Marvellous Universe

Letterboxd heads back to the ’90s with the cast and filmmakers behind Captain Marvel, the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

She doesn’t lay down, she gets back up. I mean, that’s everything. That’s for everybody.” —⁠Brie Larson

As the last Marvel Cinematic Universe film to be released before next month’s Avengers: Endgame, it’s reasonable to think that Captain Marvel might’ve been in jeopardy of being overshadowed by the anticipation for the follow-up to last year’s Avengers: Infinity War. Together, these two epics more or less define the modern blockbuster, and cast a wide shadow.

But in actuality, Captain Marvel is in very little danger of being eclipsed by her studio stablemate, thanks primarily to the many ways the 21st entry in the Marvel canon sets itself apart from every MCU film that has come before it.

Brie Larson as Vers/Carol Danvers.
Brie Larson as Vers/Carol Danvers.

For one thing, it’s set in the 1990s, and boy does it have the musical cues to prove it. More significantly, it is the first MCU film to center around a female character, played by Oscar-winner Brie Larson. It’s also the first MCU film to have a woman calling the shots: Anna Boden, who co-directed with her longtime collaborator Ryan Fleck.

While technically an origin story, Captain Marvel’s plot unfolds in a significantly different way compared to other MCU films—it’s a journey of retrospective self-discovery. When we first meet her, Larson’s character is already a super-powered intergalactic badass known as Vers, and a member of the alien Kree Empire-based strike team Starforce, led by her mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law).

A mission brings them to planet Earth in the mid-90s, where Vers meets a somewhat sunnier-than-we’ve-come-to-expect Nick Fury (played by a digitally de-aged Samuel L. Jackson) and a green young agent named Coulson (Clark Gregg, also digitally de-aged). Here she encounters Maria Rambeau (English actress Lashana Lynch), who has a connection to Vers’ forgotten past as Carol Danvers, test pilot.

Marvel Studios has once again selected its directorial talent from the world of independent cinema (hello, Taika Waititi), despite the fact that Boden and Fleck’s past filmography contains very little that suggests a proficiency with super-heroics.

From left: Ryan Fleck, Ben Mendelsohn and Anna Boden on set.
From left: Ryan Fleck, Ben Mendelsohn and Anna Boden on set.

Their last film was the boat-gambling drama Mississippi Grind (which co-starred Captain Marvel scene-stealer Ben Mendelsohn), and they’re probably still best known for 2006’s Half Nelson (directed by Fleck, written by them both), in which Ryan Gosling gave an Oscar-nominated performance as a drug-addicted middle school teacher.

Nevertheless, it has proven to be another good call on Marvel’s part, as the directing pair has delivered something pretty special here.

At a recent press event featuring several cast and crew, along with Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige, Larson kicked things off by explaining what about the character appealed to her:

Brie Larson: There’s a lot to love about her, which is why I was really excited to do this. In particular, the idea of playing a superhero, or a female superhero in particular because my interest is in female complexity. I was a little worried about playing a superhero that would be perfect, because I don’t feel like that’s realistic, or something aspirational at all. So getting to play a character where the whole character arc and turn of this is watching her be this major risk taker, which means it’s not always going to work out the best. And those are the moments, the defining moments of her character, where she doesn’t lay down, she gets back up. I mean, that’s everything. That’s for everybody. There isn’t a person who can’t relate to that, I don’t think.

On how Boden and Fleck got the job:

Kevin Feige: It’s their focus on character. And our belief that they wouldn’t have lost the character, amongst the spectacle and the fun and the effects. Anna spoke very eloquently about Carol Danvers and that female hero. It was those early meetings and their amazing body of work that made us realize they could bring Carol to life.

Kevin Feige and Brie Larson.
Kevin Feige and Brie Larson.

On making the leap from indies to blockbusters:

Ryan Fleck: I think in the early conversations with Kevin and with Brie, that’s what we wanted to bring to this story, a continuation of the things we had done in our other movies, which is an intimacy and character-focused storytelling. The visual effects were challenging at first for us, but we were working with the best in the business here and they’ve done, you know, one or two of these movies before we got here. We were in good hands and we were able to lean on them and work very collaboratively with the effects team and learn how that works. And they were patient with us and it was wonderful. I can’t think of a better studio to take that leap with. I mean, they are just the best collaborators at Marvel. They really let us tell the story we wanted to tell.

