A good friend of mine likes to point out every now and then that a good superhero movie is defined best on the strength of the villain – how villainous, how bold the deeds, how affecting they are on the hero. In another way, for Marvel Studios flicks, the same could be said for the Stan Lee cameos. In Captain Marvel – a more cosmic entry in the MCU lore – our famed appearance by the late and great creator takes place on a public train. He’s re-reading lines from the Kevin Smith sophomore film Mallrats script, before smiling up at the hero of the story, Carol Danvers. She smiles back. It was a cameo about preparing for a cameo (this movie is set in the turbulent 1990s. On Earth, mostly). And it was a kindly sentimental one, too. Captain Marvel, when looked at through this lens, is one of the sweetest – not cutesy – entries in the franchise, not to mention cheer-inducing and strong. Good messages about individuality and empowerment all around.
Yes, through this lens of a Stan Lee cameo, all that “and a bag of chips” can be found. However, there was another moment that, for me, I’d like to highlight, one that did so much more.
It takes place maybe two minutes after Stan’s appearance. Carol (Brie Larson), with no memory of her past, lost on a world she doesn’t recognize, disembarks from the public train. In the background, passengers are frightened and stunned by her. Well, all except one: An unsurprised and stoic African-American woman. Now, this was probably not intentional on the part of the filmmakers or the producers and was just an odd observation, but this performance of just a few seconds made such an impression on me. After battling a Skrull (alien enemy) all over this train for the previous scene, after seeing immense power emanate from this unknown blonde lady (Carol) who now stands before her, this woman of color just looks on as if to smirk a bit. As if to say “I know.”
Self-discovery/recovery and finding great power within oneself is the central theme of Captain Marvel. The trailers suggested, this being a prequel, the idea of everything in the MCU kind of beginning with her. Indeed, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) sees inspiration from her, as do several others (including a spunky girl who may one day be a Louisiana hero of her own…). Captain America may have been this universe’s first superhero, but Captain Marvel is the kickstart to a journey of assemblage. And hers had quite an impact on my crowd. And on me. For a series of films to continue delivering surprises amid pleasantries and visual splendor is astonishing. Then again, that’s also Disney’s modus operandi.
Without the back & forth editing of memory expressing self-doubt, without the weaponization of 90’s cultural trademarks and music, without the command and humility of Brie Larson, and without the experience and charm of Samuel Jackson, it’s hard to say if anything here would’ve worked as well as it did. From the furthest reaches of the galaxy to the Blockbuster Video store down the street, from semi-fish out of water era-related jokes to using Nirvana and No Doubt as vehicles of influential rebellion, from girl-power to human-empowerment in general, Captain Marvel ranks as not just another hero for the books, but as one of Marvel’s best movies. It’s the Green Lantern done right. It’s Wonder Woman through a prism. It’s a rebuke of man-baby attitudes while giving them someone to root for (if they want to participate). It’s fun. Just plain fun.
Through Carol’s personality, through her vulnerabilities, through her emotions, she/we learn that it’s due to these traits that she is strong. That we are strong. Captain Marvel reminds us of these possibilities in all of us without beating the audience with it. It just lets it be. It just breathes. It just lives.
RATING: 4 / 5
Captain Marvel is now playing at theaters across the region.