Two things need to be said to preface this review. The first is that I am a massive comic book nerd, with a focus on Marvel comics. The second is that I’m really not a fan of the Marvel cinematic universe (MCU), and most movies based off of comic books in general. That being said, Captain Marvel was an absolute delight. Set in 1995, prior to any of the Thanos-centred conflict that the rest of the cinematic universe is preoccupied with, it stands distinct from the rest of the many, many films in the franchise. It has its own tone, an independent drive, and a new side to the familiar characters (except for Agent Coulson. He’s the same). For those looking to get into the MCU, it’s a great new starting point, and for those looking for a fresh style of superhero movie, this is it.
“It has emotional highs and lows, but it never gets stuck in the low. It always gets back up”
Captain Marvel lacks the grimy tone of other late stage superhero films. Steeped in 90’s nostalgia, it shines with a soundtrack that skirts between bright pop and mainstream grunge. The majority of the film is set in sunlight, and inside shots are well lit. You can actually see what’s happening on screen over 90% of the time, and for a modern Marvel film, that is quite spectacular. For the few low-lit scenes, the action is still identifiable, and the light that is present highlights the action, and in one particularly memorable scene, creates incredible tension.
As a film, it stands out from the rest of Marvel’s fare. While the majority of the MCU feels like a Hollywood adaptation of a comic book, Captain Marvel feels like an authentic comic book film. It feels like an adaptation made by people who love comic books, who understand them as a medium, what makes them different and what makes them enjoyable. It’s not anything distinct that can be pointed to, something that can be highlighted and announced as “this would only be done by someone who understands comic books”, it’s more a feeling the overall piece gives off. It’s in how characters portray themselves, what they centre in their motivations; how almost every moment has an element of humour and how even the darkest characters have a lightness to them. This is very much not a doom and gloom story. It has emotional highs and lows, but they never get stuck in the low. They always get back up; there is still good to be done.
As it was released on International Women’s Day, it is easy to write it off as a pandering attempt from a major film company that has received almost a decade’s worth of complaints about the lack of women in central roles. While there are a fair few moments that feel like direct pandering for a feminist hurrah, especially towards the beginning of the film, it definitely fades over time. It is a “feminist film”, not because it speaks to feminist talking points – at no point does Brie Larson look directly into the camera and give a speech on the negative impact of street harassment, or lecture on the impact of a cishet white male majority parliament has on the life and wellbeing of people in minority groups. It’s a “feminist film” because it’s a good film, a film that makes its points through allegory and symbolism, and it is done through a central character who happens to be a woman, that isn’t pandering. In fact, it’s one of the best made films Marvel has made in years. Some allegories do feel a bit on the nose, sure, but that doesn’t detract from the impact of what is portrayed.
“If we don’t see her again in the MCU, it would be an immense tragedy”
Brie Larson, who plays the titular Captain Marvel, and Lashana Lynch, who plays Maria Rambeau, are the emotional core of the film. They both put their soul into every moment they are on screen, and their chemistry as actors is enthralling. Both newcomers to the MCU, their debut could not have gone better. Lynch, in particular, pours so much emotion into her first scene with Larson that your heart would have to be made of stone not to be moved by her performance. If we don’t see her again in the MCU, it would be an immense tragedy. As for the players we’ve seen before, Samuel L. Jackson reprises his role as Nick Fury, alongside Clark Gregg as a freshly-hired Agent Phil Coulson. This is Fury at the lightest we’ve ever seen him; he’s still very much Fury, the hard hitting S.H.I.E.L.D agent who is loved across the fanbase, but he’s younger, less jaded. Be prepared to be shocked by how open he is as a young man. There is not a single dud to be found in terms of performance (although the end credit scene is another kettle of spoiler-y fish).
All in all, it’s an incredibly skilled production. Quite frankly, it’s an inspiring production, not because of its subject matter, but because it’s inspiring to see a genuinely good Marvel film again. It made me actually want to go see Avengers: Endgame, and I could barely sit through Infinity War. Honestly, I haven’t walked out of a Marvel movie smiling since Thor: Ragnarok, and I left Captain Marvel positively beaming, wanting to spoil it for everyone I knew just because I wanted to discuss every single aspect of it. It’s an undeniably enjoyable film, and one that was a long time coming. It’s going to be on my suggestions list for a long time coming.
In a nutshell: Four and a half stars out of five. It’s incredibly skilled, very enjoyable, but the allegory did feel ham-fisted at times.