I HAVE TO take my hat off (were I wearing one) to Marvel Studios. In the last twelve months, they’ve broken through glass ceilings of race (with Black Panther) and now gender (with the once male, now rebooted as female, Captain Marvel). OK DC Comics pipped them on the latter with Wonder Woman. But who’s quibbling. The investment in what is already a hugely profitable Black and now female led superhero franchise is some achievement. Corporate America is recognizing Black people and women…in positions of authority…worth looking up to. What will they think of next?
The movie is absolute fun. And this in no small part due to the infectious charm of Brie Larson (heartily forgiven for Kong: Skull Island) as its eponymous hero (heroine?). She’s probably the first superhero who talks, laughs, drinks, and gets pissed off like a real person. Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman was a magnetic presence…but always larger than life; always Amazonia. Not so Brie aka Captain Carol Danvers of Earth, aka Vers from the planet Hala, aka Captain Marvel. She’s the uber ideal of the girl next door (some neighborhood!), who looks like someone you’d like to chat up. But who just happens to be a goddess.
And that adjective is not applied lightly. Captain Marvel can not only shoot photons of energy from her fists, she can slice through most things with her laser beam eyes, fly at supersonic speeds and disable battalions of soldiers with a twirl of her arms. Eat your heart out Superman.
The story charts her rise from trainee soldier on her planet (under the tutelage of the dodgy Yon-Rogg, otherwise recognized as Jude Law) to goddess on ours via a series of vaguely understood flash-backs. Think of her journey as The Bourne Identity in Space. She crashes on earth in a Blockbuster store…in that time of very slow dial up, brick sized cell phones and a youthful Agent Fury (The, sadly, inescapable Samuel L Jackson). The earth, she is told, is being overrun by the Skrulls – a shape-shifting race (from whom she was escaping when she crashed here) who must be eradicated.
And here’s where co-writers/directors Anna Boden’s and Ryan Flack’s plot differs from the usual (militaristic, quasi fascist) super hero trope where some implacable existential evil has to be defeated at all cost. Danvers/Vers/Marvel finds herself called upon to champion the needs of an endangered group of refugees. They’re desperate people fleeing persecution at home and simply seeking a safe haven. Husbands are being separated from wives and children from parents. They’re beaten up, imprisoned, demonized as terrorists and shot.
Vers must figure out how to separate victim from perpetrator, friend from enemy. She must recognize that in a world of shape shifters and shiftier friends, looks can be deceiving.
Only then she can unleash all those photons, laser beam eyes, and energy blasts.
And she does it all with the help of Maria (English actress Lashana Lynch) her BFF, who sadly thought she’d been killed six years ago (And who is remarkedly unphased by her rebirth as a goddess). Said friend is an ace pilot, a single mother AND Black.
So imaginative, these Hollywood writers!
It’s a visually sumptuous movie as well. Production designer Andy Nicholson (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) and costume designer Sanja Milkovic Hays (Star Trek Beyond) fill the screen with wonderfully imaginative space craft and sexy Wakanda-esque body suits.
Now let’s hope Brie Larson doesn’t succumb to the curse of the Marvel universe where once lauded acting talent (Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans, Elisabeth Olsen, Robert Downey Jr. Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo et al) strut and flex and pose and slowly die.
CAPTAIN MARVEL. Writer/Director: Anna Boden and Ryan Flack. Writers: Geneva Robertson-Dworet (Screenplay; Tomb Raider). With: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law, Annette Bening, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan, Djimon Hounsou. Cinematograher: Ben Davis (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri). Production designer: Andy Nicholson (Gravity). Costume designer: Sanja Milkovic Hays (The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor)