While a flip through a stack of Marvel comics today would yield a kaleidoscopic variety of art and story, go back to the Golden and Silver Ages and things look very different. Or rather they didn’t. With Stan Lee penning more titles than even he could keep straight, and Jack Kirby’s pioneering art becoming so iconic that nearly every other artist coming in was either copying him or working off his breakdowns, Marvel Comics very quickly developed a “House Style” that persisted for decades.
Similarly today, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has found its House Style, the work of Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. on 2008’s Iron Man acting as its primordial template. In the decade since Tony Stark quipped his way onto our screen, we’ve seen many titles follow in his armoured footsteps. We’ve also seen a select few
While the long-heralded debut of the first female-led offering in the MCU does tend to colour between the lines when it comes to tone and structure, the images it produces are just plain, high-flying fun. A large part of that comes from star Brie Larson herself.
Early criticisms from a select portion of the internet about Larson’s US Air Force pilot-turned-alien-powered-superhero Carol Danvers seeming bland prove unwarranted. Whether she’s slugging her way out of an alien prison ship as a part of Starforce, the elite Kree military unit led by Jude Law’s Yon-Rogg, or trying to prove to Samuel L. Jackson’s digitally de-aged young, two-eyed SHIELD Agent Nick Fury that the Kree’s galaxy-spanning war with the shapeshifting Skrull race has inadvertently spilled over to Earth circa 1995, the Oscar-winning actress is clearly having a rocket-powered blast. Larson infuses the character with a highly-infectious smart-ass swagger that never fails to leave a smile on your face.
Her adventures will do more than that to your features though, as the whole affair is also rather surprising. The first bit of unexpectedness coming from Ben Mendelsohn as Skrull leader Talos, who is not just scene-stealing hilarious with his laid-back airs, but boasts deeply potent motivations for his actions. It’s not often you can say that about an MCU villain.
Co-writing/directing duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s take on this origin story also tosses things up significantly. The script (which also saw contributions from Nicole Perlman, Meg LeFauve and Geneva Robertson-Dworet) boasts all the same major characters and data points as Captain Marvel’s comic book genesis (Yonn-Rogg, Mar-Vell, the Supreme Intelligence, Monica Rambeau, the Kree-Skrull War, etc), but elements are remixed in inspired ways to produce something that kept me guessing far longer than I thought it would. Some comic book adaptation purists might rankle at a few of the G-force inducing narrative banking maneuvers on display here, but I appreciate the bold choices. The presentation of this story may play by the established rules, but the story itself definitely doesn’t.
Boden and Fleck’s directing isn’t quite as inspired as their scripting though. At least when it comes to the business of punching stuff. While there are plenty of fist-pumping opportunities and latter spectacles pop and sizzle off the screen, leaving me itching to rewatch this film on IMAX – in particular, one exultant sequence that sees Carol reveling in her powers – some action beats feel just a tad unpolished. There’s a definite case of editing around shortcomings happening here.
It’s in the character work where Boden and Fleck do excel though, leveraging well-honed skills clearly evident from their solely drama-populated filmmography. As Carol’s time on Earth reveals secrets of her past that she thought lost, the filmmaking duo simply nail the emotional aspects of these discoveries, guiding their cast and crew to wholly deliver the goods as well.
There’s one emotion you’ll be feeling a lot of
It doesn’t just poke fun at that era though, as Boden and Fleck also pay homage to some of the biggest blockbusters of the time. Terminator 2, Mission: Impossible, Independence Day, Pulp Fiction and more get a wink, while nods to earlier films that tie into Carol’s past, like Top Gun (get ready to make silly-cute faces at Goose the cat), also pop up. It’s also brilliantly self-aware of its modern sensibilities, deftly lampooning the very controversies that have sprung up in the film’s recent pre-release window.
So yes, Captain Marvel doesn’t quite reach the stratospheric heights of earlier movies and falls slightly short of the momentous occasion but there’s a still a heck of a lot to love here. This film unapologetically establishes Larson’s newly minted status as the de facto cosmic powerhouse of this universe and leaves me excited to see just how her appearance on the scene will shake up the landscape as she joins the modern MCU. My only regret is that we won’t get any more killer tunes from my teenage years.
Last Updated: March 11, 2019