By Andrew Hamlin
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
“Captain Marvel” starts out with a tribute to Stan Lee, the mastermind of Marvel Comics, who gave the world, amongst many other superheroes, the current, female incarnation of Captain Marvel. Lee, who died last November at age 95, curried controversy in the comics world by often downplaying the contributions of his artists and other collaborators. But he specialized in comic book stories, which would blend moral and ethical considerations with believable characters and tough choices, plus plenty of wild action, of course.
The current film, directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, starts out on what seems to be sure super-team footing. Brie Larson, playing a character known as Vers, works as a government enforcer for Kree Empire, overseen by Jude Law as team leader Yon-Rogg. They fight the Skrull, a race of shape-shifting beings who threaten the Kree.
But soon enough, the action waxes discombobulated. Vers suffers from weird dreams, and her reality seems to slip and slide, combined with strange visions of an older woman (Annette Bening). A crucial mission against the Skrull leaves Vers wounded and far from home. In fact, she crashes through the roof of a Blockbuster Video, in America, on Planet Earth, in the year 1995. This allows the story (co-written by Boden and Fleck, with Nicole Perlman, Meg LeFauve, and Geneva Robertson-Dworet) to meander down memory lane, with plenty of 90s music and other cultural signifiers for the audience’s amusement. And the audience I saw this with, laughed heartily at several such cues. The film seems poised to inject nitro into 90s nostalgia, much like last year’s “Ready Player One” did for the 80s and late 70s.
Samuel L. Jackson appears quickly enough, playing Nick Fury, the government agent he’s portrayed in several Marvel Comics films. I had a little trouble recognizing him at first, since a staggering level of CGI works to shave 25 years off his actual age. This is the first time a Marvel film has applied such a process to an actor throughout a feature film.
These seem quietly electrifying advances, showing how movies to come can grant brand-name actors seemingly-eternal youth, then resurrect them when they happen to inconveniently die in real life, as the filmmakers of “Rogue One” did for Peter Cushing. I found myself wondering what will happen to up-and-coming performers.
Are they doomed to obsolescence, to never finding their own place?
Gemma Chan, from “Crazy Rich Asians” and other films (plus television), appears as Minn-Erva, one of Vers’ teammates. Chan explained her role to the press by saying that Minn-Erva was once the star of the team and Yon-Rogg’s favorite, leaving her bitter when Vers appeared and stole her thunder. Chan isn’t used as much as I hoped for, but she’s brightly-colored, ramrod-tough, and full of attitude. Her terse exchanges with Larson crunch like croutons in salad.
The story also benefits from a certain odd twist, related to but separate from Vers’ discombobulation. She must decide who the real enemy is, and who is telling the truth, after a long stretch of believing that she simply knows.
This was a bold move, and it left me wondering, for long minutes afterward, whom to believe.
And the film also stresses, though not shrilly, that sometimes a person has to choose between the demands of duty, and his or her morality, a homegrown inner sense of what is right and wrong. “Captain Marvel” hast all the glitz, humor, and elaborate set pieces a popcorn movie needs. It will sell tickets. I’m hoping the popcorn eaters leave with an appreciation of its softer messages.
Andrew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.