On what she learned making the film:

Anna Boden: I think I realized over the course of making this movie that I’m, as a person, kind of more comfortable hiding and not being seen. And I think this process, the whole process has helped me, you know, be more confident in my voice and just be more comfortable. I’m not very comfortable right now; I’ve got to be honest. But a little bit more comfortable just being seen.

On the friendship between Carol and Maria forming the emotional core of the film:

BL: That’s kind of what we’re talking about in this film, without being too [showboaty] about it, this is the love of the movie; this is the great love. This is the love lost. This is the love found again. This is the reason to continue fighting and to go to the ends of the earth for the person, the thing that you love. And it’s her best friend and her best friend’s daughter. Which to me is so natural. I went and saw the movie with some people and it was like an hour later, they were like, “Oh Maria’s the love.” Like, yeah! So it’s not something that we made a big deal about, but it just feels so natural because that love is so strong.

Lashana Lynch and Brie Larson.
Lashana Lynch and Brie Larson.

Lashana Lynch: They’re both in the military, so they come from male-dominated environments where they were drawn towards the women. They would find power in whoever they find energetic connections to. I think they had a sarcasm together. Carol is just a normal person. She’s able to be every facet of what a woman represents today—sarcastic, dry, funny—she can kick men down and throw them into different parts of the universe.

On representation in blockbuster cinema:

BL: I’m just doing what I can do based upon my experience and my one body, which is why representation on screen is so important. Because not one of us can tell the entire story. We can only tell our piece of it. But with films like this that do end up going international—with smaller movies you don’t know; sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t—it means you get to have a really extensive conversation with movies like this and I’m so grateful that this film has so many pockets in it. If you want to just enjoy it, you totally can. But there are a lot of aspects to it that I think are worth, you know, talking with your friends about, talking with your family about—and so when you have a multi-cultural, global conversation like that, I think it allows all of us through the veil of metaphor to be able to reveal some deeper truths and maybe empathize in a new way.

On what she took away from the film:

LL: My forever appreciation for single mothers, who don’t get enough light shone on them ever. So to be able to have that opportunity to represent them and say like, “I’d kind of like a universal thank you for your work,” was really special. Actually I went to my mum and other mums I know afterwards and was like, “Can I just just say thanks for everything that you’ve done for the last however many years.” And it really goes a long way just to say thank you daily. Because then they’re able to feed back to other mothers and say, you know, we’re actually doing an all right job. We’re actually enough. And so that’s what I’ve taken away. I feel like I’m not only representing women, I’m representing black women. I’m representing single mothers and representing women in the military and that’s pretty damn special.

On working opposite Reggie, the ginger cat who plays Goose, the film’s breakout character and a foil to Nick Fury throughout:

Samuel L. Jackson: I am not a cat person. But I’m also not a dog, bird or a fish person, either. So I just don’t engage pets. You know, Reggie is like most animals that people bring to set that have been trained to do this, that or the other—he’s snack-oriented. You give him something to eat, he shows up. And there were actually four cats, but Reggie did the majority, he did the heavy lifting most of the time.

A digitally de-aged Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury.
A digitally de-aged Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury.

On what they miss most from the 90s:

RF: VHS tapes.

AB: Pay phones. Because then I wouldn’t have to check my email all the time.

Clark Gregg: I wish MTV had videos again. I mean, not just 90s MC Hammer, which were awesome, but just videos, music videos.

Gemma Chan: Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

SLJ: Laser discs.

BL: He is very passionate about laser discs, by the way. That’s not a joke. [Mine is] Butterfly clips.

Jude Law: I was a big fan of the band The Verve. They were The Verve and then they were just Verve. Richard Ashcroft is on his own now. Sad.

LL: R&B. R&B was the truth, man. The truth!

KF: Video stores. I miss walking around video stores.

Captain Marvel’ is in theaters from March 8.


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