One of the most prominent gifs from the Captain Marvel trailer features Carol getting up over and over again through the years. Fist clenched, knocked down but not staying there, pushing up against the weight of everything and everyone trying to keep her down.
Captain Marvel had a lot stacked up against it before its release, and honestly, the character of Carol Danvers has had a lot stacked up against it since she took on the mantle in 2012. Just like with Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel is expected to be the pinnacle of feminism and appeal to every woman or she is not doing her job right. The movie is expected to wildly succeed because performing on par with other origin movies will be deemed a failure. It’s expected to “prove” that 10 years into Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe a female superhero “deserves” to star in her own movie. To be progressive despite being late. To be diverse and inclusive but not too in your face about the messaging. To change the minds of those who go in looking for reasons to hate the movie on principle. Odds are stacked up designed to make sure everyone is extra conscious of every reaction. Don’t want to be seen as hyping up too much just because it’s a woman front and center. Don’t want to criticize too hard and give ammo to those who see inclusion as a threat. With all of that going on it can be hard to let go and evaluate Captain Marvel on its own merit, to remember that it’s ok to both want something to succeed and be critical of it.
There’s no mistaking it, Captain Marvel is very much an origin story set deep into the layers of movies that make up the MCU. Writer and director duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck reportedly had a lot of free reign to introduce Carol (Brie Larson) but her story is inextricably linked to setting up her appearance in Avengers: Endgame.
By nature, origin stories tend to be formulaic and a little messy. The best ones happen when the character has already been introduced elsewhere so there’s less to establish in the limited time given to introduce the character, have them struggle, experience a betrayal, learn who they are without their powers and ultimately triumph. It’s a story all genre fans know and Captain Marvel doesn’t deviate far from it.
In this case, we see our hero the alien planet Hala, home of the Kree. She doesn’t know who she is and would rather fight than dwell on that. Part of an elite team, Starforce, under the command of Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) and known only as Vers, all she wants to do is kick some Skrull butt as the Kree-Skrull War wages on. Captured on a mission and learning that in her memories lies something the Skrull want, Vers ends up on Earth circa 1995 on a journey to the past Anastasia-style. She meets new and old friends and learns who she can trust and remembers that at her core, powers or no, she gets up again, as always.
The key to getting through origin stories is the characters and Captain Marvel has no problems there. Brie Larson is an absolute force. Her Carol is messy, emotional, fierce, and determined. She connects with just about every character. Unfortunately, Gemma Chan’s under-utilized Minn-Erva isn’t a fan of Carol’s but she can’t win them all. She is very much the total disaster she is in the comics come to life.
Too often women-led movies mean one woman surrounded by a bunch of men but here Lashana Lynch slays as Carol’s fellow pilot and childhood best friend Maria Rambeau. She is her equal in every way that doesn’t involve firing photon blasts from her hands, Rambeau stands strong with the not quite yet legendary Captain Marvel and Nick Fury, for whom this is also a sort of origin story for. The computerized de-aging of Samuel L. Jackson sure is something and the banter between the young Fury and the amnesiac Carol is delightful. The two real scene stealers though are Akira Akbar as Monica Rambeau, Carol’s longtime friend in the comics and Maria’s daughter in the movie, and Goose the (sort of) cat.
The back and forth between space and 1995 Earth invokes a lot of 90s sci-fi nostalgia and the soundtrack is another star on its own. It is as integral to the movie as that of Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack to its own movie. There are a lot of moving parts to the plot that don’t quite all slot together seamlessly and the amnesia storyline hampers some emotional moments. Luckily, the fun and charm of the characters and excitement of the setting make it so that’s not as big a deal as it would be with a less engaging cast, at least while watching the movie itself.
Because that moment in all origin stories that makes it all worth it? The one where the hero has their big realization and fully embraces themselves? That moment where we see Captain Marvel in her full glory punching holes through the sky letting the audience know every girl can fly? That moment Captain Marvel absolutely delivers.
There are a lot of moving parts to the plot that don’t quite all slot together seamlessly and the amnesia storyline hampers some emotional moments. Luckily, the fun and charm of the characters and excitement of the setting make it so that’s not as big a deal as it would be with a less engaging cast, at least while watching the movie itself.