Film * Anna Boden/Ryan Fleck * Hero Grrrl * 2019
Usually I preface these articles with the caveat that I have very little background in comics and whatnot, but now that I’ve seen like two-thirds of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies I figure I’m pretty much an expert. Therefore, I’m not going to bother pointing out all the subtle details, since obviously you’re an expert too and it would be a waste of time. Instead, I’ll focus on the larger themes of the movie, which like most MCU entries, are not exactly subtle. Nor do they need to be! In fact, the reason most of the movies work so well is because they fundamentally understand the medium they’re adapting. The narrative itself can be as weird and esoteric and convoluted as you like, but the characters need to be broadly appealing and the themes need to be universal and ring through clearly. Captain Marvel, like other MCU successes, does all these things without trying too hard.
At this point, the formula is pretty well locked in. We’re now in the point of the process where each new film in the MCU is trying to find its own voice, layered on top of the formula. That’s how we get nice things, like Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther. The baseline is there, time-tested and audience-approved, but we’re finally getting directorial choices that seem to matter. Thor: Ragnarok was a beautiful, weird, fever dream because, well, have you seen What We Do in the Shadows? Black Panther remains the best MCU movie largely due to a cohesive aesthetic vision that works on nearly every level. These movies are starting to loosen up a little, and as a result they’re continuously revitalized instead of wearing themselves out. By all rights, we should all be sick and tired of these nonstop Marvel releases, but the public is clearly not fatigued in the least. Myself included, which is frankly just weird.
All that said, I was a little skeptical going into Captain Marvel. And if you’re making a snap judgement as to why that might be, you are clearly new here. I’ll get into the whole sexism thing in a bit, but real quick my criticism on that front is that it took Disney/Marvel ten years to figure out how to get a woman her own superhero movie and that sucks. Anyway, my skepticism is born entirely out of the fact that this is yet another superhero origin story, and that is a thing I am pretty well sick of. (I will take this parenthetical moment to assert that Black Panther is not an origin story, since the role of a Black Panther is well established in the society of Wakanda.) Some of that skepticism was borne out within the film, I’m afraid. We get some deeply over-familiar moments where Our Hero is discovering her new powers and is like, whoa man. Luckily, those moments in no way overwhelm the film and are fairly easily glossed over in favor of the fun this movie is clearly having.
It probably helps that this is the first major movie I’ve seen that is furiously mining 90s nostalgia. On the one hand, the constant pop culture references to my ill-begotten youth makes me feel impossibly old. On the other hand, there are a couple of musical cues that, while extremely on the nose, still work in that nostalgic hind-brain and made me unreasonably happy. Plus it’s hard not to have a little crush on Brie Larson when she appears in a Nine Inch Nails shirt and a 90s-ass leather jacket. Also there are a few establishing shots that straight up look like an old Snoop Doggy Dogg video, so you’ve won my nostalgic affection on multiple fronts, movie. And if you don’t have that baked-in nostalgia, not unlike the 30 year old star of the movie? Good news. Captain Marvel is still an extremely good superhero movie.
I think I’m in trouble here. My initial thought was to write about Captain Marvel in terms of representation and the importance of strong women in stories and all those cool things. But, like, I’m a dude, and I’m not convinced the world needs another article mansplaining feminism to people. Instead, I’ll talk about some other stuff, but I will take a moment to speak directly to other dudes. Specifically to dudes who are “concerned” about seeing women in places that they’re not accustomed to seeing them. Look, bro, just shhh. It’s okay. No, no, just shut the fuck up. Nobody cares. And it’s good nobody cares. The existence of a woman superhero for little girls to dress up as does not invalidate you personally. Your bad ideas and terrible logic do that. The existence of a woman flying around doing cool impossible shit does not invalidate the existence of a man flying around doing cool impossible shit. They can do cool impossible shit together! And if you’re bummed out by that, well, enjoy the rest of your sad, myopic, frustrated life. God forbid you relax, accept people, and change your mind once in a while.
Okay! What else do y’all want to talk about? Oh, if you’ve not seen the movie I might talk about a few things so if you’re sensitive about that probably dip out, I dunno. There are plenty of really cool moments in Captain Marvel that I think shore up some of the origin story-based weaknesses. Like how that rad canyon scene toward the end was basically a callback to Independence Day (I kept waiting for someone to welcome a baddie to Earth by punching them in the face). The Stan Lee cameo, obviously. There’s the bit with the cat, of course, but there’s also the moment I was waiting for pretty much the entire movie, which is to say when the No Doubt song kicks in.
Like I said above, that particular music cue was incredibly on the nose, but that does not stop it from being satisfying. I actually enjoyed the entire soundtrack, which incidentally was comprised of artists led by women with the exception of good boys Nirvana and R.E.M. Shout out to whoever lobbied to get Elastica featured in there, although I’m a little sad the likes of L7 or Bikini Kill did not appear. However, my only real quibbles are ending the movie with a song that was released in the late 90s as opposed to the mid-90s when the film takes place (although “Celebrity Skin” is still a dope song) and the lack of hip-hop. This thing needed a track by Queen Latifah or Lady of Rage in it.
So I have a bit of apprehension about Avengers: Endgame, which is obviously teased in the post-credits stinger. Essentially, I’m worried that Captain Marvel is going to be used as a deux ex machina to solve the seemingly-intractable problem brought up in Infinity War. Perhaps I’ve missed something in my aforementioned expertise, but we’re only just now being introduced to the very idea of this seemingly all-powerful galactic superhero, right? We’ve been building up to this for a decade and this is the first we’ve heard of this kind of power. Awfully convenient. Hopefully the “final” Avengers movie is deft enough to get around the last-minute appearance of an unstoppable force of nature saving the day, but I would have felt better about it if the Marvel braintrust would have hinted at such a character like ten movies ago. But I guess that would have required taking a woman superhero seriously before Wonder Woman proved to the idiots in in charge that girls can do cool shit too.