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'Captain Marvel' (2019) - Film Review


Directors: Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck

Starring: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan, Annette Bening, Clark Gregg and Jude Law

Although many Marvel Comics fans are aware of the various guises Captain Marvel has assumed over the years, for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film, the character of Carol Danvers has been chosen to represent this incarnation on the big screen. As such, Marvel Studios needed to find a niche where they could introduce another superhero into their already crowded roster, and although they achieve this competently, the setup is a little disorderly owing to Carol's rather interesting, if complicated, backstory. Unlike homegrown heroes such as Ironman or Hulk, who are Earth-based and thus their stories can be told with the instant recognition of a human societal backdrop, Captain Marvel needs additional exposition early on, as well as a distant galaxy with it's own conflicts and races to explain before she can even get of the ground.

The first twenty minutes therefore require a bit of extra concentration as the character of "Vers" (Larson) is introduced to viewers. Vers is apparently a soldier belonging to the alien Kree race who, we are told, are at war with nasty, pointy-eared shapeshifting aliens called the Skrull. Vers is suffering from unusual flashbacks of people and places she cannot explain, despite the help of her commander (Law) and an artificial intelligence computer called the "Supreme intelligence". Putting her problems aside for the time being, Vers embarks on a new stealth mission that then goes horribly wrong, and finds herself crash landing on Planet Earth in their year 1995.

At this point, the film gets a bit more interesting and we see the introduction of agents Nick Fury (Jackson) and Phil Coulson (Gregg) who appear as much younger versions of the characters we know from later set MCU films. The two SHIELD agents are certainly less experienced than their more familiar older selves, and they bumble and struggle to keep up with Vers and the knowledge of alien visitation and infiltration. Vers explains she needs to eradicate a few Skrulls who havce also crash-landed on Earth, and thus sets the scene for a simple "search and destroy" mission with the SHIELD agents effectively tagging along while Vers uses her advanced weaponry, powers and knowledge to track down her nasty enemies before they do the same to her.

But what of the titular Captain Marvel? It might spoil some of the story to explain everything in this review, but remember the flashbacks she was having? It turns out this may not have been the first time she has visited Earth, and the longer she stays, the more of these strangely familiar memories keep resurfacing. Eventually Vers regains the knowledge of her true identity and with that... well, not a lot really. One of the main issues with this film is it's lack of internal conflict for the main characters. Whilst you cannot ignore the memory flashbacks, it never feels like a true conflict of identity, as the character of Vers, and later Carol Danvers, do not radically change. She is a perfectly good-natured person in both guises, a spunky, brave young woman, yet apparently able to handle massive changes to her own understanding of herself and her powers without as much as a large intake of breath. She is a likeable, powerful and believable superhero, but remains devoid of any real emotion the audience can grab and run with. What's worse is Nick Fury is portrayed as a blander version of the character we know, and so the two main leads kind of coast through the movie. Even Jude Law and Annette Bening can't lend enough thespian gravitas to their parts either so the end result is a bit flat. Even the topical sub-plot about refugees doesn't carry enough weight even though this is clearly a moral aspect of the storytelling that needed telling and should have made a bigger impact.

As an origin story in the MCU franchise, this film is purely functional. The characters are all there, a story is told and the special effects are impressive, but beyond going through the motions, the film doesn't bring anything new or of substance than merely to introduce this new character ahead of Avengers: End Game due out later this year. One thing worthy of note however is the attention to detail in the 1995 period setting. There are references galore to pop culture and common aspects of life in USA at this time, supported by a strong contemporary music soundtrack which will certainly bring back memories to those audience members old enough to remember what life over thirty years ago looked like. As a final note, this is probably a film better suited to MCU completists or Captain Marvel fans rather than the casual viewer. You won't be missing anything important if you avoid this film, but it's a nice time-filler if you've got a couple of hours to spare.

© 2019 Chris Sandles

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