'Captain Marvel' Is Full Of Female Firsts In The Marvel Cinematic Universe

Mar 7, 2019
Originally published on March 7, 2019 4:42 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It's time for another Marvel superhero origin story. And this film is different. Captain Marvel is a woman. She is the first woman in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to head her own movie. Our critic Bob Mondello says as changes go, it is long overdue, and it prompts a trip back in time.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Those comic book pages that flipped through the images of superheroes at the beginning of Marvel movies have a new look for this one. I'll let you discover it for yourself. But let's just note that it gets things off to a sentimental start. And that won't do for a movie that's going to make sure we know our heroine is tough. So we leap directly to dreams of carnage and exposition expressed in martial arts chops.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CAPTAIN MARVEL")

JUDE LAW: (As Yon-Rogg) You have to let go of the past.

BRIE LARSON: (As Captain Marvel) I don't remember my past.

LAW: (As Yon-Rogg) It's causing you doubt, and doubt makes you vulnerable.

MONDELLO: Jude Law is the life coach, Brie Larson the warrior in training who bleeds blue, this being the planet of the Kree. She also has a fist that glows red.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CAPTAIN MARVEL")

LAW: (As Yon-Rogg) Control it.

MONDELLO: She packs quite a punch, as she'll establish in a few seconds, which gets her sent to the principal's office or, rather, the office of the Supreme Intelligence, who appears to folks in the guise of the being they most admire.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CAPTAIN MARVEL")

ANNETTE BENING: (As Supreme Intelligence) Your commander insists that you're fit to serve.

LARSON: (As Captain Marvel) I am.

MONDELLO: Let me just say right here that my Supreme Intelligence would also be Annette Bening, who is pretty wonderful even when she's stuck with the task of laying out more exposition.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CAPTAIN MARVEL")

BENING: (As Supreme Intelligence) You are just one victim of the Skrull expansion that is...

MONDELLO: The Skrull are shapeshifters, which allows them to - oh, well, you know the drill. They're infiltrating Earth, and only our heroine can stop them. So after some skirmishes elsewhere, she crash-lands through the roof of a Blockbuster Video store, establishing that we're in the mid-1990s. And almost immediately, she runs into Samuel L. Jackson.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CAPTAIN MARVEL")

LARSON: (As Captain Marvel) Did you have a rough day, Agent Fury?

MONDELLO: He has also done some shapeshifting, digitally de-aged by the movie's special effects wizards. He is crease-, blemish- and eyepatch-free, a 40-something version of the 60-something hero wrangler he's been in other Marvel movies and less crusty. He loves cats.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CAPTAIN MARVEL")

SAMUEL L JACKSON: (As Nick Fury) Aren't you the cutest little thing? Aren't you cute? What's your name?

LARSON: (As Captain Marvel) Fury.

JACKSON: (As Nick Fury) I'll be back.

MONDELLO: In between car/train chases, they establish rapport while laying in backstory. She doesn't remember hers. He breezes through his.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CAPTAIN MARVEL")

JACKSON: (As Nick Fury) It was the Cold War. We were everywhere - Belfast, Bucharest, Belgrade, Budapest. I like the B's. I can make them rhyme.

LARSON: (As Captain Marvel) Now?

JACKSON: (As Nick Fury) Just trying to figure out where our future enemies are coming from - never occurred to me they would be coming from above.

LARSON: (As Captain Marvel) Name a detail so bizarre a Skrull could never fabricate it.

JACKSON: (As Nick Fury) You didn't need that, did you?

LARSON: (As Captain Marvel) No, no, I didn't. But I enjoyed it.

MONDELLO: And we're finally ready for the digitized excitement that audiences have actually come for, excitement that is not what you'd normally ask of directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who previously made sharp little indie flicks like "Half Nelson." But the co-writer-directors prove adaptable to a framework that requires bolts of plasma to shoot from their heroine's hands every few minutes.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CAPTAIN MARVEL")

MONDELLO: The film is actually most engaging when quietest, in scenes about family and sisterhood.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CAPTAIN MARVEL")

LASHANA LYNCH: (As Maria Rambeau) You ready?

LARSON: (As Captain Marvel) Higher, further, faster, baby.

LYNCH: (As Maria Rambeau) That's right.

MONDELLO: But you don't go to Marvel movies for that, so there's stuff blowing up and folks bouncing off walls and, with Disney already owning most of Hollywood's franchises, visual shout-outs to the few it doesn't, including "Top Gun," "Indiana Jones" and, for much of the last hour, "Men In Black." Brie Larson holds her own through all this. It would have been nice if she'd been given a character who at least slightly knows who she is but no doubt she'll find out soon enough. She seems a quick study, and she's got seven whole weeks to catch up before the opening of "Avengers: Endgame." I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.