RECAP: Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel (2019): Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck

It took 11 years, but Marvel finally released a female-led stand-alone entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The character alluded to but not mentioned in Avengers: Infinity War needed an introduction before her presumed-essential role in Avengers: Endgame, released later in the year.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: An human-turned-Kree becomes more powerful when she returns to Earth to learn her identity and battle some aliens bent on destroying the home planet she doesn’t remember. 

Hero (7/10)

“My name is Carol.” That’s good to know, because Brie Larson‘s Carol Danvers goes by several identities. To the Kree on her adopted home planet she’s Vers. To those who remember her from her real home planet, Earth, She’s Carol Danvers, ace pilot. To no one in the movie but all those watching the movie she’s Captain Marvel.

Identity is a major theme in Captain Marvel. The movie opens with Carol on Hala, Kree home planet, communing with the Supreme Intelligence (Annette Bening), the artificial intelligence guiding and/or ruling the Kree civilization. It and Carol’s mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) have been advising her to tamper her emotions, for these stand between her and becoming a true warrior. The Kree don’t suppress emotions in a Vulcan-like manner; some of them believe Carol is too emotional.

Vers, Kree Starforce

What woman hasn’t heard that before? Carol Danvers is a tough broad who loves a fight. The phrase “knocked down seven times, get up eight” was made for her. She trains with Yon-Rogg, who beats her every time unless she blasts him with her energy fists. Yes, Carol shoots energy blasts from her fists. It’s clear that she’s unusual to the Kree, but the locals claim to have given Carol her powers by way of a patch attached to her neck. Yon-Rogg wants Carol to one day defeat him without blasting him, and he believes controlling her emotions is the only way forward.

Carol works on the Kree’s version of Delta Force, opposing the expansionist Skrull, a shapeshifting alien species bent on eradicating the Kree. One mission separates Carol from her team and sends her to Earth, where she begins a long journey of self-re-discovery, in more ways than one.

One of Carol’s biggest problems is her recurring dream about an older woman and a Skrull. The woman turns out to be Wendy Lawson, a scientist working on a light speed drive, and the target of the Skrull leader Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) who attacked Carol in the movie’s opening action sequence.

Another hero: whoever chose that t-shirt to wear.

Carol appears human, not Kree, but that never seems to bother her. When Carol lands on Earth, after blasting her way through Arnold Schwarzenegger’s face in a Blockbuster Video, she meets Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Fury to his friends, colleagues, even his mother, and a young rookie on the beat named Coulson (Clark Gregg). Fury asks for some identification. “Vers, Kree Starforce,” Carol answers without a hint of incongruity and flush with confidence.

Carol teams with Fury to investigate her Earthly identity. Why is she getting flashbacks when she enters dusty honky-tonks in the California desert? Why do photos of fighter jets excite her? Why does Fury love cats so much?

A mid-movie twist turns Captain Marvel upside-down like a dogfighting F-15. Carol receives a black box recording of a special flight so secret that not only was official memory wiped of it, so was hers. Six years ago Carol was an US Air Force pilot flying a mission with Dr. Lawson, testing some energy drive that could put an end to wars, as Lawson claimed.

While flying this jet one afternoon, Carol came under attack by an alien craft and she crashed in the desert. She should have died, but shooting the energy core in the jet caused her to absorb its energy. It’s where she got the flame fists.

Not technically the hero, but totally IS!

From Earth, Yon-Rogg removed her to Hala and donated his blood so she could live. The Kree trained Carol and gave her a patch on her neck that tampered her power, all the time making her think it created her power.

Turns out the Kree were holding Carol back. They didn’t know what they had when they kidnapped her. They likely feared her, and rightly so, because when Carol casts off the shackles of her manipulators, she shines. She flies. She literally flies.

Brie Larson keeps this galactically powerful hero down to Earth (literally and figuratively, ha). She can’t help but smirk showing off her powers to the nervous Fury. A battle with Skrull infiltrators is a cinch; only a wisp of hair in her face needs puffing away.

Don’t ask her to smile, though, as one guy learned, or she’ll steal your motorcycle. The Terminator takes motorcycles from physically violent toughs. Captain Marvel snatches them from the world’s mansplainers.

Here’s a hero with the weight of the world on her shoulders. No sweat; she’ll fly through it.

Villain (9/10)

Captain Marvel pulls a rare feat worth discussion. A mid-movie twist turns the villain into a hero. I admit to being fooled. Casting Ben Mendelsohn seemed like a dead giveaway to Talos’s villainy, and I let that choice sway me.

In my defense, Talos starts off pretty bad. He assumes the form of a Kree spy, kidnapping Carol after fooling her with the identity codes embedded in every Kree operative’s subconscious. These codes are supposed to be Skrull-proof, but they aren’t. When Carol asks how Talos pulled it off, he responds by first demanding to know her secrets.

A long sequence shows us Carol’s repressed memories as Carol Danvers. The memories play like a home movie, with pause, rewind, and zoom functions. Talos’s voice directs the memories as memory–Carol recalls Dr. Lawson and her role in the Air Force’s Project Pegasus and the light speed drive it was meant to create. It’s a scene unlike any other I’ve seen, even in the strange worlds Marvel has put to screen.

Skrulls!

Carol is imprisoned upside down on Talos’s ship in Earth’s orbit. When she escapes and hooks up with Fury, Talos pursues her and assumes the form of Keller, Fury’s boss at S.H.I.E.L.D. As Keller, Talos follows Fury and Carol to the home of Project Pegasus. Talos knows what this item is, though he doesn’t know about the Tesseract powering it.

Carol and Fury escape to join Carol’s old pilot friend in Louisiana. Talos follows and, assuming his Skrull form, presents a black box recording explaining the death of Carol and the birth of Vers, as the Kree know her. The black box recording/flashback scene also shows Carol’s jet and her boss shot by Yon-Rogg.

That’s the twist. If you wondered, as I did, “Weren’t the Kree the bad guys in Guardians of the Galaxy?” you remembered correctly. They’re still bad. The Skrulls are refugees from an endless war with the Kree, who demand submission to their way of life.

The camp of Skrulls on Torfa were starving and scared. They weren’t there to hurt anyone. Thousands of similar Skrull camps are scattered across the galaxy. Talos wants the light speed engine because “we just want a home.”

Yon-Rogg makes a full heel turn off-planet, where he meets the Skrull refugees hiding on a cloaked ship alongside the power source of the light speed engine–the Tesseract. He exposes himself for what he is–an agent of Kree’s efforts at ethnic cleansing.

Yon-Rogg is the true villain, hiding in plain sight. He spends much of the early part of Captain Marvel training Vers, telling her she must beat him without using her emotions, and that her neck patch helps her live as a Kree.

Those were lies. Yon-Rogg wants power over her, knows he can only control her through subterfuge. He donated his Kree blood so she could survive. But for what end? Power.

Jude Law!

Yon-Rogg probably believes in his cause, that the Skrull deserved to be washed from the galaxy. He serves Ronan the Accuser, and we know that guy sucks from his role in Guardians.

Jude Law is, of course, a perfect choice for a handsome, trustworthy snake. His yellow contact lenses are the only thing making him alien, as he’s not blue-skinned like most of his teammates.

Two villains, but one at a time. The two swap places halfway. Loved it. Terrific tactic that should be used more often. Late-movie villain reveals are not rare; I’ve never seen one so early.

Action/Effects (4/10)

Captain Marvel‘s first action sequence involves a clandestine attack on an out-of-the-way planet Torfa. Vers, as she’s known amongst her fellow Kree, is a choice fighter in Yon-Rogg’s unit of choice fighters. Together they seek a Kree spy surrounded by a group of Skrull soldiers. This spy is possibly compromised and needs rescue.

Vers and the Kree infiltrate the reddish planet in their drop ship and quickly have the area secured. The locator beacon for the spy has him pinned inside a cave. One way in, one way out. Yon-Rogg recognizes the setup for what it is, a perfect ambush location.

Yon-Rogg and Vers walk across a stone bridge to enter the cave. Minn-Erva (Gemma Chan), posted on a bluff to snipe, spies angry locals gathering around them. The locals soon reveal themselves to be the shapeshifting Skrull, but their anger is not masked.

Kree Starforce about to wreck some fools on a distant planet.

Minn-Erva watches through her rifle scope. She also sees her partner sprint into the scene, which is strange because he’s also standing right next to her. After dispatching him she fires a ricocheting rifle bolt into the crowd, killing/exposing four Skrull. Yon-Rogg and the others enact a laser shield to protect the stone bridge as Vers searches for the spy.

Turns out the spy was already taken by Talos, who captures Vers and interrogates aboard his ship. Talos needs information stored in her memories. He’s able to get some, but not enough, before Vers breaks her bonds.

