Movie review: Captain Marvel

(courtesy IMP Awards)

For those of us mere mortals caught unceremoniously, and with much banality in our ordinary lives of which movies usually are not made, superheroes are impossibly exotic and exciting.

They may often be of terrestrial origin, the product of a radiation leak or a spider bite or parental deprivation, but they are not ordinary and they are most definitely not us, and so we embrace them, not simply as heroes and beings with powers and abilities far beyond our own, but as something far beyond our own limited, occasionally sorry, existence.

The thing is, we also, demanding souls that we are, want them to also feel relatable and a little bit human, in touch with us still and here Captain Marvel delivers in spades, presenting with Marvel’s first female superhero to headline a film who is very much not of our world or us (at least anymore) and very human.

In a film that is both epic in scale, and spectacularly so at times, and yet both incredibly intimate and emotionally-evocative in ways few superhero films even come close to managing (though they do go through the emotions, the result is more ersatz than real), we get to know a superhero who is coming to grips with her lost humanity, who is smart, capable, highly-moralistic and unafraid to take on anyone who comes against her and those she is defending.

It’s inspiring stuff, and whether we are looking out over the impressively-massive Kree capital city of Hala, or connecting with lost friends deep in the heart of Louisiana, there is a very real sense of something, and someone, extraordinary coming up to meet us.

The 1990s-set Captain Marvel is that quintessential superhero we long for – someone who can take on the Kree Empire’s elite Starforce, of which she was once a part, but who is equally capable of sitting down her with honorary niece Monica Rambeau (Akira Akbar as the 11-year-old with whom we spend the most time) aka Lt. Trouble and playing Uno.

It’s a delicate balancing act, being both gargantuan in ambition and execution and yet cosy and snug as the way the best friendships are but directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck pull it off with aplomb, putting action and intimacy cheek-by-jowl, with a considerable serving of quip-laden humour, and making it working in every damn scene.

(courtesy IMP Awards)

It may seem like an audacious thing to say but Captain Marvel, which owes a lot of its heart and soul to a scintillatingly rich and layered performance by Brie Larson, is a near-perfect superhero movie.

Kicking off in Hala where Vers, as she is known – scooped up from Earth after a titanic battle between forces non-terrestrial (to say anymore, would be to venture into spoiler territory and no one wants that) with just a singed part of her dog tags visible, Carol Danvers, is a person with few memories and little sense of self beyond her identity as an elite Kree mercenary – is close friends with her mentor and team leader Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), we are granted entrance to a world where big epic things happening is pretty much another day at the office.

The Kree are locked in an ongoing battle with the, so we’re told, barbarous Skrull, a shapeshifting race who seem to be hellbent on infiltrating each and every Kree world in their vast, rigidly-controlled galactic empire, and bringing them to calamitous ruin.

On the surface, there is no reason to doubt the Kree version of events, and Vers fulfills her duties, impressive superpowers of fire and strength proving more than useful, although if she could just get them under control, she would be even more powerfully effective.

But something is wrong and Vers knows her, scrappy remnants of a past life rising up to meet her mockingly in her nightmares, revealing a past she knows is there but which remains, tantalisingly and perhaps welcomingly at that point, out of reach.

It’s only when Vers returns to Earth – known, rather charmingly as C-53 by the Kree who are controlled by an AI Supreme Intelligence who appears as someone you hold in high esteem; in Vers’ case, a character played by Annette Bening who’s exact meaning to her, like so much of her past life, remains shrouded in fog – that all the pieces start to fall into place, and the story of her life, and of the Kree and the Skrull begins to fall into place.

Captain Marvel makes the most of the grey areas in Danvers’ life, crafting an intoxicatingly complex origin story that reveals, as with so much in life, that what we think we know or think we see, may not be the entire story which, once made to us, palpably changes everything.

An introductions go for a character who is pivotal in the Marvel comic universe, and soon to be in the MCU, and who is the first female sidekick to transcend her limited place in the storytelling pantheon, Captain Marvel is a doozy – clever, action-filled, emotionally-rich, funny and a pleasure, a genuine pleasure, to immerse yourself in for its 124-minute running time which never once feels overlong.

(courtesy IMP Awards)

The real joy in this film is how complex and nuanced everything is without ever falling into an unintelligible heap, making it accessible for fan and novice alike.

If you know your Marvel lore, and this moviegoer had to rely on a damn good primer from Nerdist to get fully up to Captain Marvel speed, you will have a field day; but if you’ve walked in knowing nothing much at all, you will still find a huge amount to enjoy in a film that lays out its exposition in a way that is bold, big and colourfully intense but never remote or unapproachable.

The thing that is most captivating about Captain Marvel is that it is all things to all people and yet not lessened by that – the script is smart and savvy, the characters three-dimensional and relatable, even if you don’t like some of them overly, the performances exemplary especially Larson’s, that of Ben Mendelsohn who plays Skrull leader Talos and Samuel L. Jackson as Fury who gets the origin treatment too which is a lot of fun, and the sense of world and person-building is thrilling every step of the way.

It even manages, just, having the entire scene stolen by cat who may not be a cat called Goose who, when his actual identity is revealed, proves to be just as pivotal to the plot as anyone else.

That Captain Marvel makes a host of seemingly disparate parts work in a story that is one of the freshest and best to ever grace a Marvel film while also delivering up a huge amount of heart and spectacular action is proof that superhero films don’t have to be, nor should they be, limited by well-used formulas.

They should be, and Captain Marvel is to almost giddily-exciting degrees, about getting up close and personal to people who are, yes, extraordinarily-gifted but who are relatable and very human, the epitome of who we are and who we can be, and they should be brilliantly oversized, bombastic and fun and yet intimately, emotionally-evocative too.

Captain Marvel is all these things and so much more, a sheer pleasure to watch that reminds you that you can have a ton of visceral fun at the cinema and yet get your storytelling soul nourished too in ways you thought blockbusters were no longer capable of providing.

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