This phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is swiftly coming to a close. Starting after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Phase Three has ten films altogether. Eight of those films have released. With Captain Marvel releasing this week, the doomsday clock that is Avengers: Endgame ticks ever closer to midnight.
The last time we saw our group of heroes, they were in a bad way. Thanos, the Mad Titan, had come at last to assemble the Infinity Stones in an attempt to wipe out half of all living species (real class act, this guy). When we left the theater after that film, there were far more questions than answers. We knew only this: Avengers: Endgame was only a year away, and Captain Marvel was releasing a month before it.
Then I remembered what Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige said in a 2016 interview: “She will be by far the strongest character we’ve ever had.” Add that to the fact that this film takes place in the ’90s and what do you get? Even more questions.
Suffice it to say I walked into Captain Marvel deeply curious about how they would explain the absence of the “strongest” Marvel hero we have ever seen, and how they would work her into the finale of this phase. Those answers came in an unexpectedly fresh way.
Brie Larson’s (Room, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) Captain Marvel is a person torn by a fractured past and troubled present. Set during the ongoing Kree-Skrull war, this film starts with an air of seriousness and conflict beset by Marvel’s trademark wit. Vers (Captain Marvel’s name on Hala, home world of the Kree) is a powerful but largely untrained soldier in the Kree army. Confident in her own abilities and anxious to prove herself to her comrades, Vers (pronounced Veers) and her mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law, The Young Pope) share a friendly, but tumultuous relationship.
This relationship frames Captain Marvel, both the film as a whole and the character, extremely well. The resulting film is about knowing yourself, embracing independence, and then…well…tearing down the patriarchy.
There is something about seeing a strong female hero on screen that excites me for the role models my daughter will have to look up to. Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel is strong and confident, traits I hope to foster in my little girl. But more important than those, Larson’s performance is laced with the power of resilience. She keeps getting up, she keeps pushing forward, and she believes in herself, even when she is unsure of who she is. The cheers of women in the audience were heartwarming.
When it comes to the action, there is a difficulty to translating comic books into films. That difficulty can only increase exponentially when you introduce a character as mobile and powerful as Captain Marvel. There aren’t any tricks that can be applied to the superhero genre as a whole because of their wildly different talents and abilities. The one thing that I had an issue with in this film was the camera’s tendency to be right up against the action, rather than giving the actor space to showcase what they were doing.
This is partly an issue present in the majority of Western action filmmaking. There is an excess of shaky camerawork and a jumble of quick cuts in almost every hand-to-hand fight scene. This is generally done to obfuscate the fact that most actors don’t actually know how to fight. It was only clearly apparent a few times, but those instances were instantly distracting.
The other place this plays itself out comes in some of the more rambunctious airborne combat scenes. The camera was often too close to the actors to see what was really going on, and while that still covers the screen in color and movement, negative space is extremely useful in these moments. Imagine if Poe Dameron’s acrobatic piloting skill in The Force Awakens, while Finn scrambles across the ground, were filmed with angled closeups of his sporty black and orange X-Wing. The action would still seem pretty, but being able to watch him arc across the sky and lay waste to a horde of TIE Fighters was far more entertaining from a distance.
Outside of that complaint, I adored every moment with this film. Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One, Ready Player One) is great as Talos, leader of the Skrulls. His ability to deliver menace and evil is second to few in Hollywood and in this film we see a unique side of that coin. Samuel L. Jackson (Glass, Incredibles 2) and Clark Gregg (The Avengers, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) return as Nick Fury and Agent Coulson, respectively. Both de-aged in post-production with startling success. Nick Fury with a hairline is…something to behold. Their performance together, though brief, is reminiscent of the “good ol’ days” before Chitauri invasions and Hydra infiltrations.
In the end, Captain Marvel is—well—another Marvel movie, and in the last five years, Marvel movies have been pretty damn good. It is action-packed, emotional, deliberate, and all tied to an ever widening, diversifying universe of heroes. It is about time Marvel gave us a hero film with a female lead. It is great to see that film be given the proper love and attention.
Captain Marvel isn’t a perfect movie by any stretch of the term, but it is unabashedly proud of itself, and it should be. | Caleb Sawyer