“Captain Marvel” – How proficient is your memory? Do you need to pause and seriously flip through your synaptic Rolodex, when someone asks, “What did you do last weekend?”
Sure, that’s a temporary, problematic moment during a water cooler stop, but vast numbers of souls suffer from far worse recollection problems.
Movie studios do not shy away the subject. Some movies deal with the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s or dementia, and “Lovely, Still” (2008), “Amour” (2012), “Still Alice” (2014), and “Remember” (2015) are some recent, effective entries. Other films, like “RoboCop” (1987), “Total Recall” (1990), “Memento” (2000), and “Finding Dory” (2016), cope with different forms of memory loss and wrap them in action/adventure stories.
Marvel Studios is in the business of action/adventure wonders, and their new big screen entry’s central premise dives head-first into the topic. In directors Anna Boden’s and Ryan Fleck’s celestial and Earth-bound film “Captain Marvel”, our lead protagonist is a cosmic fighter who can only remember the last six years of her life. Vers (Brie Larson) is a Kree soldier on an elite team – led by Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) – whose motto is “Serve well with honor.”
The Kree are fighting a war with their sworn enemy the Skrulls, a race of green-skinned shapeshifters who can take the physical form of anyone. A Skrull just has to see an individual, and then, boom, he or she becomes an instant doppelgänger, down to the DNA and recent memories of the person in question. Well, if you are best friends with a Skrull, perhaps he or she can cover for you at the office on Mondays, Wednesdays and every other Friday? Hey, you never know until you ask, right?
Anyway, Vers lives on the Kree homeworld of Hala, but she inadvertently returns to C-53 (otherwise known as Earth), and it appears that this warrior – who dons a green latex bodysuit and fires laser blasts from her hands – had a life on our planet, but she cannot remember it. On her trek through Los Angeles, Vers causes quite a stir, so S.H.E.I.L.D. agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) arrives on the scene, and before you can say “Hey, Fury has two eyes”, they partner up, while she chases down Skrulls, waits for her fellow Kree soldiers and looks for clues to her unknown past.
Fury has two eyes, because this film is set in 1995, and he has not yet lost his left one. Movie fans first saw Jackson’s Fury in the “Iron Man” (2008) post-credit scene, and yes, he wore a black patch over his left eye.
Boden, Fleck and co-writer Geneva Robertson-Dworet have fun placing buckets and buckets of 90s references into their script, including some laugh-out-loud moments of dated technology and fond memories of the decade’s alternative rock scene, unless Elastica’s “Connection” is not your thing.
Larson and Jackson clearly enjoy their on-screen banter during a comedic and action-filled road trip, but the film balances comic book whimsy of spaceships, laser blasts and alien races with the clear and notable realization that this is the first female-led solo film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) beginning in 2008. (Note, that Jennifer Garner starred in “Elektra” in 2005, but that movie is not connected to this MCU run.)
The positive, encouraging message of standing up after being literally, figuratively and repeatedly knocked down is a universal one – no matter one’s age, shape or sex – but with a female superhero as the lead, Boden and Fleck make fitting and satisfying choices to celebrate women. Larson shines in the role, as Vers is determined, fierce and carries a quick wit, but she is also vulnerable due to her uncertain past. Not quite realizing her gifts and complete identity, Vers – through most of the film – is purposely raw and unrefined, but in an origin story, the hero usually has to find his or her way. Here, Vers has to actually remember herself.
Most likely, you’ll find yourself enjoying this spectacular superhero’s self-discovery, and comic book movie fans will embrace the film’s surprising connections to the MCU. Speaking of connections, Law, Annette Bening and Ben Mendelsohn (who is one of this critic’s very favorite actors working today, and who also starred in Boden’s and Fleck’s fabulous gambling picture “Mississippi Grind” (2015)) wonderfully fit as vastly important supporting characters in “Captain Marvel”, Larson’s big screen trip that you won’t easily forget.
3 out of 4 stars
Image credits: Marvel Studios; Trailer credits: Trailer City