Carol Danvers becomes one of the universe’s most powerful heroes when Earth is caught in the middle of a galactic war between two alien races. (from IMDb)
Leaving fans with quite a cliffhanger after last year’s Avengers: Infinity War, “Phase 3” of the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” (MCU) is now drawing to a close. But before we get a finale in Avengers: Endgame next month, we’re introduced to a new major player in the MCU in Captain Marvel. For the latest new superhero introduction, Academy Award winning actress Brie Larson suits up as Carol Danvers, bringing the hero to life on the big screen for the first time.
Set in 1995, Captain Marvel takes us back to a time when things like Blockbuster Video, Radio Shack, and Nine Inch Nails were commonplace–just a few of the many references to the decade made in the film. This gives the latest entry in the MCU a distinctly different feel than what we’re used to seeing, with the movie even capturing the feel of films that released in the mid-1990’s. The interwoven nature of these films allows for familiar faces to reprise roles, like Agent Coulson from “Phase 1” and frequent player, and head of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury. But also lesser-known faces, like Djimon Hounsou and Lee Pace reprising their roles as Skree from 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy, also make a return. It’s exciting to see how things tie together between films, smaller roles fleshed out a little more, and new pieces of the larger puzzle fall into place. While the mid-credits end scene directly connects Captain Marvel to Avengers: Endgame, this film probably could be viewed somewhere between Captain America: The First Avenger and Iron Man in the overall timeline.
Instead of the standard origin story, Captain Marvel takes a bit of a Man of Steel approach, showing us flashbacks periodically throughout the course of the film, but also holding back the big reveal as to how she got her powers till later in the film. It’s an interesting storytelling technique, which surprisingly doesn’t always work. This is mostly because of the way the first quarter of the film is structured. You’re likely to keep wondering what in the world is going on even when the film expects you to be up to speed. Part of it is because of the confusing way Carol receives her flashbacks, and other ways that the aliens–or higher intelligences?–are depicted. There’s also a bit of a twist that happens during the story that is surprising, but it also stirs up some political controversy that is timely in our country today, that is an unwelcomed change for a Marvel movie. (I feel like there’s a time and a place for these kinds of discussions and topics, and it’s nice to get a break from political disputes in entertainment, like comic book films for example.)
With that all said, Captain Marvel is a bit of a mixed bag. Again, even before the Skree and Krull aliens make it to Earth (or “C-53” as they refer to it), the movie has a distinct 90’s sci-fi feel. The practically-designed alien make-up also recalls a Star Trek vibe, which was something especially popular during the decade. There’s even a brief planetary sequence that feels like a modern version of a classic Star Trek TV series scene. But even a lot of the alien tech and graphical design (like Carol’s wrist computer) feel distinctly 90’s. It’s a unique devotion to the time period that feels altogether fun, intriguing, and even somewhat outdated. Once the film makes it to Earth, and things really get enjoyable, it especially feels like something lifted from 1997’s Men In Black or the TV show X-Files–and that’s not at all a bad thing. Samuel L. Jackson is a joy to have with a more fleshed-out role as Agent Fury this time around. What’s jaw-dropping is just how perfectly they managed to de-age the actor to look so much younger for 1995. It’s unfathomable to believe he’s actually 70 years old now! He’s a delight in this role, and it’s great to see him before his older, more serious persona that we’re so familiar with now. He’s also the source of a lot of the humor in the film, alongside Carol’s pet cat Goose, and even Ben Mendelsohn playing a dual role as a Skrull named Talos and Fury’s boss Keller (which is slightly confusing the way it’s done as they’re literally two different characters). The humor is a bit out of place at times, despite being still funny, but it tends to rob the film of the necessary tension or drama to best serve the story. It doesn’t ruin the film by any means, but it definitely weakens it.
One of its biggest problems, however, may be in the title hero herself–and by no fault of actor Brie Larson, mind you. It’s once Carol realizes her full potential where things get a bit dodgy. Without a real clear explanation (there is some), she basically becomes the most powerful superhero we’ve ever seen, even being able to remain in space without a mask and blast through an entire space cruiser with decimating results. It’s not entirely over-the-top, but it starts to really feel like a bit much… and you can’t help but wonder why Fury hadn’t summoned her in 2012 for the battle of New York, or even when Ultron got out of hand. The movie does play up the fact that Carol is a woman-as-a-hero a little bit, but not nearly as much as Wonder Woman did a few years ago (although, it seemed to make more sense for the WWII time period she was living in). The 90’s songs-driven soundtrack was a fun treat for this movie, although setting her big fight sequence to No Doubt’s “I’m Just a Girl” felt heavyhanded and out of place. It actually seemed a disservice to the character (and the film), and was merely distracting during the scene.
