Captain Marvel (2019)

CaptainDirectors: Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck

Screenwriters: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, and Geneva Robertson-Dworet

Cast: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law, Annette Bening, and Lashana Lynch

Ever since that cryptic page sent by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) in the post-credit scene from Avengers: Infinity War, people have been saying…”Who’s Captain Marvel?” That is an epic question in itself. Those familiar with the Marvel Comics origin of Captain Marvel know it is a strange one. The first Captain Marvel dates back to 1939 as a fictional comic book superhero from the now defunct Whiz Comics. Whiz and Captain Marvel were put on the back burner after DC Comics sued the publisher over Captain Marvel’s similarity to Superman in the 1950s. Marvel Comics eventually developed a trademark on their own character named Captain Marvel in the 1960s with the caveat that in order to retain the trademark, they’d need to publish a Captain Marvel title at least once every two years, leading to DC eventually rename their iteration Shazam, a character that is also getting the cinematic treatment this year. But that’s not all! Marvel’s Captain Marvel went through 6 different versions before finally arriving as the Carol Danvers version that we have now!

Ok, so now that we have that out of the way, who’s Captain Marvel and what is this movie all about? Captain Marvel is centered around Carol Danvers (played by Brie Larson), a U.S. Air Force pilot who through a series of events is recruited to an elite team of alien warriors called the Kree on the planet of Hala. Danvers develops superpowers under the tutelage of her mentor and commander, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). With the Kree, Danvers (known as Vers to her Kree comrades), helps fight in an ongoing war against a group of alien shapeshifters known as the Skrulls. The tricky bit is somewhere along the line, Vers (Danvers) has forgotten any and all of her life on Earth save for some disturbing nightmares featuring a woman (Annete Bening) she recognizes but cannot place. During a botched rescue operation, the Skrull commander, Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) capture Vers and tortures her for answers about the Kree as they make way to Earth with the plan to find a scientist who may be the key to helping them develop a quantum drive that would give them the edge in the battle against the Kree. Vers manages to escape only to crash land in Los Angeles. It is here that we discover that it is the 1990s, and Vers’s spectacle of an entrance draws the attention of (much younger) S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Nick Fury (Jackson) and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg). Now it’s a race against time as Vers teams up with S.H.I.E.L.D. to stop the Skrulls from obtaining the quantum drive. Another battle – one of identity – also ensues as Vers’s sudden appearance on Earth begins to uproot some repressed memories of her previous life on Earth, some of which may affect the future of the universe! So the stakes are high.

Captain Marvel is a very fun movie, and much credit for its success goes to Larson, who really carves out a character here that could fall flat with the wrong performer in the role. She is charismatic and all-in on this performance, which is no surprise given she’s an Oscar winner for her work in the intensely gripping film Room. Captain Marvel certainly is a pivot from Room, but Larson’s versatility shows here that she’s a bankable and playful actress who will elevate a film. Her chemistry with Jackson, Mendelsohn, and Danvers’s best friend Maria Rambeau (played by Lashana Lynch) is contagious, helping the audience feel much more connected to the film’s events.

In addition to the performances, the action and story are on point as well. I think there were some heightened expectations that this film would provide more clues and explanations associated with the fateful climax of Avengers: Infinity War, but Captain Marvel is an origin story film and it takes place well before Thanos started outfitting that gauntlet with infinity stones. That being said, Captain Marvel is not without some nuance in providing a few answers to some questions within the MCU. Several of which can be attributed to the scene-stealing break-out star of the film, Goose. I’ll say no more. If there’s one other scene-stealer of note worth mentioning, it’s the late, great Stan Lee. 2019 will mark the last year of Stan Lee Marvel film cameos. Captain Marvel, Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home all feature appearances by the comic legend, and this one from Captain Marvel is a real gem.

Finally, for some reason, there’s an unfair amount of pressure on this movie due to its milestone status of being the first MCU film with a woman in the lead. This kind of treatment is the ignorant equivalent of saying, “Wait, women can be superheroes too?” The subversive and powerful impact of Black Panther is not part of the mission with Captain Marvel, nor should it be. Of course art is reflective, and so releasing a giant film like this will be part of a cultural conversation, but it really should only be a positive one. If the movie was not good, it should not be used as some kind of barometer test for a larger gender-based agenda. Fortunately the movie is good, and Captain Marvel is cool, so girls and women will be proud and inspired by that. No need to harp on it or heap tons of pressure on it. Ok, end of moderate politically correct rant.

If there is a flaw in the film, it’s the challenge of balancing the Earth story with the Kree story. Jude Law’s Yon-Rogg is somewhat squandered and lost in the sauce once Vers leaves Hala. There’s an obvious desire to tap into some of that Guardians of the Galaxy space opera cache, but it doesn’t quite work. The movie really soars with its Earth storyline, and when it soars it is a blast! A-

Captain Marvel is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 4 minutes.

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The Spectacular Now

ImageThe Spectacular Now delivers a powerful and deeply cautionary story about two high school seniors improbably drawn together. When party boy, Sutter (Miles Teller) is discovered passed out on a stranger’s lawn by nice-girl Aimee (Shailene Woodley) it is far from love at first sight, but there is something. That something is part of what makes The Spectacular Now so good. It somehow avoids much of the cliché trappings of traditional coming of age films, resulting in a very engaging and emotionally relatable experience.

The Spectacular Now introduces Sutter at the start of senior year, just as his long time relationship with Cassidy (Brie Larson) has come to a sudden end causing him to ponder what he is supposed to do now. The “Now” in The Spectacular Now is intriguing. As youth culture perpetually twists the philosophical message behind Romantic individualism, what was once an ideology for adventure has been warped into a sort of assumed invincibility. This slight alteration has resulted in the YOLO (You Only Live Once) anthem that is bellowed by teens before doing a likely regrettable action. Thus, Sutter’s contemplation on what to do “now” is analogous as he is not so much concerned with his future, as one might expect, but with literarally what to do right now, with little thought towards the future at all. This sets the context for a much richer tapestry, often overlooked by other romantic films of this type. Much of the credit for why this works can be given to Teller and Woodley as their impeccably authentic performances brilliantly build the core relationship that was central to Tim Tharp’s novel. The novel was adapted, in part, by 500 Days of Summer screenwriter, Scott Neustadter, which accounts for its breezy tone overall but with a hint of something looming just out of sight. Aimee’s character is used to inject a viewpoint often disregarded by Sutter, and as Sutter and Aimee’s relationship evolves so does the complexity of Sutter’s life. Sutter’s haphazard lifestyle has been molded by a combination of society and environment to a degree that his character remains entirely sympathetic. The film may be a bit simplistic in its sections dealing with the others in Miles’ life including his sister, mother, boss, and father, but it works beautifully as a metaphor for the richness that life can potentially offer if one can look beyond the “now” and into one more “spectacular,” which can be more of a challenge than one might think. A-

The Spectacular Now is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 35 minutes. It is a brilliant showcase for these two young stars-to-be. It is better than the average romantic love story and is a nice reminder for how these types of films need not draw from the same old cliché well in order to please audiences.