At this point in the movie we know that Vers, later to be known as Carol Danvers, can shoot energy from her fists. A simple fist clench gets her powers wound up, and she can thrust them when she needs.

Unless her fists are encaged in metal cylinders, as they are on Talos’s ship. Carol tricks a Skrull tech geek into helping her escape by playing dead. She’s able to escape the brain drain upside-down trap, but can’t shake the fist shields.

That’s OK, because she’s still a great fighter, and metal hands are great fighting tools. Carol needs a way off the ship, but first she must fight back the Skrull. Talso indicated he needs her alive for her information, which should give her a leg up.

Carol finds herself surrounded, but this woman loves a fight. She easily dispatches up to 10 opponents with her metal hands, using them to block blunt weapons and punch harder. Her fist speed appears unaffected. She uses her foot to tap open a door and comes across a giant, a man who absorbs metallic blows with a smile.

That’s not a nice old lady…

Eventually Carol gets past this behemoth and reunites herself with her boots, and good thing too, because she soon blows a hole in the ship, forcing an evacuation. Carol finds a drop ship and bails with a smirk before crashing onto Earth.

…that’s a mug ugly Skrull!

As always, a Marvel movie uses colors well. The Kree are mostly blue-skinned, their lasers turquoise and suits a subtle green. Carol has her friend’s niece select a new color scheme, cycling through several before settling on the red, white, blue, and gold motif evoking the US Air Force.

The real winners in the effects department are the people who worked on Samuel L. Jackson. The de-aging CGI Marvel has already used on Kurt Russell, Michael Douglas, and Michelle Pfeiffer–with varying success–is now flawless. At no point did I suspend my disbelief. To me, Sam Jackson looks like 1996 Nick Fury now. The Capital One ads are the liars.

Sidekicks (5/8)

Fury: Samuel L. Jackson brings us a younger, coiffed, two-eyed Nick Fury, or, to everyone he knows, Fury. Fury isn’t the grim weight-of-the-galaxy leather-coat wearer who will recruit Iron Man in a decade, this Fury wears a suit and tie riding around Los Angeles checking out threats to the local establishment in a beat-up American sedan.

Fury is genuinely amused to meet a member of the Kree Starforce. He’s less amused to have a surfer shoot at him moments later. Fury is a quick believer in forces beyond our ken, especially when resembling bros chasing rad barrels.

Fury looking flawless

Fury investigates Carol’s past while trying to obtain her for closer study. You can’t contain her though, you can only hope to control her, as the Kree do. Fury won’t let his close encounter ruin his day, as he follows Carol around and above the nation. Anything to hang out with his new best friend Goose the cat.

While Fury is more relaxed than we’re accustomed to seeing, he maintains his self-assuredness. Fury strikes me as the kind of man who will never be surprised by anything.

Here is a list of things Fury endures in Captain Marvel: a surfer tries to assassinate him with a laser rifle, a woman wearing a spacesuit calls herself a member of Kree Starforce, he meets a green-skinned alien species, he learns his boss is one of these green-skinned aliens, he flies to space without a spacesuit, he meets a cat, that cat turns out to have tentacles in its mouth, the cat scratches his eye.

All over the course of a couple of days. None of it fazes Fury.

The Rambeau mother and daughter: Why this woman’s name rhymes with “Rambo” I do not know, but she’s nearly as tough as him, and less sweaty. Rambeau and her daughter supply Carol with her human identity.

Rambeau, not Rambo

The daughter is the one to convince mother to fly with Carol again, this time into space to find a cloaked alien spaceship. She asks her reluctant mother what kind of example she’s setting for her daughter. She also chooses Captain Marvel’s new colors, based on the Air Force scheme.

Goose: You and I know Goose the Cat/Flerken is Captain Marvel‘s real hero. Let’s keep it between us.

Henchmen (2/8)

With two villains for Captain Marvel to oppose, the henchmen don’t get much action. Korath makes a brief appearance, as does Ronan the Accuser. It seems Kree warships are called “Accusers,” an objectively awesome name.

The Supreme Intelligence as it appears to Vers.

Gemma Chan plays the sniper/pilot Minn-Erva, and she is fine as hell. Dayum! She doesn’t get more lines than “Copy,” “Gotcha now,” and other such phrases. She’s criminally underused, but for many actors it’s probably enough just to get taste of that Marvel money. We’ll know Marvel has conquered Hollywood when Arnold shows up wearing a green cape or carrying a gold staff or something like that.