The content is in line with the usual things you can expect from a Marvel movie. There are no uses of the “F” word, however Fury uses a play on it by exclaiming “mother Flerkin'” as a joke in a scene. Otherwise, there are 2 uses of the “S” word, a pair of “Oh my G-d,” and a few uses of “-ss,” “h*ll,” and “d*mn.” For the most part, cussing was infrequent in this one. There isn’t any sexual content, but when a male pilot of the Air Force is belittling Carol, he says, “There’s a reason why it’s called a cockpit,” which is an insult that will go over younger viewers’ heads but is certainly an off-color suggestion. Violence is the main caveat here. The most gruesome scene is probably a brief glimpse at an alien autopsy. We see the skin pulled back around the abdomen of the alien, with purple blood everywhere and a diener in a morgue holding one of the organs in his hands. Several times, characters are shown with bloody scrapes on their faces–sometimes red, other times blue or purple, but none of it is exceptionally graphic.
Captain Marvel is a decent entry into the MCU canon, but it doesn’t come without its fair share of problems. However, warts and all, it’s still an enjoyable movie going experience (especially in IMAX’s gigantic presentation), even if this film may be one of the few examples where DC’s approach to a similar kind of hero (Wonder Woman) proved to have a better result than Marvel. Still, I look forward to seeing Captain Marvel again to see how repeat viewings may affect my feelings of it, and I look forward to seeing how the character comes into play in April’s Endgame!
March 13, 2019 Update: I saw the film a second time–this time with my wife who hadn’t seen it yet–and some of the confusing parts were a lot clearer this time around. Overall, it played better for me the second time. (And she really loved the movie.) It’s still not one of the best Marvel entries, but it’s very enjoyable, and I’m definitely interested in seeing how Captain Marvel fits into the MCU going forward.
– John DiBiase (reviewed: 3/9/19)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
Captain Marvel is available on 4K/Blu-Ray, Blu-Ray/Digital, DVD, and through the usual digital providers. Along with the feature film, the Blu-Ray disc/iTunes include the following extras:Play Movie with Intro (1:51) – There’s an almost 2-minute introduction from co-writers/director’s Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck that you can watch before the film. It has them talking about their intentions and inspirations for the film as we see some scenes from the movie and some behind the scenes shots. It does show some spoilers from later on in the movie, though, so I wouldn’t actually watch this intro if you haven’t seen the movie yet. (1 “a” word from a scene in the film)
The Heroes: Captain Marvel: Becoming a Super Hero (6:40) – This first featurette is all about Brie Larson becoming Captain Marvel. She trained for 9 months before playing the character, and to learn what it’s like to be a fighter pilot, they took her up in a jet to get a feel for it. She shares her history as a fan of the Captain Marvel comics, here as well!
Big Hero Moment (3:31) is very similar to the preceding featurette, but expands more on her being a tough superhero, with cast and crew talking about her character’s heroics. (1 “bad*ss”)
Each of these “Heroes” sections have their own Concept Art galleries (11 pictures for Captain Marvel) and On-Set images (31 pictures for Captain Marvel) that you can scroll through. For Nick Fury, he only has 2 Concept Art images and 11 On-Set Images. Goose has 1 Concept Art image and 6 On-Set Images.
Nick Fury: The Origin of Nick Fury (3:37) is about how this movie is also an origin story for Nick Fury in addition to Captain Marvel, and then it shows how he weaves in and out of the other Marvel movies, like Iron Man and Captain America, too.
Goose: Hiss-sterical Cat-titude (3:23) serves as a fun pseudo-90s promo about casting the cat, featuring lots of behind the scenes stuff, including highlighting when they used a real cat on set and when they used a fake one. (It’s even in standard definition and “full screen” instead of widescreen!)
Gag Reel (2:03) – This is a fun, short little gag reel that features goofing off on set, the cast dancing around, and overall just having a blast behind the scenes. Surprisingly enough, this is one of the few gag reels I’ve seen with no language and none that had to be bleeped.
