Cinematic Essence: Captain Marvel

Welcome to Cinematic Essence, where I critique both contemporary and classic films and discuss how they utilize narrative, mise-en-scène and other filmmaking elements to facilitate unique experiences. I avoid spoilers when I discuss recent films.

With over 10 years of films under its belt, Marvel Studios returns for yet another installment in its celebrated cinematic universe. Since John Favreau’s “Iron Man,” the studio has — in my opinion — developed a stellar track record comprised of films that range from serviceable to absolutely remarkable. By now, it should be clear that it was Chris the long-time Marvel fan and not Chris the film critic who saw and will now review “Captain Marvel.”

The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first female-lead film was directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck and stars Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Jude Law, Anne Bening, Lashana Lynch, Ben Mendelsohn and Clark Gregg. The narrative follows the journey of Carol Danvers (Larson), an Air Force pilot who, after losing her memory, was trained by Yon-Rogg (Law) to be a member of the Starforce Military of the Kree, an intergalactic empire led by an A.I. known as the Supreme Intelligence (Bening).

The narrative structure is, in fact, not only the first element of the film that stood out to me but is also precisely what differentiates “Captain Marvel” from other Marvel origin stories. Ultimately, there is nothing incredibly unique about the way in which Carol obtains her superpowers and costume, or why she decides to fight bad guys. However, the chronology is jumbled-up enough to mask the narrative with the illusion of freshness. Like “Deadpool”­ — a relatively by-the-numbers plot — Captain Marvel is elevated from the formulaic “phase one” origin story that it easily could have been to the engaging, relatively unpredictable adventure that it became. Although the movie lacks the emotional nuance of Marvel films like “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” the movie still packs a sizable and resonant emotional punch.

Another element of the plot that I enjoyed immensely was the antagonist — or, rather, antagonists. However, elaborating on that matter would surely spoil one of the best parts of the film, so I will leave you with the suspense, a lesser evil than spoilers.

What I will reveal, however, is what most surprised me about “Captain Marvel”: how hilarious the film was. Off the back of the devastating “Avengers: Infinity War,” I certainly expected a light-hearted film, in line with the studio’s latest production, “Antman and the Wasp.” However, the film that I got was not simply a pleasant romp to soothe the scars left by Thanos’ snap, but an outright comedy, almost as centered on humor as “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Thor: Ragnarok.” In short, the light-hearted comedy was my favorite element of “Captain Marvel.”

In short, the light-hearted comedy was my favorite element of ‘Captain Marvel.’

Another element that I enjoyed—and this one I fully anticipated—was the acting, particularly that of Larson and Jackson. The banter and teamwork between their two characters constituted some of the highlights of my viewing experience; the charm of their chemistry finds competition only in the heart of the chemistry between Larson and Lynch.

Because I have no notable complaints about the film — except perhaps that it lacks an iconic, standout action set-piece, and that, like most superhero origin stories, it is somewhat unnecessary — I will fill the remainder of this pithy review discussing how “Captain Marvel” fits into the larger cinematic universe.

Firstly, I am happy to say that, unlike “Antman and the Wasp,” this film is much more than entertaining eye-candy and humor to hold us over until “Avengers: Endgame.” Instead, the film introduces us to a character that will obviously play an integral role in the future of the larger Marvel narrative. In fact, I believe that the studio is building Captain Marvel up to slip into the role of Captain America after “Avengers: Endgame” (and Dr. Strange to be the new Iron Man, but that is unrelated).

Secondly, to address a potential issue that both I and other Marvel fans had been concerned about, I will note here that no, Captain Marvel has not been written as so overpowered as to break the Marvel universe. Without spoiling anything major, I will say that, although Carol Danvers can easily go toe-to-toe with the likes of Thor and the Hulk, we have no business worrying that the ending of “Avengers: Endgame” will fall flat in the same way in which that of “Justice League” did: with an overpowered leader-type (like Superman) flying in to swiftly knock out the big, CGI villain.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I would like to clarify that “Captain Marvel” is perfectly accessible to viewers who are unfamiliar with the past decade of Marvel movies. Although numerous references and connections to the larger narrative are certainly present throughout the film for those who would appreciate them, the film nonetheless functions well as a standalone science-fiction adventure.

Like most Marvel movies, I recommend “Captain Marvel” to everyone. That should come as no surprise considering that, like “Star Wars” and other Disney properties, the target audience of Marvel movies is everyone. Coming from a film critic with a preference for odd, experimental films, I recognize how that claim about target audiences may come off as mocking Marvel studios and Disney as a whole. However, if anyone can succeed in making the best possible “mass entertainment” type of movie, it is Disney. With few exceptions (most of them helmed by James Gunn), there exists very little in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that is inventive in an avant-garde sort of way. Yet, although I recognize that my judgement is colored by my comic book library, I maintain that these films are conventionally pleasing in the best possible way.

Oh, and make sure to stay until the very, very end of the credits. But at this point, that goes without saying.

Christoforos Sassaris is a third-year student majoring in English with minors in computer science and creative writing. PS868710@wcupa.edu

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