By Susan JAMES
As little as two years ago conventional wisdom in Hollywood believed that casting a woman as the lead in a superhero tentpole movie or going with an all-black cast would mean the kiss of death at the box office. Then came Gal Gadot in “Wonder Woman” (grossing over $800 million worldwide) and last year’s groundbreaking “Black Panther” (well over $1.3 billion and counting).
Hollywood changed its collective mind. While Marvel aficionados are still waiting for Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow to get a crack at a movie all her own, Carol Danvers, aka Vers, Marvel superhero from out of the past will soon be saving the universe in a theater near you.
A woman, too, is behind the camera with Anna Boden sharing both director and screenwriter credits with Ryan Fleck. The woman’s touch has created a rollercoaster ride of galactic proportions. Stuffed with Marvel myth references, all manner of Easter eggs (think Tesseract) and reappearing characters like Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson and Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, “Captain Marvel” is an exciting addition to the Marvel universe. The signature superhero in spandex isn’t really missed. It seems perfectly natural to have Brie Larson’s clump-booted captain at the helm of this ship. Another bonus is Carol’s best friend and fellow pilot Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch). The two don’t have a lot of screen time together but what they have forms the most interesting relationship in the film.
In the beginning there was war, war on a cosmic scale between the Kree of Hala (who look like us) and the marauding Skrull (who don’t). Vers is a Kree warrior under the tutelage of Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) in a relationship that recalls Dr. Strange and the Ancient One. Vers suffers from nightmares, glimpses of a possible past of which she has no memory. This loss makes her lash out and the only way to control her anger is to hook her up to an AI or Supreme Intelligence interface who appears in the shape of Annette Bening. This shape is a choice made by Vers’ subconscious as part of a memory of a crashed plane and a massive explosion. Is it fantasy or reality? A confused Vers can’t decide.
Joining Yon-Rogg’s team on a mission to save an undercover Kree from Skrull discovery on a distant planet, Vers is inadvertently left behind, captured by the Skrull and subjected to electronic brain analysis that helps her regain pieces of her memory. What she sees as the Supreme Intelligence is actually an image of Mar-Vell, another undercover Kree operative who was working as an Air Force officer in 1990s California. Vers escapes from the Skrull, grabs a space pod and heads toward planet C53, more commonly known as Earth.
What was Mar-Vell working on and how did Vers come by her extraordinary powers? Which side of the Kree-Skrull conflict is the right side? Inquiring aliens (who could in fact be human) want to know.
“Captain Marvel” launches yet another superhero franchise, an origin story weaving the back history of Carol Danvers into the already crowded tapestry of the Avengers. But as with all good storytelling, it’s not that difficult to follow. And like most Marvel films, the story doesn’t take itself too seriously. Humor is a welcome relief among the CGI battle scenes that dominate the movie. It’s a familiar superhero template – guardian of the galaxy saves the world from evil. But – wonder of wonders! – this time the hero is a woman.
See you at the movies!