Two days before Brie Larson, the star of “Captain Marvel,” surprised audiences at the Clifton Commons theater to serve popcorn and discuss the movie, I sat in the same theater, shoving my face with popcorn, anxiously awaiting Marvel’s first female-led film.
The excitement for the film was palpable as “Captain Marvel” earned $455 million during opening weekend. Captain Marvel’s origin story is inspiring and feminist without being too cavalier in its messages, proving that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is in good, proton-blasting hands.
Larson plays Vers, a warrior on the planet Kree, a humanoid planet in a distant galaxy at war with shapeshifting creatures called Skrulls. Vers lost her memory in an accident that also gave her the ability to shoot proton blasts from her fists. She spends the movie piecing together her past in between fighting Skrulls, falling through the roof of a Blockbuster video store in a well appreciated nod to the film’s ’90s setting and teaming up with S.H.I.E.L.D agent Nick Fury to protect Earth from Skrull invasion. All in a day’s work.
Viewers expecting the film to mirror the overt themes of love and good-heartedness in “Wonder Woman” may be surprised by Larson’s portrayal of Vers as sarcastic and quick to anger, but her choices ring true as Vers adds humor and dimensionality to the film.
In an early action sequence, a Skrull roars in Vers’ face, and Vers responds with a sarcastic mimicked scream before knocking him over with one solid punch. She can deliver dry jokes just as quickly as she can throw punches, affording her a wit not often seen in female characters.
It is this confidence and underlying sarcasm that make Vers a Marvel hero unlike any other. She does not grapple with the importance of her work or the pressures of saving the world. She feels no hesitation in donning a super suit. She does not question whether she can be great, only how to be great.
As an audience member, it is refreshing to see a superhero you know will ultimately prevail skip the ‘Do I really have what it takes?’ storyline in favor of a more complex character arc that seeks to reveal how Vers can be great, not if she can be.
Vers becomes great through the support of those around her. Samuel L. Jackson’s de-aged Nick Fury offers Vers advice and a witty partner, and Lashana Lynch delivers a standout performance as Maria Rambeau, a friend from Vers’ past. She reminds Vers that she was strong even before she could shoot fire from her fists, which propels the plot forward and adds a touching example of powerful women lifting each other up.
The well-explored friendship between the two women feels natural and serves as a superior alternative to the overdone and often underdeveloped love story in many superhero movies. Their easy relationship roots the film in its feminist values without being too over the top. Rambeau subtly reminds Vers that she is strong not despite of but because of her emotions.
As a human woman, I’m familiar with people telling me my emotions are holding me back, so when one of Vers’ adversaries told her to stop fighting him with her emotions and to fight in a way that he found to be honorable, I almost cried when Vers coolly responded with, “I have nothing to prove to you,” before proton blasting him out of frame. Again, it was a clear and succinct display of female empowerment without being overbearing.
While Vers journey to piece together her past on earth is well-developed, the Skrull war storyline is noticeably weaker. It is never explained why the Kree and Skrulls are at war, which makes it difficult for audience members to become truly invested in the war that is supposed to serve as the catalyst for the story. The lack of audience investment in this arc makes the twists lackluster and unable to fully achieve the reaction they were intended to.
I had high hopes for Marvel’s first female-fronted movie, and I was not disappointed. It might not blow minds like “Avengers: Infinity War,” but “Captain Marvel” soars higher, further and faster with complex characters and a strong feminist foundation. Now all we have to do is wait for “Avengers: End Game” to see just how high Captain Marvel can fly.