9 Mar 2019

Screen Time: CAPTAIN MARVEL

CAPTAIN MARVEL
Cast: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law, Annette Benning, Lashana Lynch, Clark Gregg
Directors: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Runtime: 124 minutes
Certificate: 12A
Release Date: 8th March 2019

Jo S: My concerted efforts not to read any reviews of Captain Marvel before establishing my own opinion were subverted at the very final hurdle last night by the explosive reactions of my PCG co-conspirators - ranging as they did from ‘Absolute tripe’ to ‘Brilliant’ - so I’ve been exerting every scrap of resilience to make sure that what you read here is not dragged in any particular direction by the opinions of others. It’s impossible though to talk about this movie without reference to the extraordinarily divided and divisive opinions which have infected social media, even warranting a shock (but ultimately ineffective) change in policy at Rotten Tomatoes. Releasing the movie on International Women’s Day was a bold choice, perhaps designed to inflame further the trolling quarters of the internet, but is this actually a feminist movie, ‘pandering to the #MeToo generation’, designed to chime into the zeitgeist rather than appropriately reflecting the history and ethics of a beloved Marvel character? Let’s park that for a second…

The story opens with our hero (Brie Larson) completing her training and receiving her first mission as an elite Kree fighter, guided by mentor and commander Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), who continually reinforces the need for her to restrain herself, to resist her emotions, to fight without the as-yet-unexplained power she possesses. Strange, ephemeral dreams of a unremembered past plague her and, when the mission does not go as expected, she tumbles into a new world.

The first movie in a new (to the Marvel Cinematic Universe at least) character’s arc has crucial decisions to make about the handling of the origin story - too long spent on this can tank the pace, too little and it feels rushed. Here the writer-directors Boden and Fleck employed what I consider to be the best aspect of the film: a hero who has no recognisable memory of her childhood, gradually piecing together her backstory and the source of her powers whilst also carrying out her first major military mission in the forever war between the Kree and Skrull races. The Kree look human except for their blue blood and unusual eye colour - though Law as Yon-Rogg manages again to nail that ‘so perfect he must be a psychopath’ creepiness only certain actors seem to be able to capture - and the Skrulls look, well, they can look like any living thing they have seen, but in their natural state they look like green goblins. An oddly weak special effect/costume design here made the Skrulls look like old skool Star Trek rubber-masked aliens - this just didn’t work for me: the touching moment when Skrull commander Talos admits that the dirt of the war covers him, an acceptance that there is blame on both sides, could have been moving but its delivery through somewhat immobile latex features took some of the pathos away for me. Contrasted with that, the de-ageing CGI work on Samuel L Jackson’s Nick Fury and Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson is an astonishing testimony to how far this technology has come. Fury’s action scenes, using a body double with a fully CGI face, were spectacularly seamless (Brie Larson’s sturdily-built fighting double less so).
The mid-90s setting gave us a wealth of sing-a-long-able backing tracks: whilst movie trailers often feature songs that don’t then appear in the film, Elastica’s 'Connection' made its appearance, alongside a further list of female-led kickers such as Garbage’s 'Only Happy When It Rains' and a huge action sequence played out over No Doubt’s 'Just A Girl'. For me these were all almost there but, along with a serviceable orchestral soundtrack (from Pinar Toprak, first female composer of an MCU soundtrack), I never quite felt like there was an emotional pull on me - I really wanted there to be that girl-power boost that had me striding out of the cinema ready to kick ass and take names but it just didn’t quite deliver.

Comic book history was well represented throughout - from the beautifully composed introductory tribute to Stan Lee, who was, along with artist Gene Colan, the originator of the House of Ideas' Captain Marvel character, to a nod to Superman catching and returning missiles, possibly a cheeky reference to the original Captain Marvel character (aka Shazam) attracting a lawsuit for then publishers Fawcett for being too similar to the Kryptonian. Kelly Sue DeConnick, responsible for Carol Danvers’ promotion from Ms to Captain in comic books, makes a brief cameo appearance, and those with familiarity with the character’s previous incarnations will have pricked up their ears at mention of Maria, and then Monica, Rambeau.
So is this a work of patriarchy-busting feminism? Is it really worthy of the snarling, slavering response from the sweatier end of the internet? Danvers is never actually referred to as ‘Captain’. She has no team of her own to lead and spends much of her time being held back and gaslit by her erstwhile mentor. Fury gets the majority of the smart lines - an astonishing statement by script writer Robertson-Dworet suggests that she considered this story to be an action-comedy, saying “[Captain Marvel] is one of the funniest comic book characters. She's so sassy, she's such a smartass, she won't take shit from anyone.” This is not borne out for me in the final product: Larson is (rightly) stern for much of the time, and the sass level was well sub-par throughout (the utterly grating “You should smile more” line delivered by a biker creep a perfect example of the infuriating entitlement of men to control the behaviour of women towards them). There’s plenty of evidence throughout the movie that male control remains an entrenched universal concept. That said, the message of “Get back up. Fight. Persist. You are strong.” remains powerful - Captain Marvel has landed on Earth, and she will keep getting back up. 7/10

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