“Captain Marvel” stands as an original and fun addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It will add some pizzazz to your otherwise mundane weeknight, but will not give you a leading hero to feel truly invested in or a memorable visual style. “Captain Marvel” feels very much like a Phase 1 movie – a film that isn’t sure what identity it’s trying to establish, but is trying to set things up in the right direction. That’s not to degrade the Phase 1 movies (“Iron Man” is certainly a favorite of mine), but at this stage we expect more from a Marvel movie. There are a lot of good things going on in “Captain Marvel,” but they’re tried and true, and the end result is another enjoyable formulaic entry that left me excited yet unsatisfied.
What worried me most about “Captain Marvel” was the potential virtue-signaling and demagogy that was touted by its star and the studio before its release into cinemas. Fortunately, the film itself is free from such traits, as I never felt as though the character of Carol Danvers was treated as a mere prop for the feminist agenda. It’s great that we finally have the first female-lead Marvel superhero film, and it’s interesting to see how female directors treat this kind of material in contrast to their male counterparts. There are some moments that emphasize the “girl power” mantra (namely some song choices towards the end of the film), and those moments rang hollow for me. My interest lies solely in the strength of the narrative, character development, and the ability of the cast and crew to bring creative ideas to fruition. For the most part, “Captain Marvel” is a success.
Carol Danvers is by far the most powerful hero we have met thus far in the MCU. A great strength that the film has is introducing Carol as someone who has difficulty harnessing her powers, and has them come to full fruition only after she grows as a character. Her development is handled well, but I would have preferred to learn more about her past through visual means rather than audio ones. The weakest element of the character is her lack of charisma and vulnerability. Although there are some emotionally rousing moments that show true strength of will, Carol comes across as a relatively flat and stoic character. While this may be intentional, since Carol has forgotten her true identity and is seeking to uncover it for much of the film, I hope that Brie Larson can give us a better sense of who Carol is at her core in the next installment.
“Captain Marvel” takes place mostly in the 1990s, and sometimes feels like it was made then too. The imagery evokes a great deal of nostalgia, which is fine, but the cheesy retro feel that encompasses many of the action sequences grew tiresome. I liked the fish out of water narrative. Such stories often provoke great humor and thrilling discovery of character; the former certainly so in “Captain Marvel.” As Carol goes about piecing together her past and uncovering the truth about what’s going on around her, she reunites with old friends and builds rewarding relationships with new contacts. The most consistently entertaining relationship is with young S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury, played by a remarkably de-aged Samuel L. Jackson. The result of this visual effect mastery is flawless, though the same can’t be said for Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson. There were several shots of him that looked forged and goofy. Jackson brings some much-needed energy and charisma to his scenes with Larson, and the two play off each other incredibly well. Their mission is to find a powerful energy source and keep it out of the wrong hands.
Ben Mendelsohn, today’s most-requested actor for villainous roles, turns in a witty performance as Talos, a Skrull general with shapeshifting abilities. I wish that the film had used the Skrulls’ shapeshifting abilities for some more suspense and deceptive story turns. There are many aspects that felt like they could have been pushed further, and for co-directors known for directing indie dramas with richly deep characters facing real stakes, I just never felt the depth and urgency that I wanted from the story. Carol finds herself as a pawn, caught in conflicts between multiple worlds. She is not only looking for clues to her past, but also a sense of belonging. In the beginning, she’s training as a warrior on the Kree planet of Hala. There is a war going on between the Skrulls and the Kree. However, she finds out later that this war is not as black and white as it seems. The evolving complexity of the conflict is perhaps the film’s greatest strength.
Overall, I’m excited to see where it all goes. The Kree say at the end of the film that they will be back for Carol. A battle of virtue between the Kree and Carol could be especially interesting. Perhaps Carol will be fleshed out more in “Avengers: Endgame.” What worries me about introducing her at this stage in the MCU is that she could be a convenient and powerful plot device in the Avenger’s victory over Thanos. I hope that’s not the case. She’ll no doubt serve an important role, but I hope the final “Avengers” installment focuses more on the original cast that kicked off this massively successful franchise.
With great supporting performances (Jude Law and Lashana Lynch should also be mentioned), some exciting action, a scene-stealing cat, and fun nostalgia, “Captain Marvel” is certainly worth a trip to the theatre for, just don’t expect too much emotion from its Oscar-winning star.