The invigorating ‘Captain Marvel’ focuses on the female experience while expanding the Marvel universe.
Kernel Rating: 4 (4 out of 5)
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 124 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 10+. The first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to focus explicitly on a female character presents a message about facing adversity and going “harder, further, faster.” The movie includes typical Marvel action sequences and violence, with a variety of battle sequences, some hand-to-hand combat, midair chases and crashes, and the discussion of a war between two rival planets and peoples in which one group is labeled “terrorists” and the others are “noble warriors.” Also some infrequent cursing, some lewd and sexist jokes and comments, one sexually themed joke, an alien autopsy scene that is a little bit gross, and an alien creature that is mostly tentacles and fangs.
By Roxana Hadadi
“I have nothing to prove to you,” Captain Marvel (Brie Larson, of “The Glass Castle”) says to a male character in the film named after her, the first in the entire run of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to explicitly focus on a woman. Set in the 1990s, with a soundtrack populated by female-led bands and a female-heavy ensemble, the film works not only as an introduction to a new Marvel hero but as a time at the movies that is consistently interested in what it feels like to be a girl and a woman.
“Captain Marvel” begins on the world Hala, the capital planet of the Kree Empire, a race of “noble warrior heroes” who have been locked in what seems like an endless war with an enemy race, the Skrulls. The Skrulls can shapeshift into any other person they see, and they’ve fought with the Kree for years. Kree warrior Vers (Larson) is committed to their cause and to training to make herself more effective, but her commander Yon-Rogg (Jude Law, of “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald”) is stern in his consideration of her emotions: She shouldn’t have any.
She’s too impulsive, too spontenous, she lets her anger or her doubt or her other feelings get in the way, Yon-Rogg says. She can never advance unless she keeps herself in check. But Vers is plagued by memories she doesn’t understand, dreams of people she doesn’t know and places she’s never gone. What is in Vers’s mind that she doesn’t remember? Who, or what, is she?
The tease for the Captain Marvel character at the end of last year’s “Avengers: Infinity War” was an effective introduction, and the film is a satisfying expansion of her backstory. Larson is smirking, sarcastic, and charming, perfectly cast as a woman who has been underestimated her whole life and who kept going anyway, who refused to let what men thought of her define her. One of the moments from the film’s first trailer, in which she gets up after falling down at three different ages in her life—child, teenager, and adult—is cathartic and deeply emotional in “Captain Marvel,” a reminder of the limitations that society tries to place on women and the strength needed to move forward.
For many female viewers of any age, those scenes—where a father tells his daughter she can’t do something because it’s too dangerous, when a rival baseball player tries to injure a female player with a too-close throw, when Air Force cadets mock a female in their class about the meaning of the word “cockpit”—will be recognizable. And these are opportunities for conversation after the film: What did young viewers think about the hardships Captain Marvel placed? How did she work to surpass them? What alterations did she have to make to her own behavior, or to her behavior toward others, to address the doubts of others, or her own?
Larson and Samuel L. Jackson (of “Incredibles 2”) reprising his role as SHIELD Agent Nick Fury, have great chemistry, and the movie makes good use of hit songs from the ‘90s that older viewers may recognize from the likes of No Doubt, Garbage, and TLC. Visually, much of the film is stellar, especially when Captain Marvel is flying around in space, punching ships out of the sky and pushing missiles off course; those scenes are a cacophony of energy and light. But the film falters a bit when it’s forced to abide by the typical Marvel formula. The connections to the other films are omnipresent: We see how the pager came to be in Fury’s possession as a way to contact her at the end of “Infinity War”; we recognize one of the characters of “Captain Marvel,” Ronan the Avenger (Lee Pace), from “Guardians of the Galaxy”; and, per the course for Marvel films, there is another galactic war that threatens to wipe out civilizations.
When “Captain Marvel” focuses on that stuff, it feels bogged down, instead of the invigorating character introduction it otherwise is. But with a pitch-perfect performance from Larson and a script that centers the female experience while still checking off all the Marvel Cinematic Universe boxes, “Captain Marvel” is an exciting new direction for the franchise as it heads into its next phase.
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