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Captain Marvel - Spoiler-free review

Nathan Strum


Marvel has a knack for making superhero movies. And by knack, I mean they've pretty-much got it figured out. Of course, when you think about it, they probably should by now. But nothing is a given.

I should note here I'm talking about the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movies, not Marvel movies made by Sony or 20th Century Fox. Those have been, at best, inconsistent.

If you think about how many truly bad superhero movies there are out there, it's impressive that Marvel Studios really hasn't had any outright bombs. No Catwoman. No Elektra. No Batman and Robin. No Spider-Man 3. No Green Lantern. No Fantastic Four. No Fant4stic Four. They haven't had anything that I'd classify as "awful". For as many films as they've done, that's impressive.

Sure, some have been just "meh" (Thor: The Dark World, I'm looking at you), and some may have not performed spectacularly at the box office (Ant-Man and a few others), but they've still all made money, and they all have one other thing in common: despite their flaws, they all have at least some compelling, likable characters in them.

I think this is what separates Marvel's movies from DC's, and is what separated what Stan Lee did in the early 60's, from what other comic books were doing at the time. Make the characters behind the heroes compelling and interesting first, then what they do as a hero will follow suit. With the Aquaman and Wonder Woman movies, DC got it right. They made the characters interesting: who they were, their personalities, their stories. They got the casting right, and wrote the characters behind the superheroics in such a way that we could relate to them and like them. To some degree, they did this with the Flash in Justice League as well, but so far they've failed to make either Superman or Batman likable, because neither Clark Kent nor Bruce Wayne is particularly likable. That doesn't mean they have to be without flaws - Tony Stark is a very flawed character, but ultimately, Stark is redeemable, relatable, and chooses to be a hero for the right reasons. The fact that he's Iron Man is secondary to who he really is as Tony Stark. Where DC has gone wrong is that Batman is an unlikable jerk, because that's what Bruce Wayne is. Superman is distant, aloof and unrelatable because that's what Clark Kent is. It's how they're written, casted and acted. Oh yeah... and they kill people, too, which is counter to who they're supposed to be at their cores. Sure, it was cool watching Batman beat up a room full of henchmen in Batman vs. Superman, but one cool scene does not a good character make. In the comics, Batman is already a great character. So is Superman. They've been great onscreen at times, too. Batman: The Animated Series is still the high-water mark for Batman, and Christopher Reeves is still the definitive Superman. When it was recently (finally) announced that Ben Affleck was done as Batman, I was glad to hear it. Hopefully they can reboot the character and do it right this time. I'm hoping DC will recast Superman, too. DC has the ability to make great superhero films. They have the iconic characters to do it with. They just need to stop overthinking it, and go back to who the characters are, and why they're compelling and have been for some 80 years now. Stop trying to "make a blockbuster". Just tell good stories. The rest will follow.

Right. So what does this have to do with Captain Marvel?

Well, I didn't know much about the character going into the movie. I knew a little bit about her from when I collected comics, back when she was Ms. Marvel, and (a pre-X-Men) Rogue stole her powers and memories. At that point Carol Danvers became just sort of on the periphery of mainstream comics. She became Binary for awhile, with the powers apparently of 1's and 0's. Or a binary star. Something like that. Anyway, the name Captain Marvel belonged to a completely different character then. By the time Carol Danvers became Captain Marvel, I had long since stopped reading comics. I would suspect also, that outside of regular comic book readers, few people knew of her, even though she had become a very popular character in recent years.

For me, the same had applied to a number of other Marvel characters. I had only passing familiarity with Dr. Strange, even less with Black Panther, and absolutely none with Guardians of the Galaxy. But all of those movies managed to draw me in, and made me interested in those characters. This is what Marvel has done so effectively since Iron Man. When the MCU started, those characters were the leftovers they had after selling off all of their most valuable characters to other studios. Hard to believe that now, given the success of the movies. Harder still to believe, is that there have been over 20 of these movies.

So, as with other Marvel movies before it, last Monday I went to see Captain Marvel without any real expectations. Besides my unfamiliarity with the character, the trailers didn't really do much to convey her personality. It wasn't until I saw Brie Larson in several interviews that I got a sense of her own personality and humor, and began to see the potential in what her character might be. She was engaging, sincere, and genuinely funny. Especially when she teamed up with Samuel L. Jackson during their press junket. The two of them clearly have a lot of fun together.

That relationship shows through brilliantly in the movie, too. They have a fun, natural chemistry together. It's almost a buddy movie when the two of them are onscreen. But make no mistake - this is Brie Larson's movie, and she's a, well... a Marvel. ;)

I really enjoyed watching Larson in this movie - a lot. Clearly, she had fun making it. But also, she clearly put an incredible amount of effort and dedication into the role. The emotional intensity she brings to the screen, the physicality, and the humanity all really make her character compelling (there's that word again), likable, and heroic. Marvel doing what Marvel does best: good characters, good casting, good acting and directing. And obviously, despite some trolling, audiences have caught on. Earning over $500,000,000 in less than one week, the score is: Captain Marvel 1, Internet Trolls 0.

