Edwin Arnaudin: Here we are, nearly 11 years since Iron Man kicked off the Avengers/Marvel Cinematic Universe, and we finally get a film with a female lead character. Does that excessive waiting put unfair pressure on Captain Marvel to be great?
Bruce Steele: It certainly does, with the rather large asterisk that the story of Air Force pilot-slash-alien superhero Carol Danvers aka Vers (Brie Larson) starts in the 1990s. It's isolated from the existing MCU except for a younger iteration of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and a few appearances by then-newbie Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg). So the movie has to start by establishing a largely new galactic mythology to accommodate her.
Edwin: And I think writers/directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson; Mississippi Grind) do so in a creative, immersive way. After glimpses of mysterious flashbacks, we tag along with Kree warrior trainee Vers as she spars with mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). Then when a mission goes wrong, she’s taken captive by the enemy Skrulls and subjected to a complex memory scan that organically builds out her inner conflicts and those of the war in which she’s mired. It’s all part of the filmmakers’ straightforward, no-nonsense, yet personality-rich style that I’m glad to see carry over from their indie predecessors.
Bruce: Straight-forward, yes, but a bit of a departure for the MCU, since it starts with Vers/Carol's fragmented personality and it takes at least half the movie to put all the pieces together. It requires a little patience and attention from the audience, but I was really pleased by the twists and the payoffs in the movie's second half. And we get some interesting new characters, right?
Edwin: I think so, starting with Vers, whose comic fish-out-of-water landing in mid-‘90s Los Angeles reminds me of Thor’s first visit to Earth, but whose gradual embrace of her past life as Carol is handled with equal parts grace and badassery by Larson. I’m also quite taken with my man Ben Mendelsohn, who exudes charisma beneath thick green prosthetics as Skrull leader Talos. Audiences are used to the character actor playing sniveling villains in the likes of Rogue One, Ready Player One, and films without “One” in their title, but as was the case in Mississippi Grind, he capitalizes on an opportunity to display more range than usual.
Bruce: Yes, I wondered at first why Mendelsohn would take yet another villain role, much less one in heavy makeup, but it expands to his talents as the movie progresses. Larson is likable as Vers/Carol, and Annette Bening gets to have some fun in a few scenes in a role that it's best to let audiences discover. If there's a weak link in the star talent, it's Jude Law, who seems to have settled into a kind of one-note haughtiness of late. Who stood out for you among the newcomers?
Edwin: I don’t have a problem with Law, whom I enjoyed in The Crimes of Grindelwald and Vox Lux, but whose second season of The Young Pope I’ll be skipping for reasons unrelated to his performance on that disappointing HBO series. Otherwise, there aren’t many fresh characters from which to choose, so I’ll applaud new-to-me Lashana Lynch as Carol’s Air Force colleague Maria, a warm, humane friend and a thrillingly gifted pilot, as well as “Goose” the cat, who may or may not have more going on beneath his ginger coat. However, thanks to de-aging effects work, Jackson and Gregg almost feel like new recruits. What do you make of their fabricated youth?
Bruce: Jackson and Gregg seemed entirely themselves — playful and steadfast, respectively — so whatever CG facelifts they got were seamless. I'm sure there will be an age-reduction app for Instagram at any moment, if there isn't already. And yes, Goose the cat was a real joy, both because of the surprises he coughs up and because it's nice to see a real (if occasionally CG) feline get a big role in an action film. The action itself was dandy: Clearly staged and easy to follow, with a look specific to this movie and no feeling, at least for me, that the filmmakers were trying to pummel you with pixels.
Edwin: I was generally impressed with Boden's and Fleck’s first foray into action sequences, especially ones involving flight, though I see a lot of room for them to improve with hand-to-hand combat, which I found occasionally blurry and confusing. Captain Marvel is also by far the most under-lit of the MCU films. Directors’ insistence on shooting these kind of movies at night or in shadowy rooms without proper brightness continues to baffle me. Considering our poor luck with MCU films in 3D, I alerted you as soon as possible to stick with 2D and “bring a flashlight,” but I was too late. How was the film through plastic glasses?
Bruce: I understand your concerns about some of the dim lighting, but it didn't bother me. The 3D glasses added a nice dimension to the movie, but I'd be happy to see it again in 2D as well. Most remarkably, the tag scene, which comes early in the credits, is the first thing actually to get me excited about Avengers: Endgame, since I found Infinity War such a frustrating slog. Just when I felt left out, Marvel reeled me back in. I'm giving this one a B-plus.
Edwin: As someone who’s yet to lose the faith but is concerned that the MCU magic will soon go the way of Thanos’ victims, I’m impressed by Captain Marvel’s originality. From the tasteful ‘90s references and soundtrack — fingers crossed for No Doubt sales to spike — to the filmmakers’ matter-of-fact, situational and largely quip-free humor, it’s a welcome addition to this saga. Carol’s next adventure can’t come soon enough, but her introductory chapter gets a B-plus from me as well.
Grade: B-plus. Rated PG-13. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande, Carolina Cinemark, and Grail Moviehouse
(Photos: Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Studios)