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Movie Review: "Captain Marvel" is A Smart, Thrilling, Silly and Empowering Blast

Starring Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Djimon Hounsou,
Lee Pace, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan, Clark Gregg
with Annette Bening and Jude Law
Screenplay by Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck and Geneva Robertson Dworet
Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck

Reviewed by Patrick and Paul Gibbs

 Out of Four

Look, let's just be honest, (I believe) there are only three types of people who aren't going to see this movie:

1. People with a chip on their shoulder about superhero movies (or are are less angry and obnoxious about it but are legitimately burned out and can't catch every one).

2. Crazy, alarmist men's movement fools who are believe that the existence of movies with female or non white protagonists is a coordinated attack against them  You have to and live in fear that one day they will wake up and only a horrifyingly low 86 percent of everything will be marketed directly to middle class white guys.

3. That one friend who still insists that Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was better than Captain America: Civil War (why are you still friends with that guy, anyway?)

Two out of three of those groups deserve some degree of understanding: there's no denying that three Marvel movies per year is a lot, and because of this we actually tend to be pretty low key when it comes to gleefully anticipating the next one. How is this even an event any more? Isn't there another one coming in a two months? The answer to that lies in viewing Marvel as a unique entity from the rest of your movie going experience: it's like looking forward to the next episode of your favorite series, or (just a thought here) the latest issue of your favorite comic book. And it reliably delivers on what it promises to be.

Now, when we were kids, Captain Marvel was what Billy Batson turned into when he said Shazam!, which is another gripe that groups two and three might be feeling, but group three gets their movie next month (and we are as excited as they are, maybe even more so), and group two is made up entirely of horrible, horrible people who quite frankly deserve to have sandpaper applied directly to their eyeballs (not that we advocate doing that). But of course this is Marvel Captain Marvel, aka Ms. Marvel. That's right: a woman. A FEMALE woman. As in NOT A MAN. What is happening to this place we used to call Earth? Won't someone please think of the children?!!!

(Images Courtesy Marvel Studios)
OK, enough about the haters (sorry, it's just, well, we really hate the haters). So anyway, this begins with our heroine (played by Oscar Winner Brie Larson), an Earthling now known only as  known as "Vers" (pronounced "Veers") living with the Kree (an alien species you may remember from Guardians of the Galaxy) Vers cannot remember her life before she became a warrior for an elite Kree military team called the Starforce, who are dedicated to saving the Kree home world from the villainous shape shifting Skrulls. Vers has left her earthly life behind to join an elite Kree military team called Starforce, led by an enigmatic commander played by Jude Law. Before long, Vers finds herself back on Earth in the year 1995, with new questions about her past, and unlikely ally: Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, digitally de-aged by about 25).

It's hard to get much more specific about the set up for Captain Marvel, because it takes a drastically different approach from the normal superhero origin story, and for the first 35 minutes or so you may find yourself scratching your head a bit. But the writing/directing team wisely (and slyly) let us know that we are supposed to be a bit lost at this point, and a little patience goes a long way. It plays out as a very clever piece of storytelling and a space opera science fiction film that transcends the feeling of just being the latest hero in the Marvel pantheon while embracing more than enough of what fans love to make it play to just about everybody.

Larson and Jackson have terrific chemistry, and they deserve a lot of credit for how utterly watchable the movie is at all times, as do Jude Law, Annette Bening and especially Ben Mendelsohn. But this is definitely Larson's and Jackson's movie, and this is one of the most thoroughly entertaining performances that Jackson has given in years. This movie's Nick Fury has seen a lot less and a considerably less stoic, with a sense of fun, humor and heart that bring a whole new depth to the character in context and really cement his place as one of the most interesting in all of the MCU. There's something truly joyous about seeing him back in the decade where we all first became fans, and being allowed to be light and endearing after playing so many smarmy psychos in recent years. What's more, the de-aging effects work quite well most of the time. Larson is, of course, a remarkable actress who is best known for her very heavy work in films like Room and The Glass Castle, and while that sense of dramatic gravitas serves her well here, she also gets a chance to show that she can be charming and funny. While Captain Marvel is a superhero movie, a big budget B sci fi yarn and an epic tale of female empowerment and triumph of the human spirit, it also manages to find time to be a great mismatched buddy cop movie in the best '90's tradition (min us the raging "let's do this the stupid way" machismo).

The script is a sharply crafted, balancing twists and turns with fast moving story and a good amount of humor.  Directors Boden and Fleck handle the action well, and have a strong sense of pacing. They have a strong handle on the material and are confident enough in it to capably deliver the goods, even if they may not make the huge stylistic impression of a James Gunn, Ryan Coogler or Patty Jenkins. Perhaps their strongest trait as storytellers is faith in the intelligence of their audience, as they trust you to connect the intellectual and emotional dots without clumsy, on the nose dialogue or speeches. The underlying theme of the struggle that our heroine has faced in being bullied, belittled and held back in a male dominant world is shown but never talked about didactically, and the moment when we see her literally showing that she can't be kept down will become almost instantly iconic.

The choice to jump backwards and introduce Captain Marvel in between parts of the giant Avengers sandwich really pays off, and we left this film with our enthusiasm for End Game greatly increased. Captain Marvel is a winner all around, and a major sign that Marvel Studios has plenty of power to keep them going even if we have to say goodbye to some of the biggest characters soon.


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