The rest of the cast is on point as well, but the standout is Jackson. He's playing a much younger Nick Fury here, early in his S.H.I.E.L.D. career (ca. 1995), less world-weary, and learning of all of this superhero and space alien stuff for the first time. It's a great, fresh take on a familiar character, and a lot of fun to watch. And this has to be said: the de-aging used on him in this film is seamless. I was going to use some other superlative like "incredible" or "astounding" but that makes it seem like it was something that was amazing to watch, and that's just the point - it wasn't. It was just... seamless. He never looked weird, or off-putting, or anything. He was just a younger Samuel L. Jackson. Now, admittedly, for someone in his 70's, he looks pretty ageless anyway, so I'm sure that helped. But in a film packed with all sorts of big-budget effects, the one that was just there and didn't draw any attention to itself was the most impressive.

Another impressive effect were the Skrulls. Shape-shifters have been in science fiction for decades. But usually, that effect is done with a "morphing" effect, or something which doesn't really show how they actually change shapes. The closest to doing that is probably Mystique in the X-Men movies, but even that is a bit more sleight-of-hand. For the Skrulls though - when you see them shape-shifting close up, you can see them... well, sort of turning their skin inside-out. It looks like a biological (and not at all comfortable) process, and is the most effective way I've seen of doing this sort of thing. It's really cool, because it adds a new level of believability to an old trope.

The effects throughout the film are excellent, which by now you almost just expect going into these films. There may have been one or two things which could've been done better, but nothing that was distracting, and no film is perfect anyway. Although one thing which has bugged me for years, and continues to bug me: colored contact lenses. Yeah... it makes someone look like an alien if they have yellow irises. But the problem is that a real iris is nearly flat and behind the cornea, and a contact lens is convex and sits on the surface of the cornea. The end result is that the eye never looks right - the iris and pupil sit on the surface of the eye, and light hits it completely wrong. It would look better to digitally recolor the irises instead. It'd be more expensive, but it would look more believable.

There are some fun action sequences throughout the film - fights, chases, and a particularly excellent escape sequence where we get an early glimpse of how fierce and resourceful Captain Marvel can be. Throughout it all, there's just the right mix of humor, and the chemistry between Larson and Jackson is always fun to watch. Oh, and there's a cat in the movie, too. I understand that people like cats.

The movie is replete with 90's references, and there are a lot of in-jokes, period music and details for audiences to appreciate (although it's weird to think of a movie set in the 90's as being a period piece...). There's a particularly moving tribute to Stan Lee as well. Excelsior, Stan!

The overall plot of the movie probably isn't anything groundbreaking, although there are a few welcomed twists to it. But the real heart of the film is about Carol Danvers. Watching her story unfold, seeing her discover who she is, and who she becomes. Again, Marvel comics, and the best of their movies, are about the characters, and they really deliver here. I had fun watching this movie, and am considering seeing it again in the theaters (which I rarely do). Especially in contrast to some of the heavier Marvel films, it's nice to watch something that's fun and uplifting. Again, Marvel has a knack for these films, and a large part of that is how diverse they make them. From a World War II movie to an espionage thriller, from a science fiction romp to a heist comedy, from the craziness of Thor: Ragnarok to the drama of Avengers: Infinity War, and now a 90's-era alien invasion flick. Take notes, DC - I'm hoping the rumors are true, and the next Batman film will focus on him as the world's greatest detective. For now, I'm really looking forward to seeing Captain Marvel again in Avengers: Endgame.

I really liked Captain Marvel. I got lost in the entertainment of it, and the strength and appeal of the lead characters proved Marvel hasn't lost its touch. Some elements of the story were a little predictable, but I still enjoyed watching it all unfold. There are a lot of people out there who are happy to see Captain Marvel because it's the first Marvel movie with a female superhero in the lead role; and given the wealth of strong female characters in Marvel's pantheon, it's certainly overdue. But I liked Captain Marvel because it was a fun movie with great characters. If that wasn't the case, it wouldn't be the success that it is. And as long as they keep churning these out, I'll go see 'em.

Captain Marvel gets a 9/10. Get an extra-large popcorn. And be sure to stay through the end credits.

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I saw it last week and properly enjoyed it. I'd say the film is better the less you know about the various characters and groups (which I didn't). I have to say I'd forgotten who the Kree were until I was properly reminded (although it's too bad they couldn't get the same actor).

de-aging has come a long way since Tron: Legacy, there were times when it seemed like SLJ's face was too round, or otherwise didn't look quite right IMHO.


And was it just me, or did there seem to be some blatant visual references to 90's movies?


Finally, the film makes an interesting political statement without taking away from the origin story.

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Which Kree wasn't the same actor? I thought they were all back.


The 90's film references were intentional, according to the interviews I've seen with the directors.

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Hmm... just checked Wikipedia and Lee Pace did reprise his role, my mistake. He just didn't seem to have the presence in his last scene he did in the other film.

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Remember this rant?


Well, I went to see Captain Marvel for a second time tonight, back at Regal. I had thought, "Hey... they have reserved seating now. Maybe they're improving!" It would be nice to only drive 4 miles to see a movie, instead of 20.

Nope. Avoid Regal Theaters at all costs. They're still terrible. The film was so dark and blurry I had trouble following what was going on and I'd already seen the movie. I felt bad for those in the theater whose only experience seeing this movie (or any movie) was that bad. Regal Theaters are to movies, what McDonald's is to food. And that's not a compliment. What a complete waste of time and money.


So, it's back to the Arclight for Shazam!


And everything else.

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