CAPTAIN MARVEL DOESN'T NEED TO PROVE ANYTHING TO YOU
There’s a pivotal moment in Captain Marvel, the 21st movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where our hero Carol Danvers says to a man “I have nothing to prove to you.” This could just as easily be Brie Larson, the film’s star, speaking to the thousands of trolls who orchestrated an attempted Rotten Tomatoes takedown of the first MCU movie to feature a woman in the lead role. Despite the organized effort to bomb the movie’s opening weekend box office, Captain Marvel is already a whopping success.
We first meet Carol while she’s living on the planet Hala as a Kree soldier named Vers. Vers can only remember the most recent 6 years of her life, and she’s haunted by flashbacks that keep her up at night because the dreams seem to belong to someone else. During a mission gone wrong, Vers crash lands on Earth (or as Gemma Chan’s character calls it, “a real shithole” in one of the movie’s several sly Trump digs). She quickly teams up with a young Nick Fury of newly-formed S.H.I.E.L.D. to find answers. The year is 1995, which sets the scene for a lot of winky jokes (pagers! slow dial-up internet! Blockbuster Video!), but as a Generation X feminist cat lover (Goose!), I am the prime demographic for this film, and I had a great time and picked up shades of the first Thor installment, Top Gun, Memento, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Captain Marvel is at times weighted down with Marvel’s typical clunky plot and action mechanics, but is also unexpectedly funny, and ultimately empowering.
It can’t be a coincidence that the first MCU movie featuring a female lead was released on International Women’s Day. The movie also boasts the first female director of any MCU film, Anna Boden, who co-directed with Ryan Fleck, and a predominantly female writing team. Before Marvel pats themselves on the back too hard, let’s not forget that the reason Natalie Portman parted ways with the MCU was because she vocalized her disappointment over director Patty Jenkins’s removal from Thor 2, so, while I love you MCU, you had a LOT of ground to make up to us. In this aspect, Captain Marvel does not disappoint. This film wears its feminism on its sleeve; at various points, Carol is told that she’s “too emotional” and needs to “smile more.” The movie also FINALLY gives us a story of female friendship within the MCU. Listen, I love me some Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes, Tony Stark and “Rhodey” Rhodes, Groot and Rocket, Cap and Falcon, Peter and Happy, etc. Even the sole female OG Avenger Natasha Romanoff has a male BFF in Clint Barton. But Captain Marvel gives us the dynamic duo of Carol and her co-pilot Maria Rambeau, and I will happily stan them for the next several installments. They share a female mentor, Dr. Lawson (played by the fabulous Annette Bening), who allows Carol and Maria to go on secret training runs because as women, they weren’t allowed in active combat. If Carol’s mohawk helmet is the new power pantsuit, I completely approve.
A lot of times in superhero stories, the lead protagonist has to take on the boring mantle of moral nobility, while the supporting cast gets to have all the fun. Thankfully, Brie Larson excels at playing up the fun side of Vers/Carol--yes, she’s a cosmic force that’s out to save the world, but she’s also great with a one-liner. We get to see her crush beers with her friends, sing karaoke, and get back up when knocked down over and over in a sequence that made me tear up. Making her human side relatable and likable is important so we stay along for the ride as she discovers the extent of her powers. In a key fight sequence, Carol gleefully unleashes the full brunt of her photon powers on the bad guys as the opening notes of No Doubt’s “Just a Girl” kick in. It was a very on-the-nose 90’s musical reference in a movie full of them, and yet, my heart still did a happy little somersault. And I wasn’t alone because every woman in my audible vicinity in a packed theater cheered as well (including the person sitting behind me who slagged on the Hobbs & Shaw trailer and briefly became my nemesis--I guess we can be friends now, bish).
There’s lots of really fun moments and reveals which I’ll refrain from spoiling that cement Captain Marvel’s place in the MCU as an Avengers origin movie just as much as a Carol Danvers story. Samuel L. Jackson as a young Nick Fury is at his most relaxed, quippy, swaggy Samuel L. Jacksoniest here, trading barbs with Carol and getting gushy over Goose the cat--it’s been a while since I’ve seen him have such a blast in a Marvel film. Be sure to stay through the very end of the closing credits (I would think that after 11 years of Marvel movies, people would know this by now, but there’s always a decent amount of audience-goers who get up and leave, then try to rush back in when they hear dialogue).
Is it the best movie out of the MCU catalog? No, but I’d rank it around Thor and Captain America: First Avenger as one of the stronger introductory films. It doesn’t quite check off every box brilliantly the way that Black Panther did, but it does well in setting up a new hero with tons of potential to be tapped in subsequent outings. I look forward to rewatching Captain Marvel on my couch on future hungover Sunday mornings, on those days when I need a reminder that it’s OK to be flawed, I can still get back up and kick some ass another day, and I don’t need to prove anything to anyone.