“Higher, Faster, Further”. As the posters would have it, the Captain Marvel movie promises the next evolutionary step in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In many ways, it is: It’s the first to be led by a female character alone, and the first to have a female director. Both epic and funny, Captain Marvel flies close to the formula perfected by Marvel, and is in many ways another wonderful chapter in the middle of the larger Avengers story.
Starring Brie Larson as Carol Danvers aka the titular Captain Marvel, the movie finally introduces the character hinted at at the end of Avengers: Infinity War. In the end-credits scene, Nick Fury sent out an urgent message, and all fans got to see was a logo – Captain Marvel’s emblem, the Hala Star.
THE ORIGIN STORY
As Captain Marvel’s first solo movie (and first appearance), the movie reveals just how she became the superhero she is. We start off in Hala, the Kree homeworld, where she is an elite Kree soldier in Starforce led by her Kree mentor (played by Jude Law). Known to her team as Vers, Captain Marvel has no memory before her time on Hala. Later, she’s captured by the Skrulls when a mission she’s in goes awry. Escaping from the Skrulls leads her to Earth (circa 1995), where she starts to piece together who she really is.
Larson is an absolute joy as Carol Danvers, her take-no-prisoners attitude giving the character the steel she needs. It’s a wonderfully nuanced portrayal, especially if you pay attention to the moments when she, as a well-trained Kree warrior, chooses to keep her guard up. One scene even references Larson’s personal experience after being cast as Captain Marvel, and is a wonderful touch.
There’s also a great supporting cast, with Samuel L Jackson obviously having loads of fun as a younger Nick Fury. Ben Mendelsohn once again gets some time to be a villainous middle manager – something he does impeccably well, and Jude Law gets to be rough and dirty instead of his usual pretty self. Lashana Lynch adds some spark as best friend Maria Rambeau, and together with her daughter Monica (Akira Akbar), form a solid core that helps uncover the true Carol Danvers. And not enough words can be written on how kick-ass Gemma Chan is as Minn-Erva. Djimon Hounsou is also back as Korath, with a one-liner nod to his appearance in Guardians Of The Galaxy.
And let’s not forget the lovable cat Goose, who was obviously scripted by an actual cat-lover. Part live-action, part CGI, Goose is the scene-stealer of the movie – especially that moment in the cockpit.
Some wonderful visual effects help set the tone of the movie, whether it’s the de-aging of Nick Fury and Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), or the slightly trippier moments with the Supreme Intelligence – something Marvel movies have been doing rather well. The directing duo of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck do a good job of the action sequences, though having a huge chunk of the movie grounded on Earth – in 1995 USA – means it’s actually less mind-blowing than Wakanda or the Quantum Realm.
Completing the 1990s feel is the music, as there are some wonderful headbangers in the show. The deftly selected songs will leave a smile on a 90s kid’s face, though the kick seemed to be missing in the screening I was in. Either the sound editor front-loaded the audio too much, or the speakers in the hall I was in were borked. Looks like I’ll just have to watch it again to find out!
BUT NOT YOUR USUAL ORIGIN STORY
What sets Captain Marvel apart – for better or for worse – is how it is not your usual origin story. You won’t see a story of how someone overcomes mangled hands or losing an uncle, gains great powers, then becomes the hero they were always meant to be. After all, Vers starts off with her powers – instead, what we have instead is a journey of self-discovery as Danvers recovers from her amnesia.
So instead of parental trauma or disability, what keeps Carol Danvers down is something more insidious: People who can be seen as well-meaning. Danvers is constantly told to shunt off her emotions, and even acts as a Kree soldier led by the Supreme Intelligence (Annette Bening in one of her multiple roles). Being cold and detached is part of her training in being a soldier, and it’s only when Captain Marvel realises that those emotions can be a positive part of her that the movie explodes in joy (and pyrotechnics). And it’s not like Larson can be accused of being cold and aloof in the role – Danvers, in the presence of Fury or the Rambeaus, opens up as she lets her guard down.
After all, we’ve all been there at some point, told to keep a bottle on our emotions, to hold it in. The movie tries to tell us that being a hero is something all of us have within us, if we would just start to filter away the bullshit that people feed us on how we should act, but instead embrace who we truly are inside. And to get up when we’re knocked down.
Nonetheless, having a detached hero doesn’t lend itself easily to having someone to connect to, especially one who is amnesiac – a blank slate with photon blasts. And while the movie twists and turns, it’s not always clear why we’re rooting for her, and what we’re cheering for her to overcome. But that’s simply because sometimes the true villains are not something big and bad – but the expectations that greater society puts on you. And how are you going to punch that?
At the end of it all, Captain Marvel isn’t a superhero origin story. Instead it’s a “super”-human origin story: A story of how rediscovering your humanity, embracing your past and keeping in touch with your emotions can take you higher, faster, further.
Also, Brie Larson is such an amazing badass.
THE FUTURE IS FEMALE
All this obviously ends with the expectation that Captain Marvel will appear in the upcoming Avengers: Endgame. (Though to be fair, she had a 50 per cent chance of not surviving the deadly finger snap. But I guess she did.) Captain Marvel will definitely bring such much-needed firepower in the fight against Thanos.
Captain Marvel’s place as the first female-led Marvel movie is an important one, especially amid all the horrible misogyny surrounding it. After all, if you watch it you’ll know the movie doesn’t have some sort of dastardly agenda – unless you’re the kind of man who keeps asking women to smile more.
And there’s much to celebrate in the movie, whether it’s a wonderful lead character, or how it fits into the Marvel formula, while trying to do something different. The movie also features a wonderful tribute to Stan Lee, as well as two end-credit scenes.
In many ways, Captain Marvel does go higher, faster, and further. But if you know the comics, Kelly Sue DeConnick’s arc on Captain Marvel was “Higher, Faster, Further, More” … and while Captain Marvel is an exciting addition to the MCU, with something “more”, it could have really owned the skies.
Captain Marvel is open in Singapore cinemas now, and opens in the US on International Women’s Day. Perfect!