Last week, I was lucky enough to be invited to a Bengali friend’s house for a traditional lunch of Rui Maacher Jhol (fish curry with Rohu), arguably the most iconic dish in the much storied Bengali cuisine. Egg pakoras started off the lunch as starters. With all due respect to the tasteful pakoras, the entire gathering, very understandably, was there for the fish curry.
That is how this latest addition to the MCU, Captain Marvel, feels like. This movie is the egg pakoda to Marvel’s Maacher Jhol, Avenger’s Endgame (culmination of 11 years, 21 films and $ 17Bn earnings). This is a sentiment expected and accepted by the fans & studio; and I think even the cast and crew of Captain Marvel believed it while they were making the movie. The outcome is a movie that never tries to overachieve or appear too self-important. It stays within the defined boundaries, delivers the thrills with some good VFX, and does not upset the apple cart (which was probably the most important thing for the movie to do, last thing MCU can afford right now is to turn away audience from Avenger’s Endgame).
Don’t get me a wrong; it is a good superhero origin story, with an engaging plot, non-traditional character arcs, supported by a solid special effects team. Captain Marvel is set-up in the backdrop of the eternal battle between the heroic Kree, and the shape-shifting Skrull. It is a story about Vers, a woman trying to discover who she really is. She is the member Kree starforce, a civilization that claim to be noble warriors. Vers suffers from recurring nightmares and memory flashbacks about another life. Yon Rogg (Jude Law) plays her mentor and trains her to control her abilities. Skrull leader, Talos, is the key adversary for Vers and the Starforce. Vers accidently crash lands on Earth in the year 1995, and a young pre-SHIELD Nick Fury is introduced. And as almost everyone knows, Vers is the titular Captain Marvel, and story is how Vers becomes the super-hero.
In terms of cast, Brie Larson (Winner of Best Actress at Academy Awards, BAFTA, Golden Globe & Screen Actors Guild Award for ‘The Room’) playing Vers/Carol Denver/Captain Marvel looks confident and convincing. Her acting credentials make her the ideal choice for leading MCUs first female super hero movie. She’s comfortable in action and emotional scenes, with an occasional glimpse of her comedic timing as well (she is a former Saturday Night Live host, and has guest starred in Community). Samuel L Jackson is in fine form, and his digitally de-aged look is very realistic. I think with time, more and more movies will start using this technique in flashback scenes. Jude Law plays the part with his usual charm, his warrior/mentor has all the right qualities, duty bound, confident and conservative.
Beyond the plot points and the action pieces, there is a strong subtext on 2 very relevant social themes, the empowerment of women and plight of refugees in the current world. Both themes are well explored through the plot points, and the movie offers its stand on both of them. That it manages to do so without being preachy or in your face, is credit to the writing and direction of indie filmmaker duo, Anna Boden and Ryan Flek.
As with myriad of TV shows and movies set in the 90s, the movie is full of nostalgia driving references, both subtle and overt. Be it Vers crash landing in a Blockbuster store, or being sent to Radio Shack to buy equipment, or using boxy and huge cell-phones, all of it adds for some interesting “you are a 90s kid if” moments. Watch out for the well timed use of Nirvana – Come as you are, and if that’s not enough Waterfalls by TLC also makes an appearance. On the subtle side is Vers picking up the VHS of 1983 movie, The Right Stuff, a movie about pioneering US astronauts.
The movie is not without signature MCU humor, a young Nick Fury playing with a cat is specially rib tickling. The film also manages to put in a mix of 90s nostalgia mixed with humor in a very tense scene, where a CD ROM takes forever (by 2019 standards) to play a video, as the entire casts waits impatiently. Using AltaVista as the search engine of choice is another beautiful touch.
This is also the first MCU release after the passing away of Stan Lee, the legendary comic creator and the metaphorical godfather of Marvel movies so far. There are 2 tributes to him, I won’t spoil them for you, but here’s a hint, don’t dare miss the opening credits.
Another signature Marvel move, the post-credits scenes, will prove to be especially gratifying for the MCU fans. I must credit Marvel with one thing; they’ve managed to make Indian audience patiently sit through the entire credit rolls. This is the same junta who will stand in the aisles of the air-plane, while it taxis after landing, and the pilot pleading them to remain seated!
All said and done, Captain Marvel does the job that was expected from it, introduces the most powerful Marvel character, teases and hints at Avenger’s Endgame, and keeps the anticipation alive for the culmination of the ambitious Phase 3 of Marvel movies. I give the movie 3.5 chirps.