Leading up to Captain Marvel‘s release there’s been a lot of noise and controversy surrounding the film and its star. First, a certain contingent of fan-boys were enraged over star Brie Larson’s comments on feminism & bringing more diversity to her press junket. Then came the inevitable bombing of Captain Marvel‘s Rotten Tomatoes audience score by said fan-boys, because what else are they going to do in their parents basement? While I myself am a white male film-nerd, I tend not to align with this small group of militant nerd-boys, as their arguments seem to largely be against an unstoppable and, in my view, welcome change of the tide. Things change – even things we grew up loving. No one’s ruining your childhood by doing something different with recognizable characters from your past. You might find that this change and diversity may bring newer, more interesting, fully-formed stories to our screen.
With that in mind, watching Captain Marvel, I found myself wondering what all the fury and fuss was about. When all is said and done, in comparison to recent Marvel outings (Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War), Captain Marvel seems rather quaint. Despite its story spanning galaxies and welcome message of female empowerment, the film is decidedly one of the more small-scale films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, ala the first Thor and the Ant-Man films.
Even while feeling more “small-scale” than recent outings, Captain Marvel still does its job when it comes to properly introducing a powerful female heroine that an audience can get behind and fleshing out the past details and characters of the MCU, some better than others. To keep things as spoiler-free as possible, I will simply say that Captain Marvel follows Vers (Brie Larson), an intergalactic Kree space-cop, on a journey across the galaxy, chasing down an enemy alien race of shape-shifting Skrulls, led by Talos (Ben Mendelsohn). Along the way, she finds her epic journey is less about searching outward and more about looking inward to discover her true power.
While Captain Marvel is very much a mixed-bag of a film, there are multiple fairly admirable qualities to highlight before getting into what didn’t work. First and foremost, despite the controversy, Brie Larson really does feel right for the role of Vers/Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel. Her personality shines brightly through, despite trailers removing any scene that doesn’t contain a smolder. Fan-boys heavily criticized Brie for not smiling during any of the footage shown in trailers and, while that is its own box of issues, Brie’s personality and smiling (or lack thereof) is never an issue in this movie. She also has great “buddy-cop” chemistry with Samuel L. Jackson, another bright point of the film, who plays a younger, less grumpy version of the Nick Fury that we’ve come to know and love.
Then there’s Ben Mendelsohn’s Skrull character, Talos, who surprisingly steals the movie. Without spoiling anything, I’ll just say that he’s finally allowed to do more than just be a mustache-twisting villain (looking at you Robin Hood and Ready Player One), and he absolutely nails it.
Plot-wise, I admire writer/directors Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck (Half-Nelson, Mississippi Grind) and their decision to completely bypass the standard Marvel origin story to create a first outing that feels wholly unique among the other first-offs in the MCU. Using Vers and her amnesia, they wisely make the story less linear, creating something that allows the audience to see their super-powered heroine do her thing immediately and still have a journey for her to go on. There’s also some solid twists that make the film stand out from its predecessors.
Even with these great choices, there’s still a trove of weaknesses to list. Being set in the 1990’s, the film tries less to make the movie feel like it’s from the 90’s and more time making useless “remember this 90’s stuff?!” toss-away references. The film is also unsurprisingly filled with nostalgic 90’s alt/pop tunes. While it starts out harmlessly enough, the needle-drops become more and more on-the-nose and grating as the film goes on.
Stylistically, the movie also feels far blander than it could have been in a more confident director’s hands. The cinematography is such a mish-mash of all the Marvel movies that it ends up feeling like it doesn’t really have an identity of its own, missing out on a real opportunity to take advantage of the film’s 90’s setting.
There’s also so many characters to service that some feel extremely short-changed – most notably, Agent Coulson, Jude Law’s Yon-Rogg, Lee Pace’s Ronan (yet again!), and basically all of Brie’s space-cop team. There’s also the mysterious feline character, Goose, which, for all of the hype, did pretty much nothing for me. I’m sure kids will love it, but much of its purpose feels forced or overly convenient – especially one EYE-rolling scene that EYE won’t spoil more than EYE have.
Then there’s Brie’s proverbial tether to Earth in the film, Lashana Lynch’s Maria Rambeau, who I’m pretty torn about. On one hand, she grounds Vers’ backstory, and, on the other hand, she, like many other parts of the film, feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. Lashana’s performance and her chemistry with Brie just doesn’t completely sell me on their past, which hampers their more emotional scenes.
It’s inevitable that Captain Marvel be compared to its DCEU counterpart, Wonder Woman. While I enjoyed both, I wouldn’t necessarily put one over the other. The first half of Wonder Woman is outstanding, but it eventually stumbles into a cliché and clunky final act. Captain Marvel, on the other hand, is quite the opposite, taking some time to find its footing and sticking the landing. What they both have are solid heroines for young girls to look up to as role models and eagerly follow into new adventures.
In the end, I would have loved to see someone with a more deft directorial hand and vision take the reins, as Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck’s films tend to lack much of a personality – Captain Marvel is sadly no different. And yet, Captain Marvel succeeds in introducing a heroine that audiences can root for and doesn’t exactly give us more of the same. It’s certainly not in the upper echelon of MCU films, but it’s a decent start.
Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, Captain Marvel stars Brie Larson, Mckenna Grace, Jude Law, Gemma Chan, Ben Mendelsohn, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Kazinsky, Lashana Lynch, Colin Ford, Kenneth Mitchell, Annette Bening, Clark Gregg, Lee Pace, Djimon Hounsou, Algenis Perez Soto, Rune Temte, Ana Ayora, and Chuku Modu. Check out the synopsis below:
“The story follows Carol Danvers as she becomes one of the universe’s most powerful heroes when Earth is caught in the middle of a galactic war between two alien races. Set in the 1990s, “Captain Marvel” is an all-new adventure from a previously unseen period in the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.”
Captain Marvel will hit theaters on March 8th.