Starforce get ready to rumble in Captain Marvel.
Brie Larson breaks through Marvel’s glass ceiling
THE X-PAT FILES - Scott Garceau (The Philippine Star) - March 10, 2019 - 12:00am

Early on in Marvel’s Captain Marvel, Brie Larson, aka Carol Danvers, aka Kree warrior hero Vers, is reading a roadmap outside a convenience store on Earth. Dude on nearby motorcycle scopes her rubberized outfit and says, “Lighten up, honey. Got a smile for me?” Carol glares at him briefly. He shrugs, goes inside the store. And she steals his motorcycle.

It’s not that Carol Danvers doesn’t smile — she does, on occasion, reveal a Sphinx-like knowing smirk that says she’s packing some serious firepower up her sleeves. This Marvel heroine just doesn’t need to smile. For anybody.

It’s no surprise that Marvel’s latest outing, Captain Marvel, plays off the male-centric/comic geek trope that women should “smile more.” This is, after all, the first full-blown women superhero outing in the MCU. Actress Larson had her own meme-ific response to those who watched early Captain Marvel trailers and griped that her character looked grim — she posted ridiculous morphs of Captain America, Tony Stark and Thor offering up beaming smiles that are just way out of character. Point taken: Nobody tells Captain Marvel when to smile.

The character she reminds us of most is Steve Rogers aka Captain America, and not just because Carol Danvers is destined to be the “New Cap” as the MCU juggernaut rolls along. Like Rogers, Danvers is a fish out of water: a little too earnest, impervious to irony, not exactly a barrel of laughs, and definitely not up on meta posturing. 

Similarly, Captain Marvel does keep its emotions in check at times. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t hella fun the rest of the time. Larson, an Oscar winner for Room, presents her character at first as an overconfident sorority sister, or precocious younger sibling among her Kree colleagues (the Kree being a militaristic race from the planet Hala locked in battle with the Skrull; believe it or not, you’ll have to remember this stuff and there will be a test on it).

Back on Hala, Kree warrior Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) trains Vers, but when she resorts to using her superior powers in fighting (basically, flaming explosive fists), he advises her to keep those emotions in check. (Maybe that’s why she rarely smiles.) They are soon led by Yon-Rogg on a mission to rescue an undercover Kree agent from the Skrull. Vers gets herself captured, and so begins a journey of self-discovery that first finds her plopped down on Earth, circa 1995. (The Blockbuster Video she crashes into, nearby Radio Shack and other cultural landmarks help tip us off.)

Meet the new Cap: Brie Larson plays Kree warrior Vers, aka Captain Marvel, along with sidekick Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) in younger days.

There, agents from S.H.I.E.L.D. Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) — both Benjamin Buttoned through CGI to their younger selves — try to bring her in for questioning; but it quickly becomes a road trip buddy pic, and you could do much worse than having Samuel L. Jackson as your road trip buddy, Benjamin Buttoned or not.

The chemistry between a not-quite-Nick-Fury-yet Nick Fury and an enigmatic Kree warrior hero from another galaxy helps raise Captain Marvel above being a mere placeholder movie between Avengers outings. It is an origin story, and as viewers know, all this Carol Danvers background stuff will be useful to have in your noggin come next month, when Avengers: Endgame hits screens.

Larson is good, shape-shifting into a Marvel trope onscreen, and her lack of emotion at times reads more as a character choice than simply being overwhelmed by all this MCU madness. She possesses a sly charm, even if she does wear way more mascara than you’d expect someone from Hala would. Once again, Jackson manages to bring fresh life to a sidekick role to keep the ride interesting (note the movie takes place in the same year that Pulp Fiction came out). And Ben Mendelsohn is better than he should be as Skrull warrior Talos. The soundtrack picks are choice — No Doubt, TLC, Garbage, Elastica, Hole, and other girl-fronted ’90s outfits — and there are plenty of goodies and Easter egg details that will make fans go gaga, such as the origin of the Tesseract and Nick Fury’s eyepatch.

The ’90s flashback allows us some of that trademark Marvel cultural wit. Nick Fury relies on an old-fashioned pager as his “communicator,” Vers wears a Nine Inch Nails tee most of the time, video games like Centipedes turn up on the periphery, a Fonzie lunchbox plays a crucial role, and when a video CD-ROM is inserted into a computer to reveal crucial information, it takes, like, forever to load. Welcome back, Nineties!

Fish-out-of-water is always a good look for Marvel. Vers struggles to understand who she is — and why her flashbacks feature a test pilot played by Annette Bening — and we slowly piece together why she’s so important to the business left in hand (and in pieces) by Nick Fury at the end of Avengers: Infinity War. Like Wonder Woman, transported from her Amazonian world to WWII Europe, Danvers must try to figure stuff out while keeping a lid on her considerable powers.

The final “reveal” of those powers — fiery Mohawk and all — is worthwhile, even after we’ve seen a bazillion other Marvel reveals. The script — crafted by filmmaking tandem Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, plus three other women — touches on female empowerment issues without going overboard. There are moments when Danvers has to grapple with the narratives of victimhood and the importance of self-determination, but that’s kind of universal, not gender-specific. “You’re only human,” Bening’s character says at one point. And Danvers, getting up once again to fight, concedes that she does, indeed, possess very human qualities.

BRIE LARSON CAPTAIN MARVEL MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE
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