Captain Marvel (spoiler-free) review

Marvel’s latest entry into their cinematic universe, and their first solo outing for a woman superhero, has finally hit theaters. And while the film made headlines for backlash and controversy before it was even seen by the general public, what was the actual final product?

I was able to watch a preview screening of this new Marvel film — and here’s my spoiler-free review…

What is Captain Marvel about?

Captain Marvel is the origin story of one of Marvel’s most powerful superheroes– Carol Danvers. Her first introduction into the MCU was at the end of Avengers: Infinity War. As the outcome of the battle with Thanos is realized, Nick Fury activates a strange beeper device as his final effort to undo the destruction.

Little is revealed about this device, but the sigil that blinks on the screen is a recognizable sign–the symbol used by Captain Marvel.

The standalone movie explains the mystery of this Kree hero, her origins, and how she came to know Fury.

Set in the 1990s, the movie introduces us to Danvers on the Kree home planet of Hala. It’s immediately clear that Danvers is a powerful and unique warrior, but she’s haunted by a past she does not remember and fragmented flashbacks to a life she doesn’t know.

A galactic war is raging between the Kree and the Skrull, an alien race of shapeshifters who the Kree have battled for years.

Eventually, Danvers’ journey takes her to Earth, a planet that isn’t even aware of the galaxy’s other inhabitants- – nevermind the high-stakes war going on around them.

This is where she encounters a young Nick Fury, a member of SHIELD. The adventure that follows reveals more about Danvers’ past, her powers, and her decision to become a superhero.

Although it is a prequel in the greater scheme of the MCU, the movie manages to tell a compelling story with many twists and surprises for viewers. While we ultimately know that Danvers is a powerful hero, the movie answers many unknowns about her past, who she is, and what role she’ll likely play in the upcoming film Avengers: Endgame.

How does Captain Marvel compare to the rest of the MCU?

The Captain Marvel movie is a formidable addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, outshining many other titles in the franchise.

The movie adopts the more light-hearted tone of newer Marvel films such as Thor: Ragnarok, Ant-Man and The Wasp, and Black Panther, while still communicating the high stakes and emotional toll of the events within the film.

This doesn’t mean that Captain Marvel simply uses a few one-liners and punchlines to make audiences laugh. Humor is derived from the 90s setting, the absurdity of meeting an advanced alien race, and the addition of unique supporting characters. The film also has the world’s best cat, which ranks high among my favourite minor MCU characters such as Korg.

goose captain marvel cat flerken
Oh Goose, you amazing little flerken. Photo: Film Frame, Marvel Studios 2019

While we see many familiar faces, these aren’t just gimmicky cameos for fans. The earlier time period means we see a younger Nick Fury — and his differences to his 21st-century self are about more than just the number of eyes he has.

We see a different Nick Fury — one that doesn’t know everything. He’s a SHIELD agent, but not its leader. So when he meets Danvers, it’s unlike anything he has encountered before. The movie shows his baptism by fire into the world of aliens, advanced unseen technology, and super-powered beings.

We also get a glimpse of a different Ronan the Accuser and Korath the Pursuer, but they play smaller roles in the greater scheme of things.

Old Setting, Plenty of New Information

Despite being set in the past, there is plenty of new information that comes with Captain Marvel.

This is the first time we’re truly introduced to the Skrull — an alien species renowned for their shapeshifting capabilities and the subterfuge this enables. The Skrull are known for impersonating key players in order to infiltrate a planet and its society.

captain marvel skrull talos
Skrull squad leader Talos. Photo: Chuck Zlotnick, Marvel Studios 2019

They make for intimidating antagonists since they throw a great amount of distrust into the mix — making it incredibly difficult to know if who you’re talking to is your ally and not simply a Skrull that looks like them.

But instead of going with the cut-and-dry morality of some earlier Marvel films, Captain Marvel’s antagonists are well-developed with nuance. They aren’t simply big baddies like Ronan or Hela whose only motivation is power or destruction.

Not too much can be revealed about the Skrull without spoilers, but you can know that the film takes a different look at the race.

Is Captain Marvel a Girl Power Film?

With this being Marvel’s first movie with a solo superhero that is a woman, it has been seen as the company’s Wonder Woman moment.

However, there were doubts as to whether the film would really be a girl power flick or not. So what is it?

carol danvers captain marvel armor
Photo: Film Frame, Marvel Studios 2019

Captain Marvel is something different. It’s inherently empowering to see women represented as independent, powerful heroes in a genre that is dominated by white men. Marvel has been increasing its representation of women in films, with Black Panther doing an exceptional job of showing numerous powerful, intelligent women. Meanwhile, Ant-Man and The Wasp included several women who played integral roles to the overall plot of the film, giving The Wasp a co-leading role in the film and its title.

So is Captain Marvel the MCU’s Wonder Woman? No. To me, it’s better.

Wonder Woman marked a pivotal moment in the superhero movie genre. But there were also many tropes it fell prey to.

Captain Marvel makes a few nods to the sexism Danvers faced in her past, as well as some of the douchebaggery she faces when she returns. But this isn’t the central theme of the film.

And when it comes to the portrayal of strong women, Captain Marvel is not treated like an exception among women. Other extraordinary female characters exist in the film, women with talent and tenacity that made Danvers who she is. While not all the women and girls in the film are super-powered, they are super.

The film is not simply centred around Danvers proving men wrong. In fact, it’s a strong theme that she doesn’t have anything to prove and isn’t seeking out approval.

Nor is her femininity an object of fetish. Her male companions don’t comment on or admire her for her beauty. She isn’t forced into a  rushed, love interest subplot. There are no gratuitous shots of her body or her physique. Her attire is practical, not there to make her look sexy as if being sexy is integral to being empowered or being a woman.

There’s not this feeling that she is excellent despite being a woman; or that she is excellent because she is a specific type of woman (beautiful, slender, etc).

What makes her exceptional, something that the film hammers home in the final act, is her determination and resilience. Her powers are not what define her, because she was exceptional before her powers.

And this kind of badassery speaks to everyone, not just women. While, as a woman, it’s a breath of fresh air and empowering to watch this movie, it’s a movie that a variety of people can enjoy and learn from.

She’s a badass hero, not just a badass heroine. It fits in with many of Marvels other newer women characters — Okoye, Shuri, The Wasp, Valkyrie. 

The movie also doesn’t fall into the trap of ticking off one box for representation and then proceeding to follow other tropes, such as using characters of colour as disposable (cough, Jessica Jones, cough) or plot props just to make the hero feel something.

Maria Rambeau captain marvel
Maria Rambeau, portrayed by Lashana Lynch, adds depth and heart to Captain Marvel in a meaningful way. Photo: Chuck Zlotnick, Marvel Studios 2019

It’s a movie rich with well-developed characters, compelling performances, and a whole lot of fun.

At the same time, this isn’t a movie that means Marvel has now completed its goal of more representation and nuanced characters and can phone it in from now on. The Marvel universe still lacks open LGBTQ+ representation and has yet to portray a woman of colour as more than a supporting character.

But this movie is a step in the right direction, lives up to the quality of other MCU films, and doesn’t treat its lead character as a gimmick or trope.

Overall, it’s a great watch and brings something new and refreshing to the superhero genre.

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