Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Captain Marvel (2019)

We've been here many times before. You'll have seen a lot of people singing the praises of Captain Marvel and just as many people calling it the worst film they've seen in years. The reality, as it so often does, lies somewhere in the middle.

Another origin story, but one that's a bit different from so many of the others that we've already been given by Marvel, this tells the story of a Kree Starforce member named Vers (Brie Larson), a young woman who may have once been a human being named Carol Danvers. The Kree are currently engaged in a war with the Skrulls, and one battle leads to Vers ending up on Earth in the 1990s. There she meets Nick Fury (a youth-enised Samuel L. Jackson), fights more Skrulls (they can take on the form of anyone they have seen), and starts trying to piece together her past on the way to fulfilling her potential future.

There's a lot to like here, but almost as much to dislike, and it's a shame that so many people on both sides of a dividing line completely separate from the actual quality of the movie itself have decided to use their stances to attempt to build up or tear down Captain Marvel (both the film and Larson).

Let me start with the good. The cast are almost uniformly fantastic, with Larson yet another perfect choice by Marvel. Jackson works very well alongside her, and there's a lot of fun to be had wondering just when he will need the eyepatch we're all so used to him wearing, and the other big names are Jude Law (a Kree warrior/mentor figure), Ben Mendelsohn (appearing in both Skrull and non-Skrull form), and Annette Bening (playing a scientist, a memory, and an incarnation of a Supreme Intelligence . . . it makes sense when you watch the movie). As good as they all are, there are also excellent supporting turns from Lashana Lynch and Akira Akbar, portraying a mother and daughter who have a strong connection to Carol. In fact, Lynch and Akbar have some of the best moments with Larson that emphasise the empowering message of the movie.

Which leads me on to the next big plus point. Although this has been promoted with a message of positivity and strength for women, it also has plenty of other messages in the mix, with some that feel constant, and fairly standard in the realm of comic book movies, and one that feels very relevant, and very well-handled.

What else works? The humour, for the most part. There are numerous laughs to be had here, with targets ranging from the older tech of the '90s to the cuteness of a feline named Goose, but they're interspersed in a way that doesn't tip the balance away from the essence of the story - the superhero origin. There's also a great soundtrack, including big tunes from Elastica, Nirvana, and No Doubt. And then you have the world-building, with fans being allowed a nice sense of satisfaction as you see pieces being moved into place that have already been shown established in previous films.

Now to the bad stuff. Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who also helped to write the screenplay, seem as confused and unsure of themselves as the central character does. The opening act is a muddied and fractured collage of scenes that you know will have some context by the end of the film, which doesn't make the start any more enjoyable, and the ending is almost impossible to care about. You get a twist everyone knows is coming from the very start of the movie, you get a superhero up there with Superman (which means they're so powerful that there doesn't seem to be any real threat to them), and none of the action sequences are put together with the care and polish that we've come to expect from these movies in recent years. It's also a dull movie, in terms of both the light levels (unless they were projecting it incorrectly at my local IMAX) and the visual style. Things brighten up once we're on '90s Earth but other moments that should be treats for the eyeballs just don't feel all that spectacular or . . . shiny. And that soundtrack? As good as it is, only one song really works for the scene it is in. The rest feel either completely unnecessary or are just there to sell soundtracks and allow some viewers to enjoy a warm glow of nostalgia. The biggest mis-step may be the way a song is used in a third act fight scene, with no attempt made to at least match the rhythm of the visuals to the audio or actually use the song as part of the experience. It plays. People fight. That's all you can say about the scene.

Despite me sounding like a crotchety old man, I found enough here to have a good time at the cinema. And I'll buy Captain Marvel when it comes to shiny disc. There's a decent middle section, a nice nod to The French Connection, a pinch of The Right Stuff, a moving Stan Lee tribute, and a statement about heroism that proves more effective than many of the others (how many times do we really need to see Tony Stark have fun in his suit and defeat baddies before then feeling tortured and guilty?). It's not a terrible film, not at all. But it's not a great film either. Compared to many of the other Marvel movies, since they started their proper schedule of dominating the box office, it falls short. Not at the bottom of the pile, but maybe just below the other titles I would have ranked in the middle section.


The movie will be available to buy here.
Americans will be able to get it digitally here.