choosing to instead subvert the narrative. The character is at the midpoint, but has no idea what happened in the first act.
In the movie, this becomes the new starting point in which Vers (Brie Larson) is a Starforce operative in the Kree homeworld who struggles with her emotions and memories of her forgotten past. After talking to the Supreme Intelligence who takes the shape of someone she once knew (Annette Bening), she goes on a mission with her superior office Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) against the Skrulls, shapeshifters who infiltrate other worlds and sworn enemies of the Kree. The mission goes awry and she ends in the hands of the Kree, who probe her mind for information. She manages to escape, destroying their ship and crash landing on Earth.
The first act is completely delivered straight, with the introduction of some side characters that we might or not see later. All the while, we know Vers has to be somewhere else, be someone else. Just as her character, we’re expecting the big reveal. But we do get a starting point, and set the exposition for the plot that will have to be resolved later on. I feel this is where we’re seeing Vers, the Starforce officer of the Kree. Some of the traits of her character are already there, but for the most part she behaves as the other Kree expect of her.
By the second act, we’re no longer seeing Vers. We’re slowly revealing Carol Danvers, Air Force test pilot, who’s not yet Captain Marvel here. We get a buddy cop film as we meet Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), with an appearance of Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg). This is an earlier incarnation of the younger SHIELD agents. However, the Skrulls have managed to follow along, including leader Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) who you should keep an eye for. He’s going to steal the spotlight later.
Later seems to be the name of the game, as by the time Carol discovers herself and rekindles her friendship with fellow Air Force pilot Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) is where we get to the best of the film. This is the second act and the true midpoint really happens and the big reveal. This is also where Mendelsohn’s character of Talos shines as he becomes charismatic, funny, and of course, reveals his motivation (part of it actually). Alliances shift, the past is revealed, the true enemy emerges and we’re almost all setup for the finale.
The last act and climatic battle only truly begins once Carol realizes her true potential and overcomes some of the indoctrination imposed on her. The last act is almost an afterthought because it’s kinda been setup from the beginning. It’s not bad, it’s just that the second act was so well done and full of interesting characters that the third is basically just wrapping it up. The comparison has been made several times, so I will have to say it myself: It’s done lot better than Wonder Woman‘s third act. Captain has definitely better lighting here and take into account it mostly happens in space.
I think that Captain Marvel owes a lot of its shorthand to the MCU. It’s definitely in the middle of it, it has the luxury of not having to explain itself when it casually reveals extra terrestrial civilizations, cultures and can relay on a lot of inside references aka “easter eggs” (which are not really easter eggs since they’re right there front and center, but I already talked to death about what is and is not an easter egg in my review of Ready Player One). My point is that Captain Marvel needs not to explain the universe to us can skim over the surface of world building, a luxury that regular movies don’t have. This IS a good thing – we have seen a lot of Marvel movies and we obviously know all this. Why not use it?
It’s also following the lead of the not-so-subtle music background theme pioneered by Guardians of the Galaxy and, of course, The Avengers. Unfortunately, this theme has also become a staple of movie trailers, where it has been overdone to death. There is a moment in the third act where the fight is supposed to kick into high gear and we get a 90’s pop hit start up. At that point, the movie is just telling you the heroine’s going to win this one and the stakes are immediately lowered. Not a huge deal, but it took me out of the movie for a bit. I was engaged for almost every scene, specially when we start discovering who Carol is and when she starts discovering who her real friends are.
The feature film has had to face some criticism of being politically correct or being extremely liberal. The movie does have moments in which we get the titular character stand up for a race of marginalized people or be an inspiration to a little girl. This is really part of any superhero film. Even classics like Superman (1978) would have moments like this. It’s a super-heroine this time, why would we not want Captain Marvel inspiring Rambeau’s daughter Monica? Why would we not want her to stand up for the oppressed? This is superhero fare any day of the week. It looks like politics now because of factors completely alien (pardon the pun) to the movie, but I never thought that it was overreaching to make a statement (I’m looking at you, CW’s TV show Supergirl).
Despite the harsh criticism, the film has come out on top. It’s not supposed to be a game changer for the franchise but a setup for the next Marvel crossover, The Agengers: Endgame. It’s a really entertaining film that gets to do a lot between the parameters and boundaries it has to keep inside. Brie Larson’s performance starts as a soldier, changes into a rogue pilot and ends up as the titular Captain Marvel, leading others by example. Ben Mendelsohn and Lashana Lynch are both in the running for being the secret heart of the movie. Samuel L. Jackson has so much competition for charm here (yeah, even from the cat), that he almost ends being the comic relief character. Almost.
Highly recommended for fans of the superhero genre film, and a must for Marvel fans. It’s not going to change your life or revolutionize filmmaking, and that’s fine. It is what it intends to be: greatly entertaining, funny and delightful to watch. There are some messages in the film that might feel like part of a feminist or liberal agenda, and they can taken as such – however I feel these have always been part of the regular superhero film fare. The fact that some employ a female perspective is refreshing. The triumph of the human spirit against adversity can be embodied by a woman.
That will do for now.