Captain Marvel: True Grit and Some Grime, but a Solid Must Watch
Captain Marvel, for all of its proclamations and success in to positioning itself as a platform that extols the power of women and sisterhood and the virtue of believing in one’s abilities; is also formulaic and a tad conventional in how it lays the ground work for who is supposed to be the strongest known being in the galaxy. It’s a very good film that with either have the hairs on your arms standing upright, or you will leave with moderate satisfaction and further propelled to see how Carol’s involvement will be spelled out in Avengers: End Game.
Captain Marvel has all the capabilities to absolutely delight, particularly in its ability to center women without being too patronizing, and bring to live action a beloved Marvel character and integral story within the MCU. At the same time, it comes off a little disappointing and lacking in the level of panache that’s probably expected of the first Marvel origin film to follow Avengers: Infinity War. Where it’s wins in its overall mission and sincere desire to be the inclusive voice of many, it may miss the mark to be the film that tops the Marvel mythos.
To be clear there’s nothing acutely wrong with Captain Marvel. It checks off all the familiar marks and territories of the genre we’ve expected from Marvel. There’s tons of action, relevancy, and it fits within the overall Marvel Cinematic Universe securely. Even with the consideration that its set deeply in the 90s and you’re reminded over and over again through song, product placement, clothing, and everything in between; it still feels like it’s a story that fits in the Marvel pantheon. Strangely enough, that understanding is also what pulls the film down slightly. It feels there were broad strokes taken, akin to a paint by numbers ‘a super hero film’, versus a more precisely painted mural of Carol Danvers, the Kree and Skrull, SHIELD and how they all fit in the universe. Though Captain Marvel is extremely efficient at explaining the backstory of Captain Marvel’s powers, the dynamics between the two societies, and how cosmic wars affect all of creation; it’s also mired at many points by superfluous flashbacks, hackneyed dialogue and a tinge of try-hard. I felt the earnestness in Captain Marvel’s desire to be the perfect representative of Marvel’s first-female led film. But perhaps the fact that I felt it gave me a sense that the effort doesn’t come off as completely natural. This isn’t to say that the directorial and writing approach of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck isn’t genuine—it’s just that the result is not as intuitive as I thought it would be.
Where Captain Marvel falters the most is between the lines of expectation versus reality. For me it felt that there’s a certain sense of gravitas and definition missing from the film. The build up towards Captain Marvel has been intensely fierce between the fallout of Infinity War, the after credits scene in Ant-Man and the Wasp, and the teasers and trailers for End Game. So although Captain Marvel is an origin story which, in MCU fashion, is relatively more, low key than subsequent films for those characters—it’s also steeped in a stew of anticipation and presumption. Believing that Carol is supposed to be the failsafe to ‘Thanos and the #InfinityFade problem’, I expected scale of her character and story to punch harder than she did that old lady on the train. However that satisfying feeling never materialized for me. And again, that isn’t necessary a bad thing—just not what I personally needed.
Brie Larson’s portrayal of Vers/Carol is solid. She’s a tough, confident and competent as she’s completely battle ready from the moment we first see her. She wears a self-assured smirk on her face throughout most of her scenes which aligns perfectly with incredibly capable heroes who know who they are and how to handle business. That said, I didn’t form a personal connection with the character. However, for general Captain Marvel fans and younger audiences she’s definitely someone you can easily look up to.
When Carol’s best friend Maria Rambeau, beautifully portrayed by Lashana Lynch comes into the picture there is a palpable tonal change that works in the film’s favor. I was able to see much more character depth of Carol and Maria’s influence on her life. The interactions of the two women were strong and warm and welcomed. I could tell both Larson and Lynch actually enjoyed being in each other’s company. Maria was able to insert some sorely needed emotion and depth into an otherwise (up until Maria’s introduction) one-note view of Carol.
Samuel L. Jackson reprising his role as a digitally de-aged Nick Fury hits all the marks. He remains likable and relatable in his responses to extraterrestrial threats and overall “crazy sh*t” that he keeps getting mixed up in. Clark Gregg’s Agent Phil Coulson, also de-aged, is a nice bone to throw for fans but he’s more or less an extra with nothing much to do. Which is understood because this project isn’t about him–but then why include him? Gemma Chan’s character is awesomely vicious and is an interesting departure from the one in Crazy Rich Asians–but you don’t really see enough of her. Jude Law’s is pretty, his acting is fine, and that’s the gist of it. Ben Mendelsohn delivers a humorous and entertaining performance. The legendary Annette Bening is there too, serving up some off kilter dialogue that you’ll probably wave away without a second thought. As far as the rest of the cast, there’s enough familiar faces to help connect the rest of the dots to weave Captain Marvel into the tapestry of the MCU and comic book canon. If you already know the stories, once you find out who’s who, you’ll quickly preempt most of the story of the movie.
It’s clear that there is a sincere desire to tackle the Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel story in a comprehensive manner that still keeps things fun and heavy on the “girl power”, but in a way that isn’t annoying. And I’m telling you now–if you’re a dude-bro with a problem with women or things led by women, this film does not care about you, was not speaking to you in the first place and you should probably continue on your miserable way.
Towards this, I do have fears that extend beyond my own personal issues of the film that must be addressed. There are daily reminders of a vocal subset of critics and viewers that were (and are) more aggro to the concept and high-visibility of Captain Marvel, as well as Brie Larson’s mission to inject as much inclusivity as possible into the entire process. All of which makes me
feel know that people aren’t going to approach the film from a balanced perspective. It’s true that Marvel is not infallible and there has been a litany of both major and minor missteps, but they recovered relatively unscathed (Iron Man vs. Iron Man 3) or people gave them the benefit of the doubt that things would get better (Thor: Dark World vs Thor: Ragnarok). As immediate and swift as the general vitriol has been towards Captain Marvel before the movie was even screened; one would be disingenuous not to recognize that this film has been actively fighting to breathe and just be. Plus, having the unfair task to make it all work perfectly the first time is dredging up some loud voices that would may have you believe the film is a disaster—far from it.
Overall, Captain Marvel is an enjoyable film that’s not shocking or provocative in the least, but introduces an integral character that will have a heavy burden as we continue through the new phase of the MCU.
While the lulls and frequent time jumps in the first half of the film, can create some confusion for unseasoned viewers, the story rights itself to deliver a speedier second half. Still, as “Higher, Further, Faster” that Captain Marvel wants to be, it simply cannot be everything for everybody.
Captain Marvel flies into U.S. theaters on March 8, 2019.
Rating: 7 out of 10.