LICH rating: (3.5 / 5)
In perhaps one of the most insidious instances of pre-emptive online trolling—ostensibly because of its feminist stance—Rotten Tomatoes was splattered with negative gradings for the mid-summer’s Avengers break before the end game implosion (or explosion), Captain Marvel, causing the movie review aggregator site to suspend the percentage display of its Want to See dashboard. And that is one infinitely-vicious stone that no superhero can beat. At least for now. Time to rouse a new-age, AI-driven dual-personality nerd who battles foes of the web universe to make the world a better—and saner—place?
But for now, the Anna Boden–Ryan Fleck helmed intro to the genesis of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the intergalactic war that set into motion the birth of the Avengers tale is a mindfully-done, entertaining addition to the Marvel franchise that promises a bigger role for its protagonist in the final instalment coming next month. Here, you’re thrown right into the war of survival between the Kree race, based out of the planet Hala, and the alien, shape-shifting invaders, the Skrulls, via an exfiltration mission that the Kree Starforce team is carrying out. Bright, flighty, and impetuous Starforce member Vers is captured by the Skrulls and taken aboard their Earth-bound ship, where she’s subject to a mind-probe. Throwing tantalizing details of Vers’ past, including her interaction with a certain Dr. Wendy Lawson (Annette Bening) and a mysterious flight, the Skrulls’ interrogation—headed by their commander Talos (Ben Mendelsohn)—is aborted swiftly after Vers escapes and crash lands into planet C-53 (Kree code for Earth.)
The year is 1995 and the directors, writing the screenplay with Geneva Robertson-Dworet, have a ball cocking a snook at the Nostradamus-like future fate of the Blockbuster rental chain, or how far away we humans might be in terms of technology when Vers picks up a VHS copy of The Right Stuff. Plus, there’s deft references everywhere, tying up the gender-differentials then and now—Vers blows off Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s cut-out from a True Lies poster, leaving Jamie Lee Curtis‘s standing alone and mildly bemused, irreverently showing the other possibility, where the woman could have been the smart, panache-fueled spy and the husband at the perplexed receiving end. Plus Vers—and her powers—are always at the mercy of her mentor and commander Yon-Rogg (Jude Law)—facing the prospect of the Damocle’s sword hanging over her, the threat of power decapitation repeated to her multiple times: “What was given can be taken back”. Every inch yielded to women is done patronizingly, threateningly. Yon-Rogg, for all you know, could be referring to the suffragette or equal pay across industries. (The latter is yet a struggle across domains, and the theory that leading men in movies get in more moolah—and hence get paid more—is getting more and more specious, given Captain Marvel‘s B.O. numbers.)
The movie’s gracefully less in its running time, doesn’t get carried away by its own conceit of a leading superhero who happens to be a woman, thankfully tamps down the en masse destruction and rubble that such movies leave in their wake, and yet offers its own outlook of the struggles this world’s global citizens face. People driven out by maleficent forces from their own land, staking all they have to reclaim what was theirs, in the meanwhile orbiting as second-class citizens in other worlds, unaccepted because they don’t seem to belong to what is perceived as right in those worlds, are all too discomfitingly real and troubling. Plus, the joy of reuniting with those who were once our own—here, represented with charm and wit by Lashana Lynch, playing Maria Rambeau.
Despite its lack of big-moment aha action scenes or because of it, Captain Marvel has a tangible, hard-to-put-one’s-finger-on-it grace, even as it offers an insight into the struggles between remaining a superhero and curbing down human instincts that rise viscerally from within, of being sure and of being torn by what’s right.
Straddling that is Brie Larson’s brio performance, displaying a swag and cockiness that’s usually reserved for, um, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) The supporting cast is all terrific—Samuel L. Jackson, making his record-breaking 11th appearance in this franchise, digitally de-aged by 25 years, is a marvel of his own, cutting through the banter and fun to occupy his own space; Jude Law and Annette Bening lend natural intensity to their roles; Ben Mendelsohn keeps it wry, villainous, and humane beneath the reptilian facade his character resides in; Djimoun Hounsou and Gemma Chan have not much to do, but their call sheet adds a transparently unsubtle attempt at diversity. Plus, there’s the robotic cat (during the shoot, four live cats being its stand-in) Goose (a hat-tip to Top Gun), whose regurgitating abilities may or may not have a part to play in the end game. Pinar Toprak‘s score is part of the action, thrumming and throbbing with excitement, while her theme is a mix of bravado superhero orchestral flourish catalyzed by a Hans-Zimmer like Interstellar-themed emotion.
And what of Captain Marvel, Brie Larson, and the entire team that faced the vicious onslaught even before the movie released? Hopefully, much like their subject, they get up, dust themselves, and get ready for what’s next.
LICH ratings chart
(1 / 5): Don’t bother
(2 / 5): Not too great
(3 / 5): Worth a watch
(4 / 5): Very good
(5 / 5): Drop everything else NOW
Captain Marvel is rated U/A (Parental Guidance for children below the age of 12 years) There’s some sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive language that’s been muted and erased off the subtitles in the Indian release.
Directors Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck Running Time 1h 24min
Writer Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Geneva Robertson-Dworet
Stars Brie Larson, Jude Law, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Lashana Lynch, Djimoun Hounsou, Gemma Chan
Genres Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi