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Thursday, March 7, 2019 12:04 am

Offbeat Captain Marvel a pleasant surprise

As the ambitious 22-movie cycle that Marvel Films initiated 11 years ago winds down, it seems right to pause for a moment to reflect on how groundbreaking this undertaking was. This series has brought in more than $17.5 billion at the global box office.  Let that sink in. Other studios have attempted to duplicate the shared universe concept Marvel has perfected, all of them failing in execution to one extent or another.  More importantly, none of them have captured the public’s imagination as the Marvel films have, satisfying comic book fans that were previously invested in these characters, but also those who were drug in to see Iron Man (2008) and were suddenly fans, eager for more of Stark and company’s adventures.  So, hats off to Marvel.

For good or ill, they’ve permanently changed the landscape of how popular movies are made and distributed.
The latest entry, Captain Marvel, comes with a built-in audience guaranteed to set box office records, though this isn’t really the movie fans want to see.  (That would be the April 26 Avengers: Endgame, the penultimate chapter in this saga.) Yet, it’s a necessary episode from producer Kevin Feige and his crew, needed to act as a Deus Ex Machina as they have, purposely or not, painted themselves into a nifty little narrative corner. 

On the surface, the prospect of sitting through another origin tale this late in the game seems an arduous but necessary task.  However, a great deal of credit must go to writers and directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck for finding a way upset the predictable beats of the typical first chapter of a character’s adventures in an inspired and imaginative fashion.  When we first meet the titular hero, the die has already been cast as Captain Marvel, an officer in the Kree Army, has the ability to shoot energy beams from her hands that cause great destruction.  Problem is, she doesn’t realize that she’s not who she thinks she is until the Skrulls, a race of shape-shifters, capture her and in trying to extract information from her mind, unlock memories of events she never realized she had.

 

The postmodern humor the Marvel films are known for is alive and kicking here, with younger versions of Nick Fury and Agent Coulson (still Samuel L. Jackson and Clark Gregg, thanks to a de-aging computer program) subtly telegraphing actions we’ve seen in previous movies set in this film’s future.  There’s also great fun to be had with the film’s 1995 setting, replete with slow internet dial-up, an indie rock soundtrack and tips of the hat to Radio Shack, Blockbuster Video Stores and pay phones.

Annette Benning and Jude Law are also on board as two of Danvers’ mentors, each delivering the sort of solid, well-thought out performances that films of this sort perhaps don’t deserve. As Danvers/Marvel, Brie Larson does a fine job with the superheroics but strains to display any sense of fun.  At one point, she’s told to “lighten up,” advice both the character and actress would do well to take.

Surprisingly, Captain Marvel proves to be one of the better entries in the Marvel canon, a film that benefits gratefully from its unorthodox approach and a script that gives us a sympathetic character, a woman unsure of her place on this world and any other.  Her quest is a well-executed one of universal appeal, so much so that the fact she can shoot proton beams seems of little import.  

Contact Chuck Koplinski at koplinski@usd116.org.

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