Alright folks, the time has finally come. You’ve heard all of the reviews, seen all the ridiculous trolling, born witness to the agendas being grafted onto the film, but Captain Marvel is finally here. Sure it’s not the first female superhero movie, or the first one from Marvel, or the first good one, but it is still important as the first time a woman has led a film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe! A lot is riding on this, but is it any good? Let’s dive in and find out.
Captain Marvel tells the story of Carol Danvers (Brie Larson), a warrior in the alien Kree army tasked with hunting down their ancient enemy, the shape-shifting Skrulls. After a mission goes wrong, Carol lands on Earth in the 90’s, where she comes across agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) in her hunt for the rogue Skrull leader Talos (Ben Mendelsohn). But Carol has a secret past she doesn’t remember and god powers she can’t control, things aren’t as they seem in the universe, and there is a very adorable cat on the scene. Plus they have to set up Endgame, Phase 4, and the entire MCU by way of being a prequel to it. Awful lot to balance, huh?
Look, you all know that I’m not exactly the target audience for these movies anymore, but I want to talk about the good in this movie first. The biggest strength of this film is its incredibly talented cast, which brings a lot of personality to it. Samuel L. Jackson is always great as Nick Fury (even if he’s played pretty0 differently here from his other appearances), and it’s great seeing Clark Gregg back as Agent Coulson. I also really liked Lashana Lynch, who plays perhaps my favorite of the heroic characters in the film as Maria Rambeau. She shows a lot of range and her dialogue carries a lot of weight, bringing the heart that this movie really needs, and I felt touched by her performance. Annette Benning is always great because she’s Annette Benning, and along with Jude Law she’s wasted in the film. Ben Mendelsohn once again works his magic as Talos, playing a slimy and smarmy character with stunning ease, and while a certain turn with his character is awfully convenient script-wise he still nails it. I don’t throw around words like “today’s Alan Rickman” very often, but… he is.
The humor of the movie is fairly hit or miss, but the jokes actually land more than they fail, and I found myself chuckling more than a few times. While Brie Larson’s performance is hampered by the script, I thought she did have some good chemistry with Samuel L. Jackson, which is where most of the humor comes from. Some of the action scenes in the third act are enjoyable enough, particularly when she powers up, and it gives the end some much-needed life. There’s a lot of little elements here and there that were really interesting, and could have been really cool had they been explored more. Oh, and Goose the cat is just so adorable! Look at him! The adorableness is just so great!
I also have to tip my hat (if I had one) to directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, of Half-Nelson and Mississippi Grind fame, and their writing partner Geneva Robertson-Dworet for their ambition. They are not trying to tell the traditional origin story and want to cover a lot of ground here, and I always love to give people credit for trying to do something different. Plus, given the sheer weight that the studio placed on this film by making it set up so many other things, the fact that they shot for the stars is actually kind of admirable. However…
… the biggest problems with the movie all revolve around the direction and the script. The film sets up a massive intergalactic war only to toss it away with no explanation (or a real reason to fear the Skrulls), a central mystery of Carol’s identity (and then giving us 95% of it after fifteen minutes), tries to give us the origin of SHIELD (which raises so many logical timeline questions), and so much more. I could have taken maybe one or two of these being dropped, but every single story thread is given a short shrift, leaving us with a film that is basically a bunch of moments strung together by an amnesiac, emotionless and personality-free character who doesn’t really seem to care about any of it. I mean Jason Bourne was an amnesiac too, but he had a real personality and his mystery was interesting because they didn’t give it all away in the first fifteen minutes.
This film is the absolute new standard of a movie that tells, but doesn’t show. We hear a lot about the Kree and the Skrull but we hardly see any of it. Maria and Jude Law tell Carol a lot about who she is, but we never see her behave in those ways. Annette Benning is supposed to be this important character in Carol’s life, and we only get maybe two minutes of her as said character and then a bunch of, you guessed it, exposition. You cannot have a movie that is supposed to set up a character as important as Captain Marvel and give us all her development and backstory through other people talking! I know it seems like I’m harping on this point, but it really makes me think this movie is all about just making sure that when Carol arrives in Endgame, nobody says “Huh?” and not about actually giving her a real movie. I don’t know who deserves the blame for that, Feige or the directors, but this is just textbook lazy screenwriting.
Breaking from the writing a bit, I also thought the direction was a little generic at best and amateur hour at worst. The very first fight scene, a training scene between Carol and Jude Law, is chopped to pieces to the point where there are three edits just for Carol throwing one punch! There are scenes where characters are in motion but the camera doesn’t follow them correctly so I started to lose track of what was happening and where the characters were, with a car chase featuring Fury probably being the worst example of this. Even the scenes that are filmed well just lack any creativity or imagination, the hallmarks of the last few Marvel films, making it seem like not just a 90’s movie, but a 90’s TV movie. And I get that it’s in the 90’s so maybe that was a creative choice, but since the 90’s had great action films like Terminator 2, Speed, and The Matrix among others, even that wouldn’t make sense. I guess not every indie director is secretly the next Spielberg or James Cameron after all.
Ultimately my biggest complaint with the film is that Carol Danvers is a boring character, devoid of any personality minus the broad strokes of “badass” and “makes quips.” There is no real struggle for her at any point in the movie because she is god-powerful, and we don’t see her grow as a character because the movie neglected to give her one. Brie Larson is an incredible actress, and I know that she could give a great performance as Captain Marvel, but she is hampered by a script and direction that ultimately makes her as compelling as the cardboard cutout promoting the movie in the theater lobby. Carol in the comics is a very complex and fascinating character, filled with regrets and past trials but always persevering and seeking new heights and adventures. That just isn’t here, and it is a massive disappointment because even in the worst Marvel films they at least got the central character right. Here she just seems like a plot point for a future movie, and that is not the treatment that Carol Danvers deserves.
Look, I know that there are a lot of people who are going to love this movie, and I completely understand that. There are good things here, and I don’t think it’s devoid of quality at all, I just feel that Captain Marvel deserves better than a poor man’s Battlestar Galactica designed only to set up Avengers: Endgame. I know I’ll be on an island on this one, but I really do feel like this was a lot of wasted potential. I think there’s a foundation for a good movie here, but I’m not going to give a movie credit for what people might do later with it. Lets hope the Russos do a better job with her, and that in the future someone really does take her higher, further, and faster on a much better project.
My Rating: 2/5
Captain Marvel is in theaters now.