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See 'Captain Marvel' For The Feminism, Stay For The Space Cat

After battling trolls and mixed reviews, the MCU's first female-fronted movie emerges as a total crowd pleaser.

The trolls have been no match for “Captain Marvel.”

Despite early efforts to seemingly derail the movie on reviewing sites, “Captain Marvel,” the first female-led film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is now well on its way to cross the billion-dollar box-office mark. But though audiences have turned out in droves, reviews have been somewhat mixed about the 1990s-set origin story for Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers. 

Before she becomes one of the MCU’s most powerful heroes, Danvers needs to unlock the secrets of her mysterious past, where everything isn’t what it seems. After a failed mission lands her on Earth, she teams up with a de-aged Samuel L. Jackson as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury and an alien cat named Goose to take on the Skrulls, shapeshifting aliens led by Ben Mendelsohn’s Talos. It all culminates in an outer space battle that gets down to the core of who Captain Marvel truly is — and should have Thanos shaking in his shoes.

So does the end result rise above the trolls who were so determined to take it down? HuffPost colleagues Bill Bradley and Marina Fang got together to take on the ultimate question: Is “Captain Marvel” worth watching?

Bill: Marina, we’ve now both seen superpowered Brie Larson save the world along with Sam Jackson and a Flerken cat. What are your initial takeaways? How’d you feel about “Captain Marvel”?

Marina: As someone who isn’t a huge superhero movie person and has a pretty limited knowledge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I really enjoyed it. I think it strikes the perfect balance, giving people who aren’t immersed in the MCU a lot to like, too. The fact that the directors, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, come from the indie auteur world really comes through, especially in some of the movie’s quieter moments. And I loved seeing unexpected people in the cast, especially Annette Bening. Every single one of her line readings was a mood. And, of course, I am very here for the movie’s unabashedly feminist point of view.

Bill, as someone who is more of a Marvel fan than I am, what did you think, and do you think the movie delivered for Marvel fans?

Bill: Yeah, forget the MCU. Can Annette Bening’s jacket have its own cinematic universe? From a fan’s perspective, there’s a lot to like about “Captain Marvel.” The movie gives some history about the Tesseract, aka the Space Stone; we learn Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury lost his eye to an alien cat; and, above all, it introduces us to a new character in Carol Danvers, who will be perhaps the most important factor in defeating Thanos in “Avengers: Endgame.” (That after credit scene was 🔥.)

That being said, comic origin stories can sometimes suffer from a bit too much exposition, especially those involving space, where things get convoluted faster than the light speed engine everyone’s obsessed with in this movie. If I had one critique, I wish Captain Marvel was given a little less clunky exposition and a few more funny lines.

One thing that struck me is when Nick Fury stops and pets the cat while he and Captain Marvel are sneaking around the top secret facility. For me, I was like, what the Flerk? It was a little out of character for Fury to be so distracted while on a mission. I would’ve liked Captain Marvel to do that instead and build that relationship with Goose the Flerken, who’s based on the character’s pet from the comic book. (I have a theory that Brie Larson’s severe cat allergy was actually the reason Sam Jackson got to interact with the cat more, but that’s neither here nor there.) Rather than having that moment of levity though, Captain Marvel is the one who’s tasked with pushing the mission forward. I wish it were the other way around.

This is probably just the burden of Captain Marvel, a character we’ve never met before, suddenly having to be one of the most important characters in a cinematic world that’s been a decade in the making. If you look at a movie like “Black Panther,” there’s a little less pressure to fill in every blank because T’Challa was previously introduced in “Captain America: Civil War.” We already know him. We just want to get to know him and the warrior women of Wakanda more. We know nothing about Captain Marvel coming into this movie, so it’s a tough spot to be in. Still, the fact that Marvel introduced this character is pretty amazing. It’s a movie that can connect with a lot of young girls who’ve seen mostly men take on the bad guys in Marvel’s previous films. It’s about time. Like I said, Thanos better watch his purple butt.

