Captain Marvel - the superhero buddy movie we've been waiting for
Marvel's first solo female superhero movie lands just ahead of the second installment of the Avengers: Infinity War epic. If you stayed for the now de-rigueur after-credit scenes at the end of the first installment you will have seen Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) use a pager to call someone before he crumbled to dust. Well now we know who he called - Captain Marvel. We see the same upgraded pager being handed to Fury in this new film.
So, where are we in the complex Marvel Cinematic Universe (or MCU as your children call it)?
Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) is an extraterrestrial Kree warrior who finds herself caught in the middle of an intergalactic battle between her people and the Skrulls. During one space battle, she crash-lands on Earth in 1995 through the roof of a Blockbuster video shop. She keeps having recurring memories of another life as US Air Force pilot Carol Danvers. With help from Nick Fury Jackson), Captain Marvel tries to uncover the secrets of her past while harnessing her special superpowers to end the war with the Skrulls.
The film offers several positive messages related to perseverance, integrity and more, but the greatest takeaway is watching a fearless, confident, mighty woman become a superhero. Carol Danvers is a fantastic role model: She always sees herself as capable, she's not objectified, male counterparts recognize her intelligence and strength and she has a strong sense of integrity. Women support women, the characters are diverse, ageism is nonexistent, and romance doesn't figure into things at all, unlike DC's Wonder Woman. However, this makes her a little colder and therefore makes Wonder Woman a better film. And it is. Director Patty Jenkins broke the mold with 2017's Wonder Woman.
However there is a lot going on here in Captain Marvel to like. For a start, no one ever calls her "Captain Marvel" which is good. Brie Larson is terrific in her first superhero outing. She brings the right mix of confused vulnerability mixed with powerful determinism, traits she shares with Wonder Woman. Larson, however, is the better actor. Jude Law is Captain Marvel's Kree instructor and his arc is fairly predictable. Ben Mendelsohn is the leader of the Skrulls and he is relishing his role. Even though he is heavily made-up (apart from a few scenes), he works through the prosthetic make-up easily enough.
We can't discuss make-up without mentioning the de-aging process that is used on Samuel L Jackson to create a younger Nick Fury. When you first see him, it's is a momentary shock but from then on, you don't even notice it. I feared it would be a distraction in every scene but it is simply amazing. Marvel tried this before with a younger Tony Stark and it looked a bit clunky but they have perfected it here. One wonders what this technology will mean for future film-makers.
So let's talk cultural politics. Carol Danvers is an ideal female heroine: She's Katniss Everdeen without the self-doubt, Wonder Woman without the sexualization, and Black Widow without the moral complexity. With an every-woman charm, Larson quickly convinces viewers that she's the right woman to be Marvel's most powerful superhero. Girls everywhere can see themselves in her. And, by the way, there's no reason boys can't as well. The most amazing feat of the film is that Larson's character is somewhat gender-neutral. Viewers won't necessarily think "wow, that's a woman landing those punches" instead, they're likely to think "wow, what a great superhero."
While not as good as Wonder Woman, it is on point and sets up our newest hero so she can save the day in Avengers Infinity War: Endgame. The scenes with Larson and Jackson are reminiscent of great buddy films and imbue the film with much needed warmth. And more Ben Mendelsohn please!
By the way, I'm not sold on the cat.