Stunts (1/6)

A flashback uncovers Carol’s memories of her crash with Lawson. Carol flies the experimental jet and its potential light speed drive with Lawson in the copilot’s seat. A ship flies from space and attacks, shooting dual laser blasts. Carol dodges the ship calmly.

Memory manipulation plays a strong role in Captain Marvel.

The scene is brief, but I want to highlight the terrific sound. The lasers blast with bass-tinged woop-woop. The jet streaks through clouds as its engines shriek. Carol offers calm to Lawson. The jet takes fire, and Carol tries to bail but something malfunctions. She steers the craft through firs and it crashes in the lake, sending the women onto shore.

This isn’t a knock on the movie, more a personal preference, but when I see a movie with fighter jets and fighter pilots, I expect dogfights between those jets. Space craft fight each other in Captain Marvel, and this ain’t Top Gun. Yeah, I get it. But my world of action cinema is woefully bereft of fighter jets screaming across the sky, and I want MORE!

Climax (1/6)

You didn’t think Carol and the Skrull would escape so easily, did you? As they stand on the cloaked ship and handle the Tesseract (why does that Infinity Stone pop up more often than the others?), they discover the ship is also home to Skrull refugees, including Talos’s wife and child.

Yon-Rogg and crew enter the ship and quickly capture all parties, imprisoning the Skrull and muzzling Goose, which seems strange at the time; isn’t he a cat? Carol meets with the Supreme Intelligence, still in the guise of Lawson. Carol realizes Yon-Rogg and the Kree control her Tesseract-infused powers through the patch adorning her neck.

Carol uses the moment to strike at the Supreme Intelligence. We watch a montage of Carol falling as a child and as an Air Force trainee, dozens of mistakes meant to prove, as the Kree believe, “Without us you’re only human.”

The Kree can mess with her memories, they can even inject her with their blood, as Yon-Rogg did, probably so a human could live in the Hala atmosphere, but they can’t stop her spirit. Carol heats up. She pulls the patch loose and wonders aloud, “I’ve been fighting with one arm tied behind my back. What happens when I’m set free?”

What happens is Carol shatters the bonds forcing her communion with the Supreme Intelligence. She bursts free and escapes the Kree for a few moments, long enough for her to hide the Tesseract. Turns out Talos was correct about Goose being dangerous, because he is not a cat at all. Goose offers to hold the blue cube. By “offers” I mean he eats it with his enormous tentacle mouth.

Carol takes the Fonz lunchbox, empty now and a diversion, and the Kree find her eager for a fight. Carol stands on a bridge with several and flames it to shrapnel. She breaks Korath’s laser sword in two. Minn-Erva fires sniper shots at her, but Carol smacks her gun away. Minn-Erva gets the drop on her with another gun and fires at Carol’s head. Too bad it’s a Nerf gun.

LOVE the mask

The diversion is working, because the Skrull are escaping toward the quinjet. Talos takes the form of a Kree guard, and seizes the chance to shoot three Kree and help his people board the ship.

Carol, meanwhile, continues the fight. She uses her laser flame powers to slash through her safe-to-say former colleagues until only Yon-Rogg remains. Yon-Rogg carries gloves that have magnetic/levitation powers, and he uses them to attack Carol, flinging metal bits at her and pinning her to the wall. After Carol flames her way out of the trap, the jig is up, because the lunchbox falls open and reveals no Tesseract.

Moments before the quinjet flies away, Yon-Rogg enters and shoots Talos in the shoulder. The jet exits the ship, followed by Minn-Erva, followed by Yon-Rogg with Carol riding his tail into space. It’s not long before she lets go and falls to Earth. (Somehow none of these craft struggle with burning up on re-entry.)

Rambeau pilots the jet into what appears to be the Grand Canyon. Minn-Erva follows. The Skrull tinkering worked wonders on the human ship; it’s able to outmaneuver the drop ship. Rambeau makes a different turn from her pursuer to reverse the jet and get it facing Minn-Erva, who gets blasted by the triple machine guns on the wing.

Carol, meanwhile, is on a journey to become who she means to be. During her fall to Earth, she had a moment of clarity. Great calm washes over Carol as she plummets to Earth. She is not about to die; no, she is about to fly. And she flies, with cheer, right into Yon-Rogg’s ship. The Tesseract allows the power to defeat gravity.