Marina: Completely agree on the clunky exposition, which definitely lost me at times. It also takes away from the movie’s many wonderful actors, who deserved more moments to shine. For example, it was thrilling to see “Crazy Rich Asians” star Gemma Chan in a huge superhero movie like this — but she barely gets anything to do.

I’m glad you brought up “Black Panther,” because for me, that’s another example of a film that works for both Marvel fans and regular moviegoers. And both are obviously huge landmarks for representation, so hopefully Hollywood will finally, finally stop being surprised when movies led by women and/or people of color make a ton of money, like both “Black Panther” and “Captain Marvel” have.

Marvel does seem to be continuing their push for more diverse characters. They’ve hinted that they might be working toward a movie featuring an openly gay superhero — possibly “The Eternals,” which Chloe Zhao is slated to direct. And just this week, Marvel announced that they’ve hired “Short Term 12” director Destin Daniel Cretton to direct its first movie with an Asian superhero, “Shang-Chi.”

All four of these, directed by filmmakers who came from the world of indie movies, give me a lot of hope that more superhero installments will take a chance on indie directors, bringing a diversity of styles and making superhero movies look a little less like the movie equivalent of a big-box store.

Bill: Over the years, Marvel’s quietly had a few different queer characters appear on screen ― Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie in “Thor Ragnarok,” for example ― but it’s largely been in subtext. Recently, Marvel Exec Victoria Alonso told Variety that “the world is ready” for an openly gay superhero, and when I spoke with another Marvel exec, Nate Moore, in 2018, he said it’s something that would happen “sooner rather than later.” So it looks like “sooner” might be that upcoming “Eternals” movie.

You mentioned how you wished Gemma Chan had more to do in “Captain Marvel.” I also think any Marvel movie could benefit from some extra Goose scenes. Give us more alien cats! What’d you think about the performances overall? Which ones stood out to you the most?

Marina: Always yes to more cats! As we discussed earlier, there’s an awful lot of exposition, which takes away from the performances. I’m a huge Brie Larson fan, and she gives a solid, commanding performance. But it unfortunately involves a lot of explaining what’s going on, who’s who and what’s what.

Like I alluded to at the beginning, I loved every time Annette Bening was on-screen. In typical Bening fashion, she can steal a scene with just one sly eyebrow raise or wry line reading, like: “How’s my hair?” The movie also left me excited to see more of Lashana Lynch, who — as Carol Danvers’ best friend Maria Rambeau — really elevates what could have been an archetypal, cookie-cutter character. And Samuel L. Jackson is reliably Samuel L. Jackson, badass and uproariously funny. I think the range of performances sums up the movie as a whole: certainly not perfect, but a reliable crowd pleaser that has a little something for everyone.

Bill: I think crowd pleaser is a good way to put it. Before the movie was even released, it was already under attack by trolls who wanted to boycott it because Brie Larson said she didn’t just want reviews from white dudes. With people showing up in force to see “Captain Marvel,” the trolls’ plan obviously didn’t work out too well. 

To be honest, a de-aged Samuel L. Jackson is worth the price of admission. But please bring on more alien cats. I’m not sure why it’s taken this long for Marvel to add them. But the time is meow.

Marina: Yeah, clearly the movie’s opening weekend — the biggest global box office debut for any female-fronted movie ever — proves that the trolls were no match for the huge audience that craved this movie and valued its importance for female representation. I wonder if some people went to see it for that very reason, or at least in part to help vanquish the trolls. As you’ve written about, Bill, Rotten Tomatoes finally took some steps to restrict comments and reviews before a movie’s release. So hopefully the days of sexist trolls trying to take down movies before their release, from “The Last Jedi” to “Ghostbusters,” are on their way out. The cynic in me thinks probably not, but the massive enthusiasm for “Captain Marvel” makes me cautiously optimistic that even if the trolling continues, it won’t matter in the long run.

This has been “Should You Watch It?” a weekly examination of movies and TV worth ― or not worth! ― your time.

 
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