Captain Marvel – A Review

Hey everybody, Adam here. This is going to be a long one. I went into Captain Marvel not quite sure what to expect: I’d seen spoiler-free reviews calling it the worst, most politicised hot garbage to ever come out of the MCU, and had conversely seen it touted as the most amazing spectacle created from a Marvel property, ever. Well Jade and I went to see the film on opening weekend, and honestly, couldn’t have been happier. If you want no spoilers at all, here’s the quickie review: It’s the second-best origin story in the MCU, falling just behind Spider-Man Homecoming, and depending on whether you’re asking me or Jade it’s either the sixth or fifth best film overall. There are some long running questions answered pretty satisfactorily, the action is up there with the best as is the comedy, and there are some pretty far reaching implications for upcoming films both in terms of Endgame itself and for Phase Four. We tend to veer away from politics here, but obviously the elephant in the room is the big scary feminist agenda that the film pushes… except that’s very much been overblown. While Bree Larson herself has certainly come across as the bad kind of feminist while doing the rounds for Captain Marvel, Jade put it best when she said that the “keep getting back up” moral of the story most definitely pushes the good kind of feminism. So spoiler free, it was a damn good film, certainly in the upper tiers. Go watch it.

The spoilers start around here. Get out now if you don’t want spoilers. I’m serious, the spoilers are coming.

Nick Fury has been a Skrull from the beginning! The Avengers Initiative was created so that the Skrulls would have a willing army ready to defeat Captain Marvel if she ever returned to Earth. Phase Four is gonna be whack, yo.

…But seriously, spoilers below.

I’m going to get the negatives out of the way right from the get-go (they are largely nitpicks): First: the opening segments go on for a fair bit for the sake of introducing us to new concepts, and the show-don’t-tell approach to location information popping up on screen when we jump to a new planet has been getting tiresome for a few films now. Second: The Mar-Vell genderswap is a wee bit annoying in terms of it being totally unnecessary, but it’s hardly the end of the world, and since the film was already gearing towards the girls in the audience, it makes a small amount of sense to go all-in. Third: Carol is never called Captain Marvel in the film. Fourth: The Carol “the Avenger” Danvers reveal at the end was pretty weak, and a real stretch in terms of it being used to retcon in the name of the Avengers Initiative. Fifth: I missed this, but Jade noticed that the film can’t seem to decide whether Carol needs her mask in space or not, and by the end settles on her not needing it at all. Whether this is an aspect of her powers or not is never made clear. And finally: Carol Danvers has no weaknesses outside of being a bit of a hothead. They get away with it in this one film, but if it carries on, we’re risking treading Superman territory and making her boringly unbeatable.

With all that out of the way, let’s talk about the good bits. I can’t possibly go any further without talking about the Stan Lee tribute and cameo. The tribute, changing the entire Marvel opening to re-runs of the cameos over the years, was nothing short of beautiful and Jade was close to tears by the time “Thank you, Stan” came up on screen. The cameo for the film was pretty solid as well, being the first time we know for sure that Stan cameoed as himself reading the script for Mallrats, which is significant since that was the second film her ever cameoed in. Supposedly we have one more of these to come, but if this was the last, it’d be a solid cameo to finish on.

Subversion is a big thing in this film. The deliberate and very well done change of meaning with Yon-Rogg telling Carol to calm down, for starters. To begin with, this seems like some solid advice a commanding officer is giving to a subordinate to not lose her cool in a combat scenario, but the understanding that her emotions are key to unlocking her full power mean that he’s trying to keep her abilities in check rather than help her get stronger. This is especially clear when you think back to him pushing her to rely more on hand-to-hand combat. In very much the same vein, when we still believe that her powers are given by the Kree, the power dampener glowing when she uses her photon blasts strongly implies that the dampener is some kind of energy source. These are two of the many expectation subversions seen throughout the film.

The rest of the subversions I can think of offhand are: Carol’s power source being the Tesseract rather than being given by the Kree; I’ll cover more of this in a bit. The feint of Fury not losing his eye because of Skrull-Coulson (Skroulson?) but because of Goose; both fit the “last time I trusted someone I lost an eye” comment from The Winter Soldier. On the subject of Goose, the playing on the Flerkins being dangerous throughout the film and it seeming to be totally untrue (i.e. Goose just being a cat), until he starts eating people. Where the name “Vers” came from was silly, but still a subversion since it seemed like this was just going to have been a Kree given name rather than from half a dog tag. Dipping back to Yon-Rogg’s telling Carol not to use her photon blasts, that last part of their fight where it seems like she’ll fight hand-to-hand, before shooting him off into the distance with a single shot was spectacular, and had the entire cinema roaring with laughter. And more than anything this was because of timing; they hold off for just long enough to make you think she’s going to raise her fists. Finally, and by far the most important for the wider MCU, the Skrulls are the good guys after all! So much more on this in a bit.

