My Marvel Diary: Captain Marvel

Image: Marvel/Disney

Taking a cursory glance at today’s cinematic landscape it would appear that Marvel, or more accurately Disney, rule the world. Since 2008’s Iron Man the Marvel Cinematic Universe has built itself up into a box-office behemoth with huge cultural influence. I have never quite got the superhero hype, however. A long-time lover of ‘proper’ cinema and arthouse flicks, in recent years I have fought against this tendency to be a ‘film snob’. My Marvel Diary is a challenge to myself to watch all 23 MCU films, perhaps proving my prejudices correct, or perhaps turning me into a lifelong fan of all things superhero.

Release Date: 8th March 2019

MCU Phase: Three

Director: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck

Writer: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Geneva Robertson-Dworet

Starring: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law, Lashana Lynch, Annette Bening

May contain spoilers.

At long last, on film number 21, we have a female lead in an MCU film. It may have taken too long and DC/Warner Bros. may have got there first with 2017’s Wonder Woman, but I’m glad that Marvel have finally taken this step. As I said with Black Panther, I am lucky to have always seen myself represented in multifaceted ways on screen and, given how much of my life revolves around a screen, that’s pretty important. Over half the population haven’t been that lucky and the MCU, as the biggest film franchise on the planet, has the opportunity to play a key role in improving representation on screen. I hope that Captain Marvel and Black Panther are a sign of good things to come.

The film itself, directed by Half Nelson’s Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, is pretty bloody good. With greater intrigue than a lot of first MCU solo films, and an ambitious approach, this is a worthy introduction to one Carol Danvers. It is, to all intents and purposes, a classic origin story; the formula is a little twisted though. A typical origin story introduces us to the hero and explains how they became the superpowered character we know. This starts with Carol Danvers already powered-up and on galactic missions with blasters and roundhouse kicks galore. From here the film takes on the structure of a mystery as we, and Carol, discover how she got to the planet Hela and who she really is. The amnesiac hero is a familiar concept, but it’s a fun one that we haven’t had much of in the MCU. To make things more compelling, the origin story formula is simultaneously played straight as well as with a twist, as Carol learns to control her powers and go from space warrior to Earth protector. We start in the middle of her origin story and hurtle towards the end, whilst also uncovering the beginning.

This approach, for the most part, works well. Captain Marvel is a film split roughly into two parts. In the first, all our focus is on the hero and learning who she is as a person. The mystery to uncover her past, and the emotional weight of that on her, is the film’s driving force and most interesting element. At the same time we have a space war going on between the Kree (good) and the Skrull (bad). The war has no real explanation or motive, meaning that it feels a little bland and ‘action for the sake of action’ type stuff. Decent entertainment, but less important than Carol herself.

It turns out, however, that the simplicity and lack of explanation to the Kree-Skrull conflict was just a bit of misdirection. The war is in fact between Kree (bad) and Skrull (good). The latter, in a timely touch, are refugees looking for a home but keep getting blasted to shit by the Kree so are fighting back. At this point what was the film’s weakest element becomes its strongest, gaining complexity and tightening its grip over the viewer. Lead Skrull character Talos is played by Ben Mendelsohn, who did a great job of being a compelling villain early on despite playing a scrotum-chinned green chap with no backstory, and then makes for a very sympathetic supporting player. There was the opportunity to delve really deep into the nuances of the plot in the way that Black Panther did but the film sadly doesn’t have time for that with the origin story it’s also trying to tell. The flip side of the improvement in the villain storyline, is that then Carol’s journey is sidelined a bit. Once we’ve discovered the big secret of her past we move head with the war plot and her story feels slightly dropped.

Captain Marvel tells two stories well but rarely is it telling both well at the same time, other than in the excellent ‘crossover’ scene between the film’s two halves. That said, I was a big fan of the decision to bring Carol to Earth because of the Kree-Skrull war. Because the ongoing conflict is the jumping-off point for her origin story on Earth, it means that the existence of a villain does not feel crowbarred in like it does with some similar tales. This is something that Iron Man did well right back at the start, fashioning a film that flows nicely as a whole whilst providing both action-based tension and character drama.

Peppered throughout this is good humour and good fun. It moves around in tone quite a lot, but never lurches. I like Carol Danvers as a character, which is a good start. She’s sharp, funny, and has a strong rebellious streak. Her heart-over-head warrior attitude and confident wit pitch her somewhere between Tony Stark and Thor, but with all her own baggage. Brie Larson is great in the role, bringing the same cheeky charisma that Robert Downey Jr. used to power the MCU to begin with, just toned down a bit. Paired with a convincingly de-aged and predictably delightful Samuel L. Jackson as young Nick Fury, it’s all very enjoyable. Add to that the ‘alien on Earth’ humour that was a highlight of Thor, some good shape-shifting action, and all the business with the cat, and you’ve got solid blockbuster entertainment on your hands.

The ending I also generally liked. The film shifts its focus back to Carol for a bit as she shrugs off her condescending mentor, and embraces her powers rather than ‘controls’ them. In a nice move, she realises her own strength and tenacity as a human, and a human woman at that, affirming the film’s subtle yet strong feminist thread. The idea of her not quite understanding her powers or her humanity would have played even better if we’d seen more hints of it through the film, and I think the climactic action goes on a little too long. Nevertheless, this is a suitably rousing debut for Captain Marvel.

It should also be mentioned that this film starts with a touching tribute to Stan Lee, the founder of Marvel comics. This film includes another of his legendary cameos, and begins with the Marvel logo being filled with these very cameos, rather than the usual heroes. ‘Thank you Stan’ comes up afterwards, acknowledging the huge influence he had on popular culture and his place as godfather of all things Marvel.

The Sting

Having seen the pager that Nick Fury dropped at the end of Infinity War and had it confirmed that it’s a contact for Captain Marvel, the first sting has Captain America, Black Widow, and Bruce Banner observing it in the post-snap world. Widow trusts Fury and wants to know who he was trying to reach. Sure enough, Captain Marvel turns up and Endgame looks more exciting than ever. A second sting involves that funny cat/alien from the film, as he coughs up the tesseract that has caused so much trouble throughout the MCU as easily as a fur ball.

Where it Ranks

It shows the strength of recent MCU outings that this doesn’t quite make it into my top half. Having said that, it is firmly in the ‘good’ category along with the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy and Iron Man, it just sits at the bottom end of it. As I have said before, the test for a first solo film is whether I want to see the hero again. Yes. Yes I do.

  1. Captain America: Civil War
  2. Thor: Ragnarok
  3. Avengers: Infinity War
  4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier 
  5. The Avengers
  6. Black Panther
  7. Iron Man 3
  8. Spider-Man: Homecoming
  9. Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2
  10. Guardians of the Galaxy
  11. Iron Man
  12. Captain Marvel
  13. Doctor Strange
  14. Captain America: The First Avenger
  15. Ant-Man
  16. Avengers: Age of Ultron
  17. Ant-Man and the Wasp
  18. Iron Man 2
  19. Thor
  20. Thor: The Dark World
  21. The Incredible Hulk

Andrew Young