September 16, 2019

The MCU Project: Captain Marvel [2019]

The project is coming closer and closer to the end. With more and more references to “The Event”, it looms like a slithery sea creature or perhaps a foul odour. Due to the team-based nature of this review series, this is the penultimate review that I will be contributing. The time has flown by.

Captain Marvel was released earlier this year, and at the time I remember being vaguely aware of a certain amount of the usual kerfuffle that seems to surround any big-budget film with a female lead. You know, lots of people saying “I’m not sexist! It’s just not a very good film and she’s not a very good actress!” When’s the last time you saw someone say that about a film with a male lead? Exactly. Anyway, I put it down to just the usual fragile white men being fragile, and paid it no more mind.

The opening of the film introduces us to Vers (pronounced “Veers”), a highly trained soldier for the Kree empire, another of those alien races that are basically humanoid shape with one small difference, usually something bumpy on their head, though in this case, their blood is a delightful shade of bluey green. She’s under the tutelage of her mentor, who’s not only humanoid-shaped, but looks like the spitting image of Terran actor Jude Law. He’s teaching her that to fight she must learn to control her emotions, to not use her awesome super powers at every available opportunity, but instead fight with her fists like some sort of dummy. There’s an obscure reference to “your past which fuels you” – one of these days it would be hilarious if a film dropped a line like this, and then just never did anything with it. You know, make it clear that so-and-so has a mysterious past that defines them as a person, and then just completely “forget” to fill it in. Actually, now I write it down, an example comes to mind: Book in Firefly. His mysterious backstory is never revealed in the TV series (though apparently it does get filled in in one of the official comics).

Vers and her mentor and the rest of the Kree soldiering team go on a mission to rescue one of their agents who has infiltrated a group of Skrulls, who are the enemies of the Kree. This is a dangerous mission, and it is stressed that it’s important to follow the protocols TO THE LETTER. Vers checks her cuticles and mumbles “yeah, whatevs.” She’s a maverick, and I use this specific term because it sets up a joke in the next paragraph.

The mission goes somewhat awry. The Skrull are shapeshifters, and one of them turns into a shami kebab. Vers doesn’t notice that there are now three shami kebabs on her plate, not two, and hilarity ensues. They capture her and start sucking out her memories using the same memory-sucking machine that all these villains seem to have access to. This gives us a delightfully convenient opportunity to share some of Vers’ memories with her. But are they memories or dreams? In one of them, we see Vers working on an air force base, and it’s eerily reminiscent of Top Gun, even down to the colour filter used on the lens. This is now the bit where I make the joke that “maverick” was setting up, but I haven’t thought of one yet, so I’ll either come back and fill it in later, or just leave this rambling sentence in place and hope that it elicits a little pity laugh.

With this flashback montage we discover a key element of what makes Vers who she is – all her life, she’s been patronised because she’s a girl, and told that she can’t do things because she’s a girl. All this stuff is clearly going on on Earth, so the big open mystery now is: why is Vers apparently a Kree? Please to be explaining the blue blood? Or are the memories not to be trusted? Tantalising.

Vers manages to escape the Skrull, and flies down to Earth in a fantastic spacesuit with a brilliant helmet that somehow protects the form of her hairdo, so when the helmet does it’s fold-away trick, her hair just ploofs down into place without any awkward tufty bits or flat spots. I want one. The escape pod is a less impressive feat of engineering, and completely burns up on re-entry, unceremoniously dumping her into a branch of Blockbuster video, which tells us that this film is either set in Bend, Oregon, or the mid-nineties. The appearance of a digitally-youthened, ocularly-complete Nick Fury, heavily implies the latter.

I’ve reached the point in my review where I realise that I’m just giving a commentary of the plot, and feel the need to disrupt the flow, so let’s take a carefully-timed tangent.

The fact that this film is set in the mid-nineties does provide the opportunity for some gentle humour. Dial-up internet, beige box computers, Windows 95 doing its chunky grey thing, all of these are played for laughs. It’s quite a sweet film, all things considered, with 90% of it being Captain America levels of seriousness, but interspersed with occasional moments of comic relief and some really touching interactions between the characters. DYOCNF serves many roles in this film – on the one hand, he becomes Vers’ good friend, but he is also the relatively-naive SHIELD agent to act as the audience surrogate for Vers’ exposition. One of the most “fuck yeah” comic moments is when Vers follows a Skrull onto a train, and once she’s identified the form into which the Skrull has shapeshifted, a magnificent fight scene ensues.

We also at one point meet a cat, called Goose (which I refuse to believe is not another deliberate Top Gun reference). DYOCNF is clearly a cat person, but the Skrull seem to believe that it is a terrifying creature that will kill them all. Silly Skrull, eh? Anyway, the cat stows away on their ship and you just know that all sorts of funny feline shenanigans will ensue. Cat lovers are really getting their money’s worth with this film.

As the film reaches its denouement, various truths emerge, including Vers’ true history and the realisation that not all those around her are as they seem. She also discovers that her powers are greater than she initially thought, and once she’s unlocked those (the standard MCU “level upgrade” moment that happens in a few other films where the hero usually gains access to new tech) then none of her foes stand a chance, and it all starts to feel a bit unfair, but undoubtedly very superheroey. For some inexplicable reason, she allows the main bad guy to escape, when she could have annihilated him effortlessly, but I guess that’s one of those situations where the long-term plot requires it. The film ends with some huge setups for The Event, as well as a moderately satisfying but somewhat mundane reveal of how Nick Fury lost his eye, and how The Avengers Initiative got its name.

I really enjoyed this film and was near-glued to the screen throughout. It had a pitch-perfect blend of action, humour and gravitas, with no overlong expositionary dialogue, and relatively few immersion-breaking violations of the laws of science and logic. I suppose it’s true that if you look at Vers’ story in isolation, there’s nothing terribly innovative or surprising there, but it’s the interactions with other characters which give this film its edge.

I’m feeling very eager for Infinity War and Endgame now.


1 thought on “The MCU Project: Captain Marvel [2019]

  1. It’s all about the cat though, isn’t it? sidenote: Goose is my wife’s favourite character in Top Gun because she has something of a thing for Anthony Edwards. Apparently, tall balding men are her thing and I don’t know quite how to feel about this.
    (I laughed at the marverick gag, and it wasn’t a pity laugh. Just FYI)

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