Updated: Mar 10, 2020
as reviewed by Tom.
Cinema Review: Vue Plymouth (17/3/19)
At the risk of blatant hyperbole, there is something potentially rather iconic about the hero of this story crashing through the roof of a Blockbuster Video store circa 1995. In a manner similar to the way in which J.J. Abrams intended to recreate the magic of early Spielberg in his 2011 homage to urban sci-fi Super 8, in Captain Marvel, directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck have some knowing fun with the tropes and conventions of 1990s action cinema. They have aimed to emulate and capture the visceral, ground-breaking action filmmaking the likes of James Cameron, Kathryn Bigelow and Michael Bay (untainted by Transformers shenanigans) excelled at during the 1990s. While not a ground-breaking film in and of itself, much of Captain Marvel nevertheless acts as a love letter to those pivotal action films that defined much early-to-mid 90s pop culture.
Crashing through the roof of Blockbuster Video is key to the film firmly setting out its stall. Blowing the cardboard head off Arnold Schwarzenegger on an advertising display for True Lies in the window is another. A tacit nod to the ‘clothes, boots and motorcycle’ scene from Terminator 2 cements the deal. These moments, far from being derivative or even nostalgic, come across as an affectionate salute to a unique era, and delight in making any 90s action movie buff gleefully revert into their 13-year-old self. The time portal also goes back even further, briefly referencing 1983’s The Right Stuff and, perhaps most obviously, Top Gun from 1986. (There were moments when I felt the film should have been called ‘Cap Gun’, but mainly for my own amusement). However, Captain Marvel as a time portal is never more potent than in the appearance of a younger, ‘hold-onto-your-butts’-era Samuel L. Jackson – reprising his role as (future) director of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury. Boden and Fleck’s use of ‘de-aging’ visual effects on both Jackson and Clark Gregg (returning as Phil Coulson, last seen in the cinematic universe in 2012’s The Avengers) is flawless. It is a credit to the skill of the visual effects team that you don’t sit there for the whole film marvelling (no pun intended) at the skill of the visual effects team. In other words: job done.
Brie Larson plays the title character, initially known as Vers of Starforce. She is strong-willed, often letting her heart rule her head, something which her mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) warns her against. She cannot remember her past, but experiences frequent flashbacks of a mysterious woman (Annette Bening), and has burgeoning powers that she does not yet know the extent of. It is intriguing to meet a superhero who has already attained their powers. Although Captain Marvel doesn’t quite commit to a reverse chronology structure, there are enough back and forth narrative twists to create a satisfying amount of mystery. Gradually the cosmic jigsaw begins to slot into place, as Vers is captured and then pursued across mid-90s Los Angeles by the shape shifting alien race, the Skrulls, led by Ben Mendelsohn's marvellous Talos. Upon reacquainting herself with an old friend, Maria Rambeau (a stoic and sympathetic turn from English actress Lashana Lynch), fragments of her previous life begin to coalesce, piecing together her history. It remains for her to establish her place in the future, which is perhaps symbolic of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) itself. With Avengers: Endgame on the horizon – the cinematic equivalent of the Book of Revelation with regard to the fate of the current crop of Avengers – there is an element of ‘where do they go from here?’ Is Captain Marvel, the character, strong enough to ride the wave and lead the charge into the next chapter of the MCU?
In all honesty, Captain Marvel as a character does not have the immediacy of some of her fellow Avengers. This is not because of Larson. On the contrary, she has charisma and does an excellent job of balancing humour and humanity. The camaraderie and chemistry between Larson and Jackson is magnificently entertaining and an inarguable strength of the film. But there is something amusingly a little off-centre when your main character is regularly upstaged by a cat. A beautiful ginger cat called Goose, no less (another Top Gun reference?) If Netflix weren’t cutting their ties with Marvel, I would have expected ‘Goose and Friends’ (as a friend of mine has rather accurately referred to the film) to have been next in line as a sure-fire hit series. But alas, it is not to be.
Captain Marvel may not be the film crushed under the most weight of expectation in the MCU in 2019; that honour undoubtedly rests with Avengers: Endgame. However, it comes very close, being as it introduces a new, prominent figure in the seemingly unstoppable, ongoing superhero franchise. It skirts around the issue of not having introduced the character earlier in the series by, arguably, just acting as if the other 20 films don’t exist. It sits alongside Joe Johnston’s Captain America: The First Avenger from 2011 as a prequel of sorts to the whole saga. This serves it well but ultimately, on first viewing, it doesn’t feel like a particularly standout Marvel film. It admirably does not take itself too seriously, but it may well be too preoccupied with establishing the main character’s standing in the MCU as a whole. On that note, we do know that Captain Marvel will appear in Endgame – and one suspects the remaining Avengers, having saved the universe on numerous occasions without her thus far, will be asking the understandable question: “where have you been all our lives?”