CAPTAIN MARVEL - Review - We Are Movie Geeks



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Who’s needing an escape from this seemingly never-ending Winter? Though it’s still a few weeks away, many schools are already “out” for “Spring break”. If you’re not getting that respite for a while, how about a short getaway? A weekend or perhaps just a couple of hours or so revisiting someplace fun? It’s been a long, long eight months away, but I’m not alone in looking forward to another trek into the more-than-a-decade-old “MCU” (Marvel Comics Universe, though I prefer “Marvel movie-verse”). Things were looking pretty dire for our fave “super-folks” last July when Ant-Man appeared to lose many of his friends to the body-dissolving “snap’ of the mad Titan, Thanos (from the Avengers flick of late April). Is there no hero to challenge that fiend? Buy your ticket, strap yourself into a seat (in front of the biggest screen possible), and look for that red, blue, and gold comet streaking past the stars. She’s finally here, CAPTAIN MARVEL to the (box office, hopefully) rescue!

This fantastic fable begins as something of a mystery. A recurring nightmare awakens a blonde young woman (resembling an Earthling) who peers out at a sparkling city (the subtitles informs us that we’re in the alien home of the Kree). The woman called Vers (Brie Larson) is soon at the front entrance of “living unit” of Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), her commander/trainer. After a brief combat “work out”, he sends her to a meeting of the Kree Supreme Intelligence, which assumes the image of someone important to the visitor. Verse recognizes the mature woman (Annette Bening), though she doesn’t know her name (Vers’s memories are scrambled, flashing by in unexpected images). The SI gets her ready for a new mission. Along with other members of an elite military unit, Vers will rescue a Kree undercover operative with information about a deadly alien race of shapeshifters (they can assume the form of anyone they observe), the Skrulls under the command of the ruthless Talos (Ben Mendelsohn). When things go badly, Vers is captured and brought aboard a Skrull ship. Luckily she steals an escape pod and crash lands on planet C-53 AKA Earth in the year 1995. Her arrival attracts the attention of two rookie government men, agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). When a squad of Skrulls attacks, Fury is convinced of the otherworldly exploits of Vers. Eventually, the two hit the road, but their mission to stop the Skrulls takes a backseat to the revelation of the true origins of the powerful Vers. Is she more than Kree?

The talented Larson (can it be just over three years ago she earned the Oscar for ROOM) is a most formidable and complex addition to the MCU’s roster. Though she glides through a mental fog in the opening sequences, she projects a confident, powerful physical presence in the frenetic action set pieces (and that spiked mohawk helmet that pops on while is space looks fierce). It’s when she’s back on terra firma that Larson shows us the warrior (um, warrior-hero) has a vulnerable side, as that fog peels away she’s more human and open. On all worlds, she’s got a sassy spirit, with a quick wit rivaling that ole’ web-spinner. Plus she “plays” well with others, particularly with Jackson as a very different Fury. Along with his youth (another great MCU digital ‘lift’), Nick ‘s more upbeat with that surly glare a dozen or so years to come. We see Nick thinking quickly, on the run, showing us the reason he was put on the ‘fast track’ by the agency. Plus he has a wonderful “buddy cop movie” rapport with Larson, with the “fish out of water” roles reversed over the course of the story. Vers is perplexed by 1995 LA while later Fury feels way over his head, perhaps thinking that this alien…stuff…is way above his pay grade. Their on-the-road banter just crackles with energy (much like somebody’s super-charged fists).

The duo’s supporting players are superb. Law exudes great gravitas as a Kree riff on Mr. Miyagi (with a touch of Obi-Wan) who’s impervious to Vers’s humor. Mendelsohn has this “effete sneering baddie” thing down after the hat trick of ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY, READY PLAYER ONE, and, ugh, ROBIN HOOD, but this gifted actor has some real surprises “up his sleeve” making the demon-looking Talos more human than his Earth-disguise of Agent Keller (played with the right awkwardness). Benning ‘s having a lot of fun switching personas as the Kree SI, and later in that image’s source, always with an intelligent focused demeanor. Making a great impression is Lashana Lynch as the warm, gregarious Maria Rambeau, a young mother who may be able to sort out Vers’s visual flashes (Akira Akbar, as her daughter Monica, has a natural charm). Gemma (CRAZY RICH ASIANS) Chan has a great snarky sense of contempt as Kree cohort Minn-Erva. Oh, and there’s some more MCU vets. Gregg (after toiling away on TV for several seasons) is back on the big screen as a younger, but still button-down, Agent Coulson. And from the first GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, there’s future sullen, somber temple guard Korath (Djimon Hounsou) and the not quite crazy (well on his way though) Kree Accuser Ronan (Lee Pace).

Following in the footsteps of the skilled Russo (Anthony and Joe), another duo shares directing credits, wife, and husband Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. Oh, they also worked on the screenplay with Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Meg LeFauve, and Nicole Perlman. Much as with the Russo and several other MCU filmmakers, this is the first big effects “blockbuster” from Boden and Fleck after a string of impressive smaller character films (HALF NELSON, SUGAR, and a little gem MISSISSIPPI GRIND), and the two also impress here. The pacing never flags, and they find the right tone for the action showdowns and comedic interludes. Unfortunately, many of the those action scenes are set aboard dimly-lit spaceship interiors and one is on a dark, foggy planet surface. Unlike the weird worlds of the last Avengers epic and the Guardians flicks, it’s hard to tell what’s going on (it made SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY a real visual ordeal), even with the weaponry that temporarily lit things up (swords, gloves, and rayguns). I can only imagine how tough the 3D “upconvert” would look. Then there’s the feeling that the story seems “lite”, as in MCU-lite, after the grand adventures of last year’s AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR and BLACK PANTHER (even the size-changing hijinks heist that was ANT-MAN AND THE WASP). There was a true dramatic scope to those, while it’s difficult to get truly emotionally invested in a galactic conflict (though it is a nice metaphor for some long-running conflicts on this planet). Then there’s the time frame. Like many “prequels” it’s nearly impossible to whip up real concern over characters that must survive for the previously seen flicks. In that way, much as in the above-mentioned SOLO, we get some “origin-style” back stories that are mostly fun but come close to being contrived (what happened to Fury’s left eye). Still, that mid-90s era is good for some chuckles, from a defunct retail chain to the frustrations of new tech. And those tunes which aren’t as inspired as the Guardian’s soundtrack and in one case hammers home the themes of female empowerment. Still, those brief flashes are powerful, as we see Vers growing up and having to contend with a roster of awful (as opposed to alpha) males (from big brother to papa to a leering co-worker). This film’s not just a “place-holder” or a break between acts of the Thanos saga, but it never rises to that dramatic level. Even at that, this is miles above most action film franchises, so for a breezy bit of fantasy fun (and a long overdue female-driven Marvel movie…really Black Widow should’ve had two solo flicks by now) take a star-filled ride with the movies’ new super-charged superhero (guess heroine is out of step), CAPTAIN MARVEL.

4 Out of 5

Jim Batts was a contestant on the movie edition of TV's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" in 2009 and has been a member of the St. Louis Film Critics organization since 2013.

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