I don’t usually go to see comic book superhero movies, but every once in a while I make an exception for characters I know (e.g. Superman, Batman, Spider-man, Iron Man, and Wonder Woman). Based on the few I have seen, I know to expect certain things:
- There will be a lot of stunt people who are experts at being thrown across the room and bouncing off walls;
- Fire and lightning will shoot out of various body parts, eyes will light up, and electrical charges will ripple through veins;
- Characters will fall out of a spaceship, not burn up on reentry through the atmosphere, eventually crash into a building (usually a warehouse), then stand up and move around as if nothing happened;
- There will be a chase involving public transportation (in this case, the Los Angeles subway);
- No matter what their superpowers are, the battle between the hero and villain will always come down to a fist-fight.
I went to see “Captain Marvel” for a couple of reasons. One is that it was directed and co-written by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who have proven their talents previously in indie projects like “Half Nelson” (in which they gave Ryan Gosling his first big break), “It’s Kind Of A Funny Story” (in which they gave Zach Galafianakis his first big break), and “Mississippi Grind” (in which they gave Ben Mendelsohn his first big break). Oh, yeah, they also put me in the latter, in a scene with Mendelsohn (I told that story here).
Now Anna and Ryan have a lot more money and toys to play with, as they have been tasked with making the first Marvel movie with a female protagonist (after twenty with males front and center). They made a good choice in Brie Larson — who I liked so much in “Room” — for their lead, Air Force Captain Carol Danvers, who, like so many others in this genre, mysteriously gains superpowers and must learn how to harness them for good. In this case, that means stopping a galactic war between two alien races. Larson is fully up to the task and helps give the movie a bit of a female empowerment message. She’s also probably pretty happy to be guaranteed a big paycheck for years to come as Captain Marvel is incorporated into the next few Avengers movies.
Much of the CM story takes place in the mid-1990s, which gives Anna and Ryan an opportunity to have some visual fun with icons of that era, particularly a Blockbuster Video store, with tips of the hat to “True Lies” and “The Right Stuff.” They also remind us how far technology has come since pagers, slow-loading CD-Rom drives, and web searches via AltaVista. Having the movie play around in that era reminded me of “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” in which Kirk, Spock, et al time-warped back from the 23rd century to 1986 in search of humpback whales, allowing them to — if you’ll pardon the pun — play fish out of water in a different era. In both cases, the scripts mined the situation for humor without distracting from the plot.
Disney has asked reviewers not to publish any spoilers, which isn’t a problem for me, because I’m not hip enough to all the Marvel stuff to even understand 90% of the references in the movie. But that didn’t stop me from enjoying it, thanks to a cast that also includes Samuel L. Jackson, Annette Bening, and Jude Law. I guess Anna and Ryan couldn’t find a good spot in the story for me to show up in a bowtie again — but my old screen pal Mendelsohn steals a lot of the scenes he’s in.
Three other things to look for when you see the movie:
- There’s a nice tribute to the late Stan Lee in the opening Marvel logo sequence, which earned applause from several audience members at the screening I attended.
- As with many films in this genre, there’s an extra scene a couple of minutes into the credits — and one more after the scroll of names of the thousands of names of people who make movies like this possible, including several different visual effects companies.
- Oh, and there’s an orange cat with strange powers of its own, too.
I go into movies like this knowing what to expect, and “Captain Marvel” delivers on that promise. I give it a 7.5 out of 10.