Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck
Screenplay by Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, and Geneva Robertson-Dworet
Starring Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law, Annette Bening, and Lashana Lynch
Running time 2 hours 4 minutes
MPAA rating PG-13 for lotsa buttkicking, 90’s nostalgia, and sassy dialogue
by Jaime Davis, The Fixer
Out of all the Moviejawn writers, I’m probably the least qualified to write about a superhero movie, let alone a Marvel Cinematic Universe effort. Yes, I wrote about both Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok for MJ, but…like Captain Marvel seems way more complex. Its many, many, many iterations and history of storylines are overwhelming to say the least. Sooooooooooooooooo….I’m just not gonna talk about all that! Problem. Solved.
What I do feel the need to discuss is Brie Larson’s everything. I’ve been in love with her since she bitch-sang her way into my heart in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World as Scott’s evil ex, Envy Adams. And thennnnn she was adorably smart and funny in 21 Jump Street, a dumb little reboot I never ever knew I needed, but totally and completely did. After that, I started following her as much as I could, and in Short Term 12, as a woman struggling with her own past while managing a group home for teens, well, she blew me away. Besides Brie’s knockout portrayal, the film features a heart-wrenching script and raw performances by Larson, LaKeith Stanfield, Kaitlyn Dever, Rami Malek, Stephanie Beatriz, and John Gallagher, Jr. And then she went on to do Room and we know how that worked out for her! Finally, in 2017 she directed a quirky little gem called Unicorn Store, about a…store of sorts, run by Samuel L. Jackson, that sells…unicorns. Yes. I swear. I caught the film at TIFF that year with MJ’s Rosalie Kicks and I really enjoyed it’s low-key vibe and message of self-acceptance. And Larson directed it! I remember thinking to myself after the screening, “What can’t Brie Larson do?" and, “I can’t wait to see what’s next for her.” (Unicorn Store is scheduled for an April 5 release, btw).
One of the things that came next was Captain Marvel, and while i wouldn’t call it a near perfect film, it’s one of the more solid in the MCU, and, I would argue, a more soulful two hours than that other female-led superhero jawn, Wonder Woman. I was really happy WW got made and I felt Gal Gadot did an amazing job leading the overall solid effort. But WW feels like it’s missing something for me…heart? An emotional center? Huh? What the hell am I even talking about, anyway? I shouldn’t really be comparing Wonder Woman to Captain Marvel anyway, because that’s not really important, or the point. There is certainly room for more than one female-centered action-packed jam, obviously. And I would love to see more of them. I guess I’m just programmed deep-down to pit female against female which is a real shame considering so many of us ladies, of all backgrounds and experiences, don’t often get a seat at the table. Instead, I should support and be positive and uplift.
So in that vein, back to Brie. Word on the street is mixed, but I think she was a superb casting choice. Larson and Jackson go well together, like vanilla ice cream and applesauce, or pretzels and chocolate chips (trust me, both are really good). As Captain Marvel, otherwise known as Vers, aka Carol Danvers, she brims with confidence, infusing ho-hum dialogue and simpler moments with a little something extra…to me, she always shines. Larson’s scenes with Lashana Lynch (as Carol’s Earthly bestie Maria Rambeau) are warm and lively - I genuinely believed in their friendship and identified them as the film’s heart immediately. It’s these particular emotional threads that can be a hard sell in superhero films (Black Panther is the only other such film I would categorize as showcasing such capable acting) yet Larson, Jude Law, Annette Bening, Ben Mendelsohn, and Lynch do a decent job with what they have to work with. Gemma Chan and Djimon Hounsou have a few small moments, while crowd faves Clark Gregg and Lee Pace reprise their regular Marvel roles as Agent Coulson and Ronan, respectively.
Besides solid acting, the most noticeable to me is the rather subdued look and feel of the film, which isn’t surprising given the previous work of directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. The two started collaborating at NYU and are most known for Half Nelson (Fleck directed, the two co-wrote), Sugar (directed by both), and It’s Kind of a Funny Story (also directed by both). If you’ve seen any of their work you might think…huh. That’s an interesting choice. While featuring a bit of that ol’ Marvel sleek and shine, Captain Marvel isn’t necessarily a marvel of technical filmmaking. It’s capable and sturdy cinematic craftsmanship - a solid effort by two fairly independent directors. But it’s the storytelling aspects of the film, the character development of Carol Danvers that really sticks out. This is, after all, an origin story. And origin stories can sometimes be boooooo-ringly bogged down with exposition and back story. But in thinking about all the films of Boden & Fleck, a pattern emerges - in all of their films there is a strong sense of characters, a real progression and feel for the heroes of their films that is quite powerful. In that way, it’s no surprise to me these two were granted the Captain Marvel reins - to sift through all the possible iterations and past plots in the Captain Marvel back catalog, to fully introduce her character to existing and potential new fans alike - it’s a hefty task. While there are some aspects of her character I wanted to know more about (namely who she was on Earth before getting sent to Kree) I think Boden and Fleck should be proud of the work they did here.
One thing I wouldn’t be so proud of? Using really overplayed 90’s songs to convey an overall 90’s vibe and reference point. Yes the film is a bit of a prequel of sorts, taking place at some point in the 1990’s which, sigh, can we move on from our 90’s nostalgia now? Radio hits by Nirvana, Hole, Garbage, and R.E.M. are all here. Cool. Like, you couldn’t dig a little deeper? Like maybe prioritize mood over highly recognizable songs you’re likely to hear in passing at a Wawa or in an Uber or some shit? And don’t get me started on the fight sequence set to No Doubt’s “Just a Girl.” I get it. She’s a girl! Fighting evil aliens and stuff! And Gwen Stefani is…just a girl, fighting the patriarchy in a bra top and plaid ska pants! Look, I have nothing against this music or any of these bands - I love No Doubt! “Sunday Morning” is the bomb! “Don’t Speak” is karaoke fire! I recently listened to n-o-t-h-i-n-g but Nirvana for three whole weeks! But picking these particular played af radio jams just smacks of laziness to me. The song choices felt phoned the fuck in and they made me laugh, roll my eyes, and sigh all at the same time, which is quite a feat. In this regard, the film could have benefited from some stronger music supervision. I mean, they had a big budget to work with…have fun with it! It’s like someone opened ANY 90’s playlist on Spotify and said “this one,” oh “and this one,” and, “yeah this is fine.” And then called that shit a day and went to Chipotle for a burrito bowl. I think we can do better.
Captain Marvel, as a standalone film within the MCU, lacks a bit of overall fire power, which is a bit upsetting considering the people involved: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, the Almighty Jude Law, etc. But what it lacks in wonder and awe-inducing moments it makes up for in warmth and heart and a strong sense of who Captain Marvel is and where she’s going. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing what’s next for her in Avengers: Endgame, a hopefully No Doubt-free film.