Captain Marvel

 

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Marvel Studios’ first female-powered superhero movie takes us back to 1995 where, as Carol Danvers, Brie Larson strives to make her presence count.

   

Captain Marvel

Punch drunk: Jude Law and Brie Larson 

 

Following the critical and commercial triumph of DC Comics’ Wonder Woman (2017), high hopes were invested in Captain Marvel. Or should that be Mar-Vell? Oh, there’s so much to explain. Hollywood bean counters had low expectations for the first female-empowered superhero blockbuster. And not only was Wonder Woman herself played by a relatively unknown Israeli actress, but the film was directed by a woman. Ha! In the event, in the US, Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman became the highest-grossing entry to date in the so-called ‘DC Extended Universe’. Marvel Studios and Walt Disney, a combo not averse to a remunerative opportunity, then invested $152 million into their first female superhero, Captain Marvel, aka Carol Danvers. To hedge their bets, they recruited an Oscar-winning American star to fill the title role and, as it happens, Brie Larson is the best thing about the movie. The actress’s naturalistic delivery and deadpan humour elevates her presence several notches above the plasterboard execution of Messrs Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill and Chris Evans. And the banter between her and a young(er) Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is a constant highlight.

 

If only the rest of Captain Marvel were as good. It doesn’t start well. Besides a moving tribute to Stan Lee at the opening, the film whisks us off to an alien planet that looks like so many others that we have already seen (blame the Blade Runner films). Then we are subjected to a gravity-defying brawl between Larson and Jude Law, the latter who appears to be her mentor. It’s all in the best possible spirit, embellished with familiar sound effects and a conventional score by Pinar Toprak. Jude tells her, earnestly, that, “I want you to be the best version of yourself.” Then, when Law and Larson are mobilized to infiltrate a neighbouring planet, the occupants look like they’ve escaped from an episode of Star Trek, complete with those pointy ears beloved of elves and Vulcans. Much CGI ensues, depleting the viewer’s will to live, until Brie Larson arrives on planet earth with a bang. Or planet C-53, if you are a Marvelette.

 

All this preamble is to establish the extended backstory of Carol Danvers, before she becomes Captain Marvel and we can enjoy her superpowers. But like so many Marvel movies, it all feels like a prelude to the next Big Thing. To have saved us the time, and Disney $100 million, a caption at the start would have sufficed, sparing us an hour of CGI and noise. After all, Superman was only as super as the reaction shots he prompted from a gobsmacked human public. Along the way, though, there are some fun distractions in Captain Marvel, including a cat, which we all know is not just a cat. As for Carol’s craft, the best bit is when she tries to prove her powers to her best friend’s eleven-year-old daughter (Akira Akbar) by heating up a kettle with her hand. Now that is cool. One might have hoped for more, though, from co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, whose last collaboration, Mississippi Grind (2015), was a critical hit (and gained a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes). Unfortunately, the generic hand of Marvel has suffocated much of their script, although the writer-directors’ comic dialogue still shines through. Indeed, the film is at its best when it is allowed to breathe, in between all the computerised combat.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan, Rune Temte, Algenis Pérez Soto, Akira Akbar, Annette Bening, Clark Gregg, Jude Law, Richard Zeringue, Mckenna Grace, Stan Lee, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle, Mark Ruffalo.

 

Dir Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, Pro Kevin Feige, Screenplay Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck and Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Ph Ben Davis, Pro Des Andy Nicholson, Ed Debbie Berman and Elliot Graham, Music Pinar Toprak, Costumes Sanja Milkovic Hays.

 

Marvel Studios-Walt Disney.

123 mins. USA. 2019. Rel: 8 March 2019. Cert. 12A.