Captain Marvel (2019)

Directed by Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck

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For some reason the appeal behind superhero origin stories finally clicked while watching this movie.  It’s obligatory at this point, the hero discovers or learns to harness his/her powers, they defeat the villain, and they probably make a few new friends along the way.  It’s essentially a coming of age film.  The villains are almost always easily discarded in movies of this scale, there only to be inevitably defeated, so the real growth comes within the hero herself.

In the case of Captain Marvel that hero, “Vers” (Brie Larson), is already well aware of her own strengths.  She comes from a fictional planet with other human/alien hybrids, and this origin story has more in common with Thor and Guardians of the Galaxy than any of the Spiderman, Captain America or Iron Man origin stories.

Her internal conflict will be to control her own emotion, learn to forget the past or to at least detach from it, all while she struggles to piece it together, thanks to an unknown trauma that has splintered her memory.  This will be teased throughout the film.

Despite filling some sort of Bingo category for a movie such as this, I found Vers’ struggle to resonate more than in other movies.  It all boils down, essentially, to the message: “Remember all the times you stood back up,” and well sh*t by that point I was onboard.

It’s that underlying theme, the idea that we all have the innate ability to bounce back from the punches thrown our way, that helps move the story along after an uneven first act.

It’s that suddenly action-packed, convoluted, almost heartless opening that I find holds back many superhero movies.  I struggle to find any reason to care about the fictional worlds of the first acts of Captain MarvelWonder WomanThor or something like Man of Steel.  Just get the hero to Earth and get on with it, because everything before this point is only there A) to deliver one of many mandated action set pieces, B) to tease the eventual villain and C) to deliver a whole lot of empty exposition that boils down to ‘we’re aliens and people need our protection’ OR ‘we’re aliens and humans are beneath us.’  That’s what it seems, at least.

Once Vers aka Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel reaches Earth, specifically 1990’s Los Angeles, (possibly in the shared cinematic universe as Jonah Hill’s Mid90s) things start to pick up, but even then the introduction of a CGI de-aged Nick Fury (Samuel Jackson) feels labored.  Fury and Vers will begin a buddy-cop dynamic as they follow an investigation which will tie together the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.

It’s not until the halfway point, at a very pleasant Instagrammable Louisiana cottage, that the banter and sense of humor clicks into place.  By the end of the movie I found myself attached to Fury, Vers and the rest of the developing ensemble in the ways you’re supposed to be attached to them.  It becomes a good hangout movie, with characters we find charming doing a whole lot of charming stuff, but boy for a little while up top it’s hard to get the ship moving.

So Captain Marvel is just another superhero movie, released now nine or ten weeks ago (these posts are backlogged…), so you’ve seen it or you haven’t, or you will definitely see it or you definitely won’t.  It’s a fun enough movie, but there is part of me, the part that’s softening up to a movie like this, that wonders if it isn’t the unlikely benefit of superhero fatigue.  It seems I’m more willing to anticipate the tropes and cliches of a superhero movie, let alone a Marvel one that has a lot to do to tie this in with the broader ‘universe,’ and to forgive them.  But that’s a good thing, right?  I mean these movies are kind of fun, and there’s plenty here for a Marvel diehard.

Maybe that’s the thing to talk about, how Marvel might be approaching Star Wars territory.  Its audience is only growing, and these movies are all so fresh that who knows how much they’ll grow in the coming decades, with currents fans raising their children to be fans and whatnot.

Captain Marvel, for several reasons, is the closest thing to an origin story for the universe as a whole, and while some of the story points are in the name of fan service, I found it all kind of charming.

Up Next: For All Mankind (1989), Junebug (2005), A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014)

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