As one of the most powerful characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain Marvel‘s movie has been a long time coming. Her original incarnation, Ms. Marvel, dates back to the silver age of comics. For decades, she was just a B or even a C-list supporting heroine, who only occasionally had her own series. But as Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers has risen to become one of Marvel’s most beloved creations. It’s only within the last decade that she’s become so prominent, and it made her the ideal choice for Marvel Studios’ first solo heroine film.
In many ways, Captain Marvel is perhaps the most important superhero origin story since Iron Man. In the past, Marvel Studios has been criticized for its fairly straightforward stories. Moreover, the so-called “Marvel formula” was used in just about every one of the studio’s early films. Even Black Panther – which was brilliantly executed – felt a bit familiar in terms of certain conventions. However, Captain Marvel offers a different spin on this formula, and that’s why this movie feels so distinct from what has come before.
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Captain Marvel is a much needed divergence from the traditional origin story. It also manages to keep the core elements of the character intact. Essentially, it tells the character’s origin in reverse and lets it unravel throughout the film. Even if the script feels familiar, it still features strong and dynamic characterization. There are even satisfying payoffs.
Thematically speaking, this version of Carol is struggling to find her identity. And she remains fairly powerful throughout. More importantly, Captain Marvel manages to convincingly present the idea that Carol should have nothing to prove to anyone other than herself.
Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck were apparently trying to make this movie feel like an action flick from the ’90s. While that aesthetic fits this particular story, it feels slightly amateurish compared to the other MCU films. It takes a more scaled down, intimate approach. Boden and Fleck’s indie background helped the duo craft the characters. However, their lack of experience making big-budget movies manifests itself in slightly bland shots throughout the film. There are certainly some powerfully impactful visuals, which the trailers have largely spoiled. But Captain Marvel doesn’t really bring anything new or inventive to the table in terms of effects.
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It’s clear that Boden and Fleck wanted to focus on creating compelling performances, which is ultimately a welcome trade-off. Bowden and Fleck wasted a few of the characters in their care. However, the directors were also able to pull some wonderfully unexpected moments from the cast. Larson’s portrayal of Carol tapped into the often sassy nature of the character. She was also able to convey the strength and resiliency of Carol without losing her vulnerability. Larson’s playful performance was a real highlight, but it was Ben Mendelsohn’s portrayal of Talos that ended up being the film’s biggest surprise. Mendelsohn is one of the most underrated character actors of the past decade. He proved himself once again by giving a tremendously specific and engaging performance while under a crazy amount of prosthetics.
The movie manages to provide just enough information to understand the motivations of the various alien factions, without sacrificing story and characterization for the sake of world building. At the same time, it also does a nice job of further expanding the cosmic side of the MCU. But it does mean that further exploration of the Kree-Skrull conflict will have to wait for a sequel.
The most amazing thing about Captain Marvel is the way it feels like a remix of the traditional Marvel origin. It’s an important MCU movie that tells a compelling story without losing the element of fun. With Avengers: Endgame on the horizon, it’s safe to assume that Carol will have an increasingly significant presence going forward. Ultimately, Captain Marvel is a welcome addition to MCU; one that not only proves Marvel Studios has plenty of interesting stories to tell, but also that the studio is still willing to take chances.