CAPTAIN MARVEL. When the post-credits Easter egg rolled at the end of Avengers: Infinity War (spoiler alert for the dozen people alive who don't know how the ensemble blockbuster ended) and a swearing, dissolving Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) scrambled to send a message on a pager, of all things, Captain Marvel's red, gold and blue logo lit up the little screen, eliciting gasps from the faithful and shrugs from those unfamiliar with the iconic comic book superheroine. Sounds like time for an origin story.
Captain Marvel is the first solo movie for a Marvel Cinematic Universe heroine (glances awkwardly at Black Widow) and, following Wonder Woman's record-breaking box-office success, fanboy backlash and critical success, comparisons are inevitable. Well, the money rolled in opening weekend, the usual suspects rent their trademarked garments and Captain Marvel proved to be a fun, exciting, solidly built super-actioner. It's not as massive as the Avengers sequel looming on the horizon (can we catch our breath a minute?) and it's not a game-changer for the genre like Black Panther (2018), but it doesn't have to be either to succeed. As the MCU swept over us with wave after wave of massive, world-building and destroying blockbusters, they and their often grimmer DC counterparts set a new normal. We've come to expect (with the exception of the Ant Man offshoots) an escalating arms race of A-list stars and end-of-the-universe stakes. Captain Marvel takes it back down to basics and Carol Danvers, in all her incarnations, doesn't trumpet the arrival of movie superheroines as she expands what they can be.
On the Kree planet of Hala, warrior Vers (Brie Larson), pronounced "Veers," is having trouble sleeping. She wakes from vivid dreams of dusty battle, a woman she doesn't remember (Annette Bening) and green blood on her hands. They're likely fragments of her life before she showed up six years ago, her memory lost and her fists glowing with golden waves of power. To cope with one, she uses the other, sparring with her mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), who, like a stylish retired footballer version of Yoda, pushes her to control her emotions, stop cracking wise and focus on fighting without her amped up gifts. Likewise, when she communes, as one does, with the Supreme Intelligence for a pre-mission pep talk, it echoes the same self-improvement talking points.
On the mission with Yon-Rogg and a squad of elite Kree soldiers, Vers is captured in an ambush by shapeshifting Skrulls. The green, pointy eared fellows scan her memories, offering us a flashback montage of her previous life as Carol Danvers on Planet C-53, aka Earth: crashing a go-kart as a kid, falling from a climbing rope during Air Force training, being belittled by a male cadet, setting out to fly with her fellow test-pilot bestie Maria (Lashana Lynch) and chatting with Dr. Wendy Lawson, at last putting a name to the mystery face. Vers escapes with a handful of Skrull on her tail, crash landing on Earth — specifically through the roof of a Blockbuster Video (which you can get nostalgic about but the late fees were some bullshit), alerting us we're in the 1990s. Baby-faced S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Fury, his hairline restored and skin CG smoothed, responds to her story of a Skrull infiltration with the expected incredulity until he sees it for himself. Soon the two set off to track down Lawson and the tech her alien pursuers seem to be after. That and Vers' lost identity.
Captain Marvel is still a big movie — alien worlds locked in battle for centuries! — it's just not gargantuan. The action sequences are plenty exciting, with a super-powered take on the classic top of the train fight and Larson nailing choreography spanning from martial arts to barefoot brawling. But many of the battles — hand-to-hand, in space and even Maria's excellent canyon dogfight — are remote, unwatched by the rest of the world. The story arc, too, takes the scale down, glimpsing war as it's waged and suffered by individuals.
Directorial duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (It's Kind of a Funny Story, 2010; Sugar, 2008) bring a low-key humor, especially from Ben Mendelsohn's relatable Skrull commander Talos. There are winks at '90s pop culture and tech, and a cathartic blasting mid-mansplain. Goose is also the best movie cat since Jonesy in Alien.
This is an origin story of sorts for Fury, too, and Jackson plays him as more relaxed and less of a caricature without his leather carapace — the result doesn't negate his later incarnation so much as add humanity and possibilities for his evolution. (And honestly, if you don't derive joy from watching Jackson cooing at a cat, yours is a joyless path I cannot follow.) The even footing allows his chemistry with Larson to brew into a partnership I'd watch all day long. Carol's friendship with Maria — and the latter's loss at Carol's disappearance — is given room and weight in the story, too, where other writers might have tossed in a generic romance. In terms of focusing on relationships, the smaller scale pays off. Larson's performance, aside from its impressive physical elements, is likely the MCU's most understated. In her Captain, we get a a superhero at ease with her powers instead of grappling with the burden of her gifts and who learns to channel the hurt and frustration she's been taught to suppress. Her secondary super power, it turns out, is the utterly human resilience of getting up over and over again. PG13. 124M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
See showtimes at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards› Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
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THE IMAGE BOOK. A narrated visual collage for hardcore Jean-Luc Goddard fans only. NR. 82M.MINOR.
THE QUIET MAN (1952). Maureen O'Hara as an Irish knockout. NR. 129M. BROADWAY.
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ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL. A CG-heavy hodgepodge of the original manga and a host of lifted sci-fi movie elements built for a sequel nobody wants. PG13. 122M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
COLD PURSUIT. Hans Petter Moland's "reimagining" of his own revenge drama Kraftidioten is a cold mess of improbable plot and character quirks without the storytelling foundation to support it. Starring Liam Neeson, best left in the snow. R. 118M. FORTUNA.
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HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD. This installment finds Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) looking for more creatures like his dragon buddy. PG. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
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THE LEGO MOVIE: THE SECOND ONE. More blocky animated action starring the voices of Chris Pratt and Elizabeth Banks. PG. BROADWAY.
A MADEA FAMILY FUNERAL. Tyler Perry once again ensconced in foam and wigs for a comedy about an unexpected death. PG13. 109M. BROADWAY.
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WOMAN AT WAR. Icelandic comedy about a woman (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir) whose quixotic guerrilla battle against the local aluminum industry is complicated by the chance to adopt a child. NR. 101M. MINOR.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill