Movie Review: Captain Marvel (2019)
I hope this gets more people to watch “The Right Stuff.” Then they’ll get the Pancho’s reference. Real heroes, kids, not the super kind. But still the super kind.
I have to admit, when I collected (1973-79), I was never a fan of Captain Marvel—either version. The character started out male, wearing a green suit and fighting in outer space, or the astral plane or some shit, and none of it resonated with me. Give me New York. Give me terra firma. Then he went red and blue and shared the Negative Zone with Rick Jones or something. Clang! Oh, and about the time the Equal Rights Amendment seemed on the verge of becoming a constitutional amendment (in a better America), we got a female version, Ms. Marvel, sporting a blonde bob and not much else: bare legs, bare midriff. Created by dudes, of course—Gerry Conway (my Spidey buddy) and Sal Buscema (my Captain America buddy)—but as part of that legit effort to diversify the ’70s Marvel lineup. I remember little about her origin, so I don’t have much skin in this game. That probably helps.
It also helps that I went in with low expectations. The buzz was OK but only that. It felt like a shrug of a movie. I thought Brie Larson all wrong for the role, too. A puny human. Hardly Gal Gadot, who, besides being an actual Israeli soldier, seems like a foot taller. (IMDb lists a mere three-inch difference: 5’7” vs. 5’10”.) Or maybe Jennifer Lawrence? She seems solid. Brie is a wisp. She’s your babysitter not an intergalactic superhero. But I was wrong; she’s good.
And the movie? I liked it. Enough. Again, I went in with low expectations so I don’t want to raise yours.
It starts slowly, disjointedly, and ends by hooking up with the most recent MCU developments. It takes us full circle: from the intro of the Avengers Initiative (working title: Protectors Imitative) to its most recent incarnation, with half the universe gone. Question: Why did Carol Danvers need a Nick Fury SOS to warn her of that? Surely wherever she was it was the same. Poof. Bye bye. Whatever else he is, Thanos is EOE.
Our hero, called Vers, I guess, is a Starforce member living on the planet Hala in the middle of the Kree Empire (yawn), and she begins the movie with bad dreams: a plane crash, Annette Bening nearby, a Skrull approaching with weapon drawn. Fun fact: I still own the issue—one of the few comics I still own—where the Skrulls (“from Outer Space!”) were introduced: Fantastic Four #2. I bought it for $10 at a Minneapolis comic convention circa 1974. I bargained down from $15. And no, it’s not worth much today. It was dog-eared then and it’s so dog-eared now dogs look at it and go “That’s some dog-eared shit.” But it’s fun to own.
Vers’ commander, Yan-Rogg (Jude Law, with arms like oaks), just wants her to train. We see them going at it, martial arts style, exchanging banter (and sexual chemistry?). She’s insouciant, a taunter, while he’s superserious, which makes her taunt him all the more. He has to admonish her over and over not to use her powers. Which is so like the patriarchy.
Initially, Vers doesn’t impress. There’s a Starforce mission—I didn’t get the gist of it—but it turns out to be a Skrull ambush, which everyone figures out except her. She’s captured, hung upside down, her memories, such as they are, sifted through. Then she breaks free, kicks ass, and winds up on Planet C-54 or something. It’s Earth, circa 1994, and this is when the fun begins. She lands in a Blockbuster Video, where she obliterates the Arnold Schwarzenegger half of a “True Lies” display, then picks up a copy of “The Right Stuff.” Which, seriously, everyone should see. Real heroes, kids.
You know what bugged me? The laughs at the expense of the age that brought us to this one. Our hero asks after tech equipment and is pointed toward a Radio Shack. Laughter. The characters are waiting on a download in 1994 time. Laughter. It wasn’t knowing or sympathetic laughter, either, but superior, as if our age were better. Reveled over by people who moved the needle not a whit.
Anyway that’s the set-up: a few shapeshifting Skrulls are on Earth, and Vers chases them as the cops, or S.H.I.E.L.D.—a CGI-youthenized Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson)—chase her. Eventually Fury teams up with her and we get our two big reveals.
She’s not Kree; she’s Carol Danvers, Air Force pilot, who disappeared six years earlier. Seems there was a top secret project led by Dr. Wendy Lawson (Bening) to break the light barrier—just as, in the 1940s, over the Mojave Desert, Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier, then celebrated at Pancho’s—run by Pancho Barnes, a pioneering female aviator. Oh, and Lawson isn’t human; she’s Kree. BTW: Why bring this technology to us? Because of our long history of peace and good will toward everyone?
The other reveal—shocking to me as a former collector—is that the Skrulls aren’t really the bad guys. They’re refugees searching for a homeland. They’re basically Palestinians. The Kree are the bad guys, led by oak-armed Yan-Rogg, who, in a black-box flashback, is the one who shot down Lawson’s/Danver’s plane and killed Lawson. He also wanted the speed-of-light engine; but Danvers, foiling him, blows it up, and whoops, absorbs its powers.
How powerful is she? More powerful than she knows. It’s similar to the new X-Men trailer we saw before the film, where Prof. X tries to hide Jean Grey’s powers from her, because she’s more powerful than any of them. It’s a theme. It’s Marvel’s #MeToo.
Here, all of it comes to a head at Lawson’s old cloaked space station, where Skrull families, including Talos’ (Ben Mendelsohn, getting to play good), are hiding with the Tesseract/Cosmic Cube. After Yan-Rogg and his team board and capture everyone, Danvers confronts the Kree AI or something (also Bening), then finally realizes her power, or wills herself to that power. She crushes the Kree implant that kept her in check and goes, girl.
Trust me, true believer
A few added thoughts.
Did we need the Kree overlord, or something, Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), shooting ballistic missiles at Earth? One, why is he doing it? And two, isn’t it a little 11th-hour? Jude Law should’ve stayed the main villain. Yeah, we get to see Captain Marvel repelling them, which gives us an idea of her true power. Even so.
I also didn’t get much out of her friendship with Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch). She actually had more chemistry with Yan-Rogg.
Speaking of: Yan-Rogg’s team seems way too much like the Asgardian warriors in the Thor movies:
- Black leader (Djimon Hounsou/Idris Elba)
- Power chick (Gemma Chan/Jaimie Alexander)
- Red beard (Rune Temte/Ray Stevenson)
These characters add a dash of something but just a dash, and sometimes it’s unwelcome. Chan’s character, for example, reveals herself as the mean office rival to Larson’s temp. Cf., “Isn’t It Romantic.”
Could they have done more with 1994? “Pulp Fiction” with Samuel L. Jackson on a movie marquee somewhere? How about this: The great gap between then and now may not be in download speed—most of the world wasn’t even online then—but in superhero movies. You get a sense of this when, in the well-done train sequence, we get one of Stan “The Man” Lee’s last cameos. He’s playing himself, running lines for his upcoming appearance as himself in Kevin Smith’s “Mallrats.” That’s the type of movie he was in back then. Because you know what superhero movies were out in ’94? “The Shadow” starring Alec Baldwin, and Roger Corman’s “The Fantastic Four”—so infamously awful it was never “out”; it was never released. That’s where the Marvel Comics world was in ’94: So peripheral it barely existed.
Now look. Look on its works, ye mighty, and despair.