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The Independent Critic

Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law, Clark Gregg, Annette Bening, Lee Pace, Mckenna Grace, Djimon Hounsou, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan
Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Anna Boden (Screenplay), Ryan Fleck (Screenplay), Geneva Robertson-Dworet (Screenplay), Nicole Perlman (Story), Meg LaFauve (Story), Anna Boden (Story), Ryan Fleck (Story), Geneva Robertson-Dworet (Story)
Rated PG-13
124 Mins.
Walt Disney Studios

 "Captain Marvel" Doesn't Quite Inspire Awe, but Quietly Breaks Ground  
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If you're expecting Captain Marvel to inspire the same kind of awe that Black Panther did, you may find yourself a touch disappointed by this Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson) directed entry into the Marvel Comics Universe. 

While Black Panther carried the weight of an entire culture on its shoulders, Captain Marvel quietly breaks its ground while telling a good story well enough that you'll likely find yourself eagerly anticipating the next Captain Marvel adventure. 

Rest assured. There will be more Captain Marvel adventures. 

Captain Marvel is a good film that does great things for the Marvel Comics Universe, the first Marvel film to be co-directed by a female and second to be centered around a female superhero, Brie Larson's Carol Danvers/Vers/Captain Marvel. 

Captain Marvel doesn't truly marvel until late in the game, choosing to immerse itself in the vastness of Larson's depth of talent. An Academy Award-winner for 2015's Room, Larson brings to Captain Marvel something I've often found woefully lacking in the Marvel Comics Universe - depth of feeling and emotional expression. It's not particularly surprising given the indie cred of co-directors Boden & Fleck, but it's almost shocking and jarring within the Marvel Comics Universe, a universe that has often emphasized razzle, dazzle, and emotional frazzle. 

In Captain Marvel, Larson plays a Kree Warrior known as Vers, who brings a kick-ass sort of bravura to her usual Marvel mix of martial arts meets photon blasts. Larson not only brings emotional depth to the Marvel Comics Universe, she restores the kind of fun and frivolity we used to experience from the universe before Avengers started avenging and it seemed like the entire universe became ultra self-aware of its ultra self-importance. 

Part of that, one could suppose, is that Captain Marvel is set in 1995, a time period that allows for more than its share of fun and a time period years before recent events in the Marvel Comics Universe as most vividly indicated by Samuel L. Jackson's rather fresh, full-eyed appearance as Nick Fury. There's a freshness to Captain Marvel that is refreshingly unburdened by co-existing with other storylines, at least for the most part, within this increasingly layered and complex universe. 

Larson's Vers lands on planet Earth, known as Planet C-53 within the film, and it's a place that feels familiar to her with memories, good ones, of her days as an Air Force Top Gun-style fly-girl, hard-flying and hard-partying and a genuine badass all the way around. These scenes serve up hints of bawdiness, though we're never quite sure just how authentic these memories existing in her mind really are. Captain Marvel is in many ways a film that emphasizes Vers's search for her place within her powers and her place within the universe. 

Who is she and where does she really belong?

She believes herself to be a Kree, mentored by Kree leader Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), a good guy with an aura of being something else that we can't quite define. The Skrulls are the bad guys, led by slimy bad guy Taros (Ben Mendelsohn). 

Yet, we know that this is a Marvel Comics Universe film and we know that within the universe things are not always as they seem. The same may very well be true here, but it's how Larson brings this searching to life, even when the script disappoints (and it does!), that makes Captain Marvel such an infinitely enjoyable film. 

The way that Vers's search for her own identity is played out in the usual Marvel paint-by-numbers way, the obvious patriarchal references with the fumbling do-gooder spirit of an Elmer Fudd cartoon, yet what's not even remotely paint-by-numbers is how Larson spiritedly brings it all too life. Larson is simply far too gifted of an actress to do anything paint-by-numbers and she rather magnificently finds every nuance of Vers, Carol Danvers, and Captain Marvel. 

Does Captain Marvel have hints of sexism and stereotype within its story's framework? I learned long ago that just as I, a film critic with a disability, don't tend to listen to those without disabilities when it comes to ableism neither is it my place to speak to a level of sexism I've never experienced. I rather look forward to hearing from the nation's female critic voices and from audience members as to their own experiences in watching Captain Marvel. 

What I will say is that as much as I enjoyed Wonder Woman, I had a deeper appreciation and a fuller understanding of Captain Marvel. Captain Marvel, perhaps owing to its being a true origin story, feels more fully alive and vibrant and complex and real. While feeling "real" isn't necessarily a Marvel Comics Universe requirement, it works rather nicely here. 

Boden & Fleck were seemingly unusual choices to direct within the Marvel Comics Universe, their low-budget indie cred possibly even more indie than a filmmaker like Taika Watiti and their signature style so pronounced that it was hard to imagine how they could possibly get out of their own ways and really pull this off. 

The good news? They do. They're filmmakers, after all. While they undeniably have a signature style, their work here is in service to the story and the motion picture and, while the story itself gets a bit mumbled and jumbled, Captain Marvel works on a far greater level than a good majority of us ever expected. Captain Marvel is both stylish and substantial, a film that emphasizes meaning as much as mayhem and a film as much emotional badassery as kick-ass action sequences. Will it necessarily please every Marvel Comics Universe fan? Not a chance. Is it the best MCU film to come out of the gate? Nope, it's not. 

Again, it's simply a good film doing great things within the Marvel Comics Universe.

Set in 1995, S.H.I.E.L.D. is a fledging agency and Jackson's Nick Fury, digitally de-aged here, is lighter and funnier and doesn't yet have the weight of the universe on his shoulders. Boden and Fleck clearly have fun digging within the Blockbuster Video-dotted landscape of 1995 America and Captain Marvel feels like a throwback that really isn't that much of a throwback. Captain Marvel gives us the accident in which Vers and her superior, Lawson (Annette Bening), crash-landed into a desert and how this crash landing ends up planting within Vers, and if you don't see the relationship with Carol Danvers you're not paying attention, and ends up giving her the powers that she will have to learn how to harness. There is, of course, a connection to other MCU films if you're watching the details and paying attention to everything that unfolds. 

It's not hiding. 

On earth, Larson's Carol begins to find her community within the likes of Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), a former fly-buddy, and her daughter (Akira Akbar), while a new group of alien compatriots will enter the picture and add depth and meaning and soul to the entire scenario. 

Captain Marvel is the film that it needed to be, perhaps just a tad less than we hoped it would be yet if we're being honest it's also just a tad better than we expected it to be. Much of this credit goes to Larson, who embodies the fullness of Vers/Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel with emotional depth, action badassery, intelligence, and an abundance of humor that gives you an identifiable, relatable superhero who is more badass than you will ever be. Boden and Fleck rise to the occasion of creating something far outside their usual cinematic universe yet they do so with intelligence, wisdom, occasional chaos, a little too much playing it safe, but ultimately more funk than clunk. While Captain Marvel may lack the culture-shifting force of Black Panther, it's a force unto itself and a mighty entertaining one at that. 

As someone who seldom sees an MCU film more than once, I can't wait to watch Captain Marvel a second time. 

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic