Captain Marvel ★★★★½

“I have nothing to prove to you.”

whether or not you enjoy their films, there’s no denying that Marvel has secured a prominent position in our pop-cultural cinematic landscape, and with Captain Marvel the studio is finally offering a powerful female lead to that landscape (after roughly 20 male-centric features). her arrival is a triumphant (though long overdue) one, and I’m happy to cheer it on. while formulaic in some respects, the latest entry departs from established conventions in others, making for a solid, refreshing origin story that’s as much a “blast” as the energy that bursts from Carol’s hands. 👊💥

a talented performer with an Oscar for good reason, Brie Larson is perfectly cast as the MCU’s most powerful hero. granting the character a sense of dignified interiority, she conveys a rock-solid foundation of inner strength and power that predates her supernatural abilities. toughened by years of enormous difficulty as a woman in the Air Force, Carol nevertheless maintains an emotional core that—though discouraged by male mentors a weakness—is not an impediment but rather another source of strength. a wry sense of humor sneaks to the surface as she establishes instant rapport with Nick Fury, forming a good-natured partnership that injects fun and vitality into the film (as well as allowing Samuel L. Jackson to shine). 

the device of Carol’s memory loss fosters immediate audience identification as we must figure out her mysterious past right alongside her. without giving spoilers away, there’s a couple of cool twists enabled by this epistemological limit of the protagonist (I especially love one surprise that relies on conventional sci-fi iconography to manipulate us, cleverly exploiting the viewers’ prejudicial assumptions to function effectively). 

though it threatens to become a fish-out-of-water narrative in the same vein of Wonder Woman (2017), Captain Marvel manages to avoid the same pitfall of “Experienced Man Guides Comically Naive Woman through Unfamiliar Society” (which undermined the former film’s feminism to a degree). instead, Captain Marvel pins the joke on the human world for being comically incompetent in comparison to Carol’s intergalactic expertise, therefore serving as a more effective (in my opinion—and I apologize for pitting them against each other) narrative of feminine empowerment that doesn’t circumvent its own goals. 

personally, I’m always rooting for Marvel to embrace more unapologetic starry-eyed sweetness & sincerity in their storytelling, which they’ve played around with in previous entries like Guardians and Ant-Man but accomplish even moreso in this one. a few moments in particular feel wonderfully new and out of place in a contemporary superhero movie: a loving embrace between two female friends as emotional music crescendos; a climactic, triumphant montage featuring a little girl, bullied to the ground but standing back up, again and again. these swerves into powerful, unabashed sentimentality harken back to the starry-eyed spirit of an older superhero generation, tapping into rich, heartwarming humanity more than grim, gritty violence. 

many moments, especially in the third act, are rousing in their sheer triumphant power. the movie’s emotional openness is only complimented by the fun, signature lighthearted silliness that’s increasingly common in the MCU; one image in particular—the coveted Tesseract being carried around in a Fonz lunchbox—captures that ethos perfectly, serving as an irreverent antidote to the franchise’s self-serious inclinations. 

lastly, I knew I was in for a good theater-going experience the moment a video collage of Stan Lee consumed the Marvel logo and my audience broke out into applause. ❤️ it was such a human moment, and anthropologically heartwarming to see a room full of people collectively recognizing the deceased like that — in some ways sort of an ancient instinct to honor the dead that‘s been a ritualistic tradition as long as human beings have been alive, but in other ways a phenomenon entirely unique to our century (when else in history could millions of strangers pay tribute to a single individual whose likeness is projected up on a magical screen, and whose creations have resonated across the globe?). 

and from what I could gather from Twitter, my theater wasn’t the only theater where this applause spontaneously broke out. I don’t know, to me there’s something magical about that. for all its flaws and failings, pop culture can be pretty incredible as a unifying force, in the idealistic sense that it brings us all closer together through shared experiences transmitted to millions of people.

tangential musings on mass media aside, I’ll conclude by saying I had a lot of fun watching this movie, Carol Danvers is an iconic force to be reckoned with, and she’s absolutely coming for you, Thanos. if you need more reason to see the film, I’ll say—without giving spoilers away—that it finally reveals the canonical reason for Nick Fury’s eyepatch, and let me tell you, for me at least, the way he got it does not disappoint.

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