Super Saturday Review: Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel (2019)
Dirs: Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck

When I think back to when I saw this at my local boutique cinema on opening night, it stands in my memory as a great cinema-going experience. It was International Women’s Day in 2019, the beautiful little boutique cinema was full of people looking forward to some Marvel fun and action, hoping it’d be lighter in tone than the Infinity War movies it was sandwiched between. Successfully delivering on that promise, I think it was one of the best cinema trips I’ve had in a few years.

A Kree soldier known to her comrades as ‘Vers’ (Brie Larson, star of great films ‘Room‘ and ‘Short Term 12‘) finds herself stranded on Earth, soon she realizes that this may be the place for her to get to the bottom of the strange fragmented dreams she’s been having and the chance to answer questions of her unknown past.

Sadly I didn’t get a chance to review the film when it was released, though at the time I quickly noted down my thoughts, so I’ve taken the opportunity to rewatch and enjoy it on Disney+ twice recently to refresh my memory and see how it holds up at home. Though some films don’t hold up as well as remembered, especially comparing between an opening night in a great cinema with friends and at home on my own in the midst of a global pandemic. Thankfully, I think this has so much to offer someone like me, a fan of the MCU, that makes it really enjoyable on repeat home viewing.

Tonally this is a lot lighter and more fun than many of the other recent MCU films, it doesn’t have to deal with the inevitability of Thanos or anything too cataclysmic, so works very well in the release order of the MCU as a bit of a palate cleanser and provides some much-needed relief, sandwiched as it was between ‘Infinity War’ and ‘Endgame’. That’s not to say that it’s not an important entry into the canon, I think it’s going to be developed in future films to be a pivotal moment in MCU history, and that may help to make repeat viewings even more rewarding. It’s already been tied into other films that followed, and I have a hunch the events of this film may form the basis for the Nick Fury show that’s in development for Disney+.

Some twists and reveals are a lot easier to predict than others, but either way, it doesn’t just dish up complete predictability from the outset, expectations held from a knowledge of the comics are subverted. There’s also a nice dose of nostalgia for the 90s, featuring a Blockbuster store and some throwbacks on the soundtrack.

Along with the ’90s setting comes a soundtrack that clearly tries to do a James Gunn at times with hopeful incongruity. At one point a fight scene is paired with an unexpected song, one that many people have picked out as not working well for the scene, and it doesn’t, I wouldn’t even be able to convincingly argue it grows on you or gets better on repeat viewing, it doesn’t. This scene could be a lot better if the song was changed, but the filmmakers clearly wanted it in there and it doesn’t completely ruin what’s on screen, it just doesn’t add anything to it.

Brie Larson is excellent, another piece of strong casting to the MCU, following their ability to sign Oscar-calibre actors to the ever-growing ensemble. If this is the only thing you’ve seen her in, I highly recommend both ‘Room‘ and ‘Short Term 12‘ as films that show just why she’s such a great addition to the MCU. I sadly wouldn’t recommend bothering with her directorial debut ‘Unicorn Store’ on Netflix, even though it stars Larson alongside Samuel L. Jackson, it’s a bit of a mess and I found it completely unsatisfying and not even worth reviewing fully, though I do hope she keeps working at improving her writing and directing. This film was directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck whose experience pays off, they are best known for films they’ve directed together such as ‘Half Nelson’ and ‘It’s Kind of A Funny Story’ as well as some notable TV work including some episodes of the fantastic ‘In Treatment’.

There was a lot of discourse at the time of release, much of it vitriolic, often sexist, at best thinly-veiled and at worst horrific. As I understand it, Brie Larson simply stated that this film might benefit from being reviewed by female critics more than the predominantly male pool of critics that are typically sent to screenings of Marvel movies, as women may understand some issues touched on that men would miss because they don’t have the same life experience. I’ve since listened to podcasts where that topic was discussed in full detail and got the point across perfectly, so I really understood what she meant (as best I could) and have to agree, there are complex ideas written into this film that reviews by men completely missed. I can’t explain fully as it would touch on major spoilers but the ‘Captain Marvel’ episode of the slash film podcast is well worth a listen to add another dimension of understanding that will reward future viewing.

I like when the MCU covers time periods that have so far only be referenced. I still think there are good stories to be told about the development of S.H.I.E.L.D. though, that’s what the final season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has thrown itself into and maybe over-confused the timeline. Though Captain Marvel has since appeared in ‘Endgame’, complete with a new haircut, I wouldn’t be surprised if the sequel to this goes back to where this film leaves her and continues her story in a concurrent way, I think that’s how they’ll go about it, probably taking it back out into her adventures in space instead of the late ’90s on Earth.

It’s really funny to look at how this film apparently had an effect on the last Fox-produced X-Men film ‘Dark Phoenix’ (not counting ‘New Mutants’), putting the two side-by-side and seeing how they could’ve shared so many key elements is quite funny. The fantastic Film Theory channel on YouTube did a really excellent episode on it (which is well worth watching) and while some accounts may contradict the extent of the impact this film had on the characters and story of ‘Dark Phoenix’, it would be naive to say that they didn’t.

I don’t think you can fully appreciate how good this film is without bringing these other films and themes into consideration, but you can certainly enjoy it without worrying about anything deeper, it’s really enjoyable as a standalone, and as a crucial part of the interconnected MCU.

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