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"CAPTAIN MARVEL"
(2019) (Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Superhero/Action: A young woman with superhero abilities but confusing memories ends up on Earth and must figure out who she really is, all while using her smarts and powers to save the day.
PLOT:
Vers (BRIE LARSON) is a member of the intergalactic Kree battle squad known as Starforce. Fighting alongside the likes of Minn-Erva (GEMMA CHAN), Korath (DJIMON HOUNSOU), and a handful of others, she's both led and mentored by Yon-Rogg (JUDE LAW) who repeatedly reminds her not to let her emotions affect her duties or the firing of powerful energy beams from her hands. Their mission is to defeat the Skrulls, a species of shape-shifting aliens led by Talos (BEN MENDELSOHN) who's obsessed with probing Vers' memory in hopes of getting intel on one Dr. Wendy Lawson (ANNETTE BENING) and her work with a light-speed project.

Coincidentally, Vers interacts with that woman, not as Lawson, but as the artificial intelligence generated leader of the Kree, all while experiencing fleeting memories of a different life that's foreign to her. That all comes to a head when she literally crashes into Earth in the year 1995, meets an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury (SAMUEL L. JACKSON), and discovers that she once had a life on this planet. And that was namely that of Carol Danvers, an Air Force pilot where she worked alongside her best friend, Maria Rambeau (LASHANA LYNCH), for none other than Dr. Lawson.

With the Skrulls having followed her to Earth, Carol must then figure out what's really happening and use her smarts and powers to save the day.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
I've often wondered about whether things that appear to be intricately planned were initially conceptualized that way or if they started out in a singular fashion and once things seemed to be headed in the right direction, then the "plan" started to fall into place.

In that regard, and pardon the pun, I've long marveled at how the folks at Marvel/Disney have crafted the overall Marvel Cinematic Universe. With nary any attempt on my end to see if the powers that be outlined the progression of films, integration between them and continued introduction of "new" characters into the fold from the get-go or simply figured it out following the release of the initial films (beginning with "Iron Man" in 2008), it's fairly amazing that they've not only managed to keep it going for more than a decade, but have also kept viewers engaged and wanting more.

Of course, all of that was designed to put forth the various all-star "Avengers" flicks. But since a great many of the beloved characters didn't make it out of the last installment alive (courtesy of the work of uber-villain Thanos) -- and to paraphrase Bonnie Tyler -- we need a new hero. And thus, a month before we get to that in "Avengers: Endgame," we're offered an introduction to the character -- and her debut film of the same name -- who may just save the day, "Captain Marvel."

Who, you may ask, is that exactly? I had the same reaction, having lived my comic book years after the initial introduction of the then male character in 1967 and before the reintroduction -- as a female -- in 1982. And to confuse matters, a Ms. Marvel (the spouse to installment numero uno) was around in the '60s and '70s although I don't recall her either.

In any event -- and acknowledging the character has been reintroduced a number of times over the decades -- she now gets her own film, marking the first time that's happened in the MCU (for clarification "Wonder Woman" resides over in the DC Comics world). With all of that now out on the table and for full transparency, I went into our press screening -- unlike the iterations based on better-known superheroes I grew up reading in comic books -- with no bias, anticipation or desire beyond hoping the powers that be didn't screw up their attempt at putting some female power up on the big screen.

Thankfully, and despite having never helmed anything of this size, writer/directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (whose biggest film so far in their indie careers, 2010's "It's Kind of a Funny Story," grossed just a tad more than $6 million), don't mess it up. But they also don't deliver anything as culturally revolutionary as last year's "Blank Panther" or as well-made or fun as many of the cinematic superhero predecessors. In short, it sort of feels like second-rate Marvel -- certainly not horrible by any means and clearly entertaining enough, just not up to the lofty standards we've come to expect from some of the entries in this universe.

Not surprisingly, it's designed as an origins story, although in this case it's not exactly chronological. As we first meet our title hero (Brie Larson) she already has her powers and is being further trained by her team captain and mentor (Jude Law) to fight and hold back an invasive breed of intergalactic, shape-shifting aliens known as Skrulls. With pointy ears, they might be distant relatives of Vulcans and are led by Talos, plays by Ben Mendelsohn in lots of makeup and rubber parts that hide the actor's identity but not his accent.

But our hero has troubling memories that she's not sure are real or not, including that of the A.I. representation of the Kree Supreme Intelligence leader (Annette Bening) appearing as if a member of the U.S. Air Force, albeit wounded right after a crash.

Speaking of the latter, Captain Marvel ends up plummeting down to Planet C-53, a.k.a. Earth, where she ends up meeting Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). But wait, you say, did he not exactly make it out of that last "Avengers" flick? Fear not, dear reader, for our hero has landed in a still profitable Blockbuster building, not far from a Radio Shack, in the year -- wait for it -- 1995.

And thus through the -- sorry, the word's now stuck in my head -- marvel of today's special effects, Mr. Jackson has been de-aged far enough to be appropriate for the temporal setting where he still has use of both eyes and has yet to come up with his Avengers project.

The two characters team up and try to save the world from the Skrulls who've followed her there. To do so, they enlist the aid of a past friend, Maria (Lashana Lynch), of Carol Danvers (Marvel's previous name on Earth), not only to help with that, but also figure out Carol's true past and whether all of that jives with those pesky if fleeting memories she's been having.

I found all of the plot and back-story not only a bit too convoluted for its own good, but also as the film's weakest element. Accordingly, and notwithstanding a brief, over-the-years flashback montage showing her character being knocked down and then getting back up, Larson ends up feeling a bit shortchanged in terms of memorable material with which to work. Unlike what transpired in "Black Panther" or "Wonder Woman," it doesn't feel like a true watershed cultural moment, and a better and definitely tighter story probably could have helped with that.

That said, and despite the character shortcomings, Larson creates a likable, spunky character, while there's enough humor (including poking fun at all things mid-1990s related) and connections to what's yet to come in the Marvel universe that both average moviegoers and comic book movie nerds should be satiated enough. I just wish it felt more special and, yes, you guessed it, marvelous. "Captain Marvel" rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed March 4, 2019 / Posted March 8, 2019


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