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Entries in Comic Book (1)

Tuesday
Mar052019

CAPTAIN MARVEL

Stars: Brie Larsen, Jude Law, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Lee Pace, Gemma Chan, Mckenna Grace, Djimon Hounsou, Clark Gregg, Lashana Lynch and Annette Bening.
Writers: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck and Geneva Robertson-Dworet.
Directors: Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

Despite a slightly-too-convoluted origin narrative that will mean more to the comic-book devotee than the audience member for whom a single yearly dose of MCU is sufficient, Captain Marvel overcomes some wobbly first half pacing to deliver all that is really required of the modern heroic-crusader blockbuster. That is, a protagonist, unsure of their true identity, is set on a course of self-discovery during which they reconcile with their past, learn the good truth about their destiny and max out the potential of their superpower while saving a city/planet/galaxy. What separates the best from the worst in the MCU is that which is mined beyond of the studio's rigid template and, as the first female lead character in the franchise, writer/directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck identify plenty of fresh thematic angles to explore. 

Coming from a background of gritty, uplifting character pieces (Half Nelson, 2006; Sugar, 2008; Mississippi Grind, 2015), the pair's deployment by Marvel Studios was to serviceably craft a solid, ‘real’ hero in Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel. In Oscar-winner Brie Larson, they achieve that, even if at times her stoicism feels a bit stodgy. While everyone around her is getting the great one-liners and soaking up the spare-no-expense extravagance of their time-shifting/interplanetary setting, Larson hunkers down to provide the film’s emotional as well as heroic core; it’s a task that plays somewhat thankless at times. That said, when called upon to don the superheroine duds, smash villains and integrate with the green screen techies and stunt unit, she comes alive.

The opening act barrels through the world building with a "Hey, pay attention!” urgency that threatens to leave distracted patrons lost.  We meet our heroine (‘Vers’, as she’s known to her special-op combat team) as she stirs from a restless sleep; her head is full of fragmented images, all that is left of what seems like several past lives. On her home planet of Hala, she is one of the Kree, a race beholden to the ‘Supreme Intelligence’ and fighting the shape-shifting Skrull hordes (phew). When her unit, led by the never-not-evil Jude Law, is ambushed, she is flung across time and space, landing in a Blockbuster video store in downtown LA in the mid 1990s.

With young S.H.I.E.L.D. grunt Nick Fury (a digitally smoothed-over Samuel L Jackson) quickly settling into her sidekick role, Vers starts to piece together her own timeline while fighting off Skrull leader Talos (an unrecognisable and terrific Ben Mendelsohn) and his henchmen. A mid-section trip to Louisiana to rekindle a friendship with ex-pilot buddy Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) is a bit talky and the forward momentum sags. But as Danvers’ journey towards an understanding of her past and the inevitable emergence of the titular heroine progresses, the third act builds convincingly towards the stirring effects spectacle finale associated with the franchise.

The pre-release web-posturing of some sectors of the community looks even more churlish and pathetic upon the film’s release. While Larson’s portrayal is one of chiselled moral and physical sturdiness (as have been those of the men in the MCU since Day 1), Boden and Fleck do not hammer home a politicised perspective. Instead, they provide contemporary commentary with some crackling social satire (“Tell the Supreme Intelligence that this time of wars and lies will soon be over”) and draw upon the femme-skewed cast to refreshingly explore character and drama in a manner respectful and honest to the gender. Captain Marvel is not the blunt-force challenge to the accepted norms that Ryan Coogler's Black Panther came to represent, but it's a potent statement of intent. The challenge will be incorporating her into the male-centric Avengers films, where laddish oafs with waning appeal like Tony Stark and Peter Quill still occupy centre stage.

The 90s setting provides for some sweet nostalgia, including a soundtrack of skilfully appropriated tunes (No Doubt’s I’m Just a Girl, the pick of them) and pop culture riffs sure to further transition away from the now-distant 80s as The Retro Decade of Choice. In the standard MCU 'Ageing Icon' role previously filled by the likes of Robert Redford, Jeff Bridges, Ben Kingsley, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer and Nick Nolte is the stunning Annette Bening, ideally cast as 'Supreme Intelligence' (even if some of her dialogue seems reluctant to leave her mouth at times).

Fittingly, the passing of Marvel creator Stan Lee was acknowledged with a sweet, simple message in the film’s opening frames, which was greeted with instantaneous applause by the audience.