Journey into Visual Effects with Victoria Alonso (7:20) is about Victoria’s Marvel Studios legacy. We see an incredible amount of effects pass shots throughout all the films, showing us the original footage and green screen and then the final scenes with animation (Some of my favorite ones show Bradley Cooper performing Rocket and Josh Brolin filming Thanos). Alonso also ties it all into the feat that Captain Marvel is a strong woman and what it means to women for Captain Marvel to be stepping into the spotlight with this film.
The Dream Team (2:44) highlights how director-duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck join the Marvel family with this film, and they talk about bringing their own voice to this film.
The Skrulls and the Kree (3:32) is an overview of the two different alien races featured in the film and the various characteristics of each.
What Makes a Memory: Inside the “Mind Frack” (4:37) – Here, the directors talk about this particular scene and how it was one of the first scenes they worked on. Brie talks about her training, and the directors talk about constructing the sequence and cover key moments from it.
Deleted Scenes (8:50) – There are 6 deleted scenes with a Play All feature. “Who do you admire above all others?” (1:52) shows Yon-Rogg convening with the Supreme Intelligence who appears to him as the person he admires most… which is himself! They talk about what to do with Veers, who has become a threat. “Starforce Recruits” (2:02) shows Yon-Rogg in a class of Kree children and it actually features really good exposition about the Supreme Intelligence. (I kind of wish they’d kept this in.) “Heading to Torfa” (1:19) shows the Kree team as they get ready to deploy. “What, no smile?” (1:16) extends the scene where Carol meets a biker on Earth. Here, she intimidates and threatens the biker and then takes his jacket and motorcycle. “Black Box” (1:01) shows Talos disguised as Keller looking into flight info. Finally, in “Rookie Mistake” (1:20), Coulson accidentally lets Talos into the real Keller’s office.
– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 6/10/19)
Parental Guide: Content Summary
Sex/Nudity: We see a flasback where a male Air Force pilot insults Carol by saying “there’s a reason why it’s called a cockpit!”; Carol steals the clothes off a mannequin and we see the topless, shapely mannequin briefly; Two characters in a morgue look at an alien body on the examining table and comment how human it looks. They then both decide to peek under the sheet at its genitals and make an impressed reaction at what we’re not seeing.
Vulgarity/Language: 2 “S” words, 5 “h*ll,” 3 “a” words, 3 “d*mn,” 2 “Oh my G-d,” 1 “mother Flerkin” (as a play on the “F” word)
Alcohol/Drugs: We see some partying in a bar in a flashback; Carol goes into a bar in an effort to research her past.
Blood/Gore: Carol has a flashback where she’s lying on the ground with blue blood coming from her nose. She then holds up her hand and sees blue blood all over it; We see a dead Skrull in a car with lots of purple blood all over its face; Fury has a good deal of blood over his eye after a car accident. We then see it taped with a butterfly bandage for the rest of the film; After a plane crash, a character has some blue blood on their head. As the Skrulls change to humans and humans change back to Skrulls, the skin appears to split and rip in a way that’s kind of gross; We see a brief glimpse at an alien autopsy. We see the skin pulled back around the abdomen of the alien, with purple blood everywhere and a diener in a morgue holding one of the organs in his hands; In a flashback, we see a young Carol falling and having a somewhat dirty/bloodied arm (it looks mostly dirty). She also has a little bloody cut on her lip; A Skrull is shot and we see some purple blood on his mouth and clothed chest; SPOILER: Goose slashes a man in the face, leaving 3 bloody gash marks over their eye. We see the cuts several times in scenes afterwards.
Violence: Lots of comic book style violence; We see flashbacks of Carol falling over during some kind of battle; We see Carol and Yon-Rogg fighting while training. She blasts him with a power beam from her hand and it sends him flying; Veers and the Kree attack an alien planet and end up fighting the Skrull in a big action sequence. A Kree sniper shoots various Skrull. Veers is hit with an electric pulse and captured. We then see her hanging upside down while they sort of “hack” her mind to view her memories; There’s a prolonged action sequence where Carol, with her hands in capped restraints, fights off a bunch of alien soldiers, hitting them and throwing them around; We see a series of flashbacks of a young Carol falling off a bike or falling down during a softball game, etc, and then getting back up; There’s a prolonged action sequence where Captain Marvel fights and beats up a bunch of aliens; An animal opens its mouth and large tentacles come out, grabbing enemies and pulling them inside its mouth (it’s meant to be shocking but funny); Captain Marvel zips through space, smashing through large ships and presumably killing anything inside; Some aliens are hit with energy blasts that wound or kill them; and other alien related action sequences.