By Elias Savada.
Packing a $153 million weekend wallop here in her home country, and a huge $455 million on her native planet, Captain Marvel, the latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, rallies itself after a sluggish start, and ultimately proves itself an acceptable crowdpleaser. Brie Larson, the Oscar-winning actor of Room and the eye candy star of King Kong: Skull Island, shows us earthlings that she’s got the talent and the gumption to launch this big-budget vehicle into the box office stratosphere.
A bare six years after her bravura indie performances in Don Jon, Spectacular Now, and Short Term 12, Larson’s moved up to the A team, and the 29-year-old old is destined for greatness leading the Avengers collective, the latest of the 20-some-odd movies (and finally! one with a female title character) in the Marvel franchise. Sure, you know her movie is just a lead in to Avengers: Endgame, arriving next month (gulp!), especially if you watch the scene in the middle of the end credits, but that’s how the comic book company connects their films. For those of you who might finally consider watching a Marvel film – yes, I know there are a few of you – always stay through every second of it for extra scenes. They tease and hook things together.
And, before I forget, thank you Marvel for the lovely salute to the late Stan Lee in the opening logo sequence.
As an origins story, the film is adequately, but never enthusiastically, directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (who also co-wrote the screenplay with Geneva Robertson-Dworet). Boden and Fleck have collaborated on a handful of small micro-budgeted, character-driven festival favorites like Half Nelson and Sugar. Their last film, 2015’s Mississippi Grind, never crested above a half-million dollars in worldwide grosses (or less than 1/1000th of Captain Marvel‘s opening weekend), but did earn kudos for its lead, Ben Mendelsohn. He’s under their direction again here, playing a dual role in the director-writers’ breakthrough, big-budget space flick.
As the film unfolds, Larson takes the stage as Vers, a warrior in training under the pushy supervision of Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). It’s not earth and she’s got no memory of her past, but she’s got some electric juice in her workouts that foretell something super inside her. She’s on Hala, where she’s part of the local Kree civilization, who are trying to eradicate a threat by the shape-shifting Skrulls (led by Mendelsohn’s Talos). Things aren’t what they seem, and Vers soon finds herself on 1990s Earth, crashing into a Blockbuster video store (glancing at a VHS copy of The Right Stuff) and eventually recalling enough of her past as ace pilot Carol Danvers.
As she battles aliens chasing her, she’s inching her way through her past, with comic touches of ancient computers agonizingly waiting for ancient (well, 20 years ago) technology to load. That’s just one of the smaller little asides that poke fun at the era. The big joke is seeing, and trying not to obsess over, the CGI effects that allow one 70-year-old Samuel L. Jackson to become young SHIELD agent Nick Fury, when he had two eyes, and another youthfully transformed sidekick, Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg). Ah, the magic of the movies!
So, everyone is racing from here to there, trying to figure out who’s who, particularly with a groups of transmogrifying and warrior aliens around every corner. As Danvers past comes into focus, she gets a big assist from her former pilot friend Monica Rambeau (Akira Akbar). You won’t see the full superhero rise up on Danvers (with an amusing sequence on picking her costume) until close to the two-hour-plus mark, and I can’t say I was that impressed with the electrical arcs that are CGI’d onto her new titular identity.
Annette Bening blessedly has a nice role in the film, as the Supreme Intelligence on the Krell planet, and on planet C-53 (a.k.a. Earth) as a memory in her Danvers’ fragmented past. My favorite character was Goose (played by four felines: Reggie, Gonzo, Archie, and Rizzo), an orange tabby that becomes attached to Danvers and her associates. No, it’s not like the Laser Cats of Saturday Night Live, but she does have some good tricks. She also can’t keep a good hair-ball down.
All told, Captain Marvel delivers the goods – and the crowds are appreciating that. Another Marvel blockbuster has hit its stride. Expect bigger things once the Avengers arrive at world multiplexes. Mark your calendars: April 26!
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the horror film German Angst and the new documentary Nuts! He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (the revised edition will be published in 2019 by Centipede Press).