The 90’s nostalgia was on point, covering at least: Blockbuster, Radioshack, the Gamebody, Nerf, laser tag, dial up internet, CDs, Windows 95, and of course, pagers being “cutting edge tech”. In fact two of the funniest quick beat moments in the film were the internet disconnecting for Carol, complete with her horrible typing skills, and the entire group of assembled good guys having to wait while a CD loads, both much to Carol’s disdain.

Before we cycle back and talk about some other things in depth, let’s cover off the last few things: Talos’s characterisation is absolutely brilliant. He’s charismatic, hilarious, and in the biggest subversion in the film, actually a pretty good guy. He’s even got the self-reflection necessary to realise that he’s just as bad as the Kree in terms of how much blood he has on his hands from the ongoing war, despite the Kree being the original aggressors. He is far and away my favourite character in the film (Jade’s is Goose, by the by). Monica Rambou is Photon, or Pulsar, or Spectrum, or the third Captain Marvel in the comics depending on the day of the week or the writer, and her introduction into the MCU plus the time skip between Captain Marvel and the present day sets the stage for either another female-led film or TV series, or as a potential sidekick for Carol. The addition of her having the final say on the design of Carol’s costume was a nice touch, as well.

I would also like to touch on the song (which has gotten some stick online) I’m Just a Girl being used in Carol’s big “going binary” scene. The sort-of backlash hinges on the idea that, again, the film is pushing an agenda. Sure, whatever, it doesn’t hurt the film, so I don’t really care. Kindly leave your politics at the door (I’m looking at you, Black Panther). The only shame of the scene is that Tubthumping didn’t come out for another two years from when the film is set, and that, given the theme of the film, would have been a far better choice for the scene.

Now you’ve read a pretty long play by play word-vomit of my thoughts immediately following our first viewing of the film, but if you’ll bear with me for just a few more paragraphs, I’m finally getting onto the connections to the wider MCU: The use of Project PEGASUS is a great link to the first Avengers film, as it shows that eventually Fury placed the Tesseract back into Shield custody, likely after he became Director. It also strongly implies that they’ve been trying to recreate Mar-Vell’s research for quite some time (in much the same way that many groups have been trying to recreate the supersoldier serum for decades). Also in terms of Shield links to the film, Coulson letting Fury and Danvers escape sets the stage for Fury’s being willing to go to extreme lengths to bring Coulson back to life following the first Avengers movie, since he truly trusts him like nobody else. We also have an understanding of why Coulson and Fury both knew about the Kree ahead of time, and why Fury knew that Kree blood could cure fatal wounds. And in a much smaller nod, in this film we have the Quadjet, the 90’s precursor to the Quinjet.

The Skrulls turning out to be, not the constant villains from the comics, but a diminished population of war refugees on the run from the Kree, is a massive twist with huge implications. First and foremost it gives some added weight to the Xandar-Kree war that Ronin and Korath want to keep fighting in Guardians of the Galaxy, and certainly implies that the Kree were once again the aggressors. But as we look at the future of the MCU following Phase Three, making the Skrulls not evil removes the likelihood of the most anticipated Phase Four storyline– there will likely not be a Secret Invasion story now. It simply wouldn’t gel with what we know of the MCU version of the Skrulls. And I mean, bravo Feige, the rug has been well and truly pulled out from under me with this one. And we’re once again left wondering… what comes next?

Carol Danvers getting her powers from the Tesseract, the Space Stone, is a seriously big deal in some ways but raises some questions based on comments made by people attached to Marvel (the company) in others. Primarily this means that Carol is empowered by the Space Stone in the same way that Wanda is empowered by the Mind Stone, and if Infinity War is anything to go on this means that she should have the inherent ability to destroy the Space Stone. This is a big deal, but it also sets what we can imagine is a hard limit on Danvers’ powers. She has been touted as the most powerful hero in the MCU, but if she’s empowered by the Tesseract, she can only at best be as powerful as that same Tesseract. I had a little head canon moment during the film where Carol flies through a ship, destroying it, which was super reminiscent of Thor with Stormbreaker doing the same thing in Infinity War; so in my mind she was at this moment as powerful as Thor. However, bearing in mind that Danvers cannot possibly overpower the completed Infinity Gauntlet, while Thor was able to using Stormbreaker, this would imply that Thor is far and away stronger than her. If I had to guess, if the time travel plot being fan-theoried across the internet isn’t how the film pans out, I’d imagine that Wanda and Carol will remove the Space and Mind stones from play, while the rest of the team deals with the aftermath.

Finally, and I do mean finally this time: Carol is 24 years older in the post-credits scene than she is in the film itself. What gives with her not ageing? And also, how did she get into the building? Did she blow a hole in a wall? Not cool, Danvers.

So yeah… I liked it.

–Adam

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