With her former mentor down, Carol has only to deal with Ronan’s accuser ships entering Earth’s atmosphere. Several ships and their crews regard Earth as a backward world infested with Skrull, and Ronan is here to cleanse. He orders ballistic missiles launched. Dozens fall to Earth.

Carol recognizes the threat posed, and she flies into action. Carol, wearing her broom-topped mask, meets the first missile head on. Rock, meet hard place. Carol struggles but succeeds in turning the missile back on its brethren. It strikes another missile and all explode. Carol zooms through the (non-nuclear) fireballs to greet Ronan, who watches like a statue from his ship, clutching his silly hammer.

Carol wrecks the Kree fleet. She swats attack ships as if they are gnats. She flies through an entire ship. It’s child’s play out there. Ronan sees enough and takes his fleet back to where he’s hanging in the ’90s.

Back on Earth, Yon-Rogg is stuck in the desert with a busted ship and nowhere to go. Carol drops her war gear and strides toward Yon-Rogg with all the confidence of a woman who just thwarted an alien nuclear attack. Which is a megaton.

Yon-Rogg knows his guns won’t work, so he tries another tack–pride. He puts up his dukes and reminds Carol what he told her earlier: she won’t be a fully fledged warrior until she beats him without her powers. Prove it, he demands.

Captain Marvel learns to unleash her powers, not tame them, as some want.

Carol blasts him into the nearest rock outcrop. She walks to him, triumphant. “I have nothing to prove to you,” she says.

***

Captain Marvel, as we can safely call her now, escorts Talos and the other Skrulls out of our solar system and in search for a new world. We won’t see her again for a while, but she’ll be back.

Jokes (1/4)

I wouldn’t call Captain Marvel funny, but it’s certainly fun. Any movie with a dangerous kitty cat is fun. Fact. Also helping is Brie Larson’s attitude. Her perfunctory delivery of her identity as “Vers, Kree Starforce” made me chuckle. She states her identity as a matter of fact, as if someone said, “I’m Jane from Pittsburgh, nice to meet you,” not as an alien idea to backwater “shit hole” planet C-53.

Here’s hoping Goose returns. He’s a legend.

Setting (2/4)

Welcome to Earth, circa 1996, where the cool folks wear NIN and GnR t-shirts. Mustangs are cool. So are leather jackets. Smashing Pumpkins album art adorns the wall near Blockbuster Video stores.

“Nostalgia” derives in part from the Greek for “pain.” And that’s the trouble with revisiting the past. It’s painful. We forget the bad times and let the good times (read: music) color our memories. I grew up in the ’90s. While I remember the songs fondly and still listen to them, I don’t recall the sights Carol sees on her once-and-future home planet.

Mahalo

What struck me as strangest about Captain Marvel was the lack of people. Despite walking around daytime Los Angeles, Carol exists in a world devoid of people. It’s as if Thanos already did his finger snap, and the city is just waking to the horror.

Carol and Fury take time to visit a top secret facility in the California desert. This place is also missing people. A few work in the facility when they first arrive, but by the time they flee it’s empty. Did the Skrull kill them all? Why are these cities and bases devoid of human life? Was life so simple then? I didn’t seem so; it never does.

Commentary (2/2)

Yon-Rogg advises Carol to keep her emotions in check. Carol discards that advice late in Captain Marvel to become Captain Marvel. The message is clear–ladies, embrace your emotional side; it is the source of your power. Men want you to control your emotions because they fear them. Carol Danvers isn’t about to weep on your shoulder because someone looked at her funny at work. She’s about to steal that jerk’s motorcycle.

Also in play is the battle between the alien races. I don’t want to use the word diaspora to describe the Skrulls’ plight, but I guess I just did. The Kree are an advanced civilization bent on assimilating the Skrull. Are the Skrull responsible for any atrocities? We don’t know, though Talos mentions that his hands are unclean, as are any in war.

Offensiveness (0/-2)

Please pass the bechdel test please pass the bechdel test please pass the bechdel test YES!

You can never be too sure with these things.

Others

  • Looked like they were testing F-22s at that base. In the ’90s. Hmm.
  • Danvers’s nickname gives Fury an idea. The name of a team of heroes to protect Earth from unusual threats–the Avengers Initiative.

Summary (34/68): 50%

Captain Marvel posted the 18th-largest opening weekend in history. Seven of the top 20 opening weekends now exclusively or primarily star women. Hollywood is taking note.