How you feel about Captain Marvel may depend on how you feel about the Marvel origin story formula: an everyday person experiences a traumatic event that ends up giving them extraordinary powers. The hero then feels lost until they decide to harness their powers for the greater good. A villain attempts to destroy the hero, the city, the world, the universe, and the hero must rise up and overcome their interior limitations to win.
Captain Marvel tries to freshen Marvel’s tried and true formula by giving us a story where we learn about the character’s powers and how they got them via a series of non-linear flashbacks. At the beginning of the film, Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) doesn’t know much about herself, but here’s what she does know: she has powers and she’s a member of Starforce – the premiere soldiers in the Kree army. We also learn that she is dedicated to stopping the evil Skrulls from conquering the galaxy, one planet at a time.
The creative choice of amnesia limits Danvers, or “Veers” as she’s called, as she spends large portions of the movie listening to other people tell her about her past. As a result, she doesn’t have much of a personality. She’s a soldier who executes orders. And that’s about it. We may get an occasional grin or joke, but there’s really not much there. This is especially true for the first two-thirds of the film. But once nuggets of information about Carol’s past begin to come out, we do get to see her humanity slowly reveal itself. Make no mistake though, for the majority of the film, she is defined by punching people and taking verbal jabs at others.
This isn’t the first time that a Marvel hero has spent the majority of their movie trying to figure out who they are and who they are meant to be. Remember Star-Lord? The difference here is that his story had an emotional core that Carol’s doesn’t. She has witty quips and one-liners, and she is more than capable of punching out anyone that gets in her way, but she comes across as more of an action figure than a three-dimensional character, especially when you compare her to the rest of the film’s characters.
And speaking of the other characters… Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury and Ben Mendelsohn’s Skrull, Talos both steal the show. But more on that in a bit.
We learn early on that Carol has been trained by Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). He has taught her to be to be ultra-serious, to show no emotion, and to keep her powers in check. The meaning behind his words comes through loud and clear: women are too emotional and vulnerable to lead, and she is a threat to the rest of the team. It’s unfortunate that by the time Carol decides that she doesn’t have to report to, or rely on a man, it doesn’t feel earned.
I can’t help but compare this “awakening” to the No-Man’s Land sequence in Wonder Woman. There, Diana takes control of the situation and leaves no questions about who she is, what she values, and what she’s willing to risk. In Captain Marvel though, we don’t ever dive beneath the spandex and learn who Carol Danvers really is; everything feels superficial. Yeah, she’s a woman who won’t quit. And she likes to prove others wrong. And yes, we know that she can throw a mean right hook. But other than those few things, what truly defines hers? What drives her? What is she willing to sacrifice? Again, she’s an action figure.
Previously, Marvel has done an extraordinary job of selecting visionary directors to helm their films. Jon Favreau, Ryan Coogler, James Gunn, Taika Waititi, Joe Johnston, the Russo Brothers. These directors have all created fresh and exciting films with incredible heart married to the spectacle of the special effects. Marvel missed the mark this time.
With Captain Marvel, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck take the leap from independent films to Marvel blockbuster; however, their lack of vision is apparent. Their direction feels generic and anonymous. The action scenes are bland and again, generic. Some might say they’re “textbook.” Many of the special effects are quite bad – the subway car fight has some really bad green screen work, and the de-aging on poor Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) is downright terrifying. The edits are rapid and lack any sort of rhythm. Any plot twists are telegraphed well in advance and don’t land with any sort of emotional punch. There are multiple references to the ’90s thrown in just because. Seriously, the way that the film was directed feels like a second unit director slapped it together the night before its release.
Another issue is the timing of the movie’s release. If Captain Marvel had been introduced to audiences five or six years ago, I think my reaction would be much different, especially because it’s an origin story. I believe that I would be much more invested in the character and in the story. At this point though, it’s just another character in an ever-expanding cinematic universe. Let me explain.
By the time the Avengers assembled, we had a connection to Captain America, Tony Stark, Black Widow, et al. Captain Marvel suffers the same fate as Ant-Man and the Wasp: it’s sandwiched between Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. Sure, they both tie into the larger MCU, but they are mostly self-contained stories. Are they good movies? Yes. Should fans care about them? Probably. Will they? That remains to be seen.
The film does have some fun moments. The interaction between Ben Mendelsohn’s Talos and Samuel L. Jackson’s Fury is often quite entertaining. As was previously mentioned, these two steal the show. There is great chemistry there and I’d be interested in seeing a spinoff featuring the adventures of Nick Fury and Talos as they travel through the galaxy battling the forces of evil. I’ve said too much…
There is also a lot of great “buddy cop” banter between Fury and Carol. And as a result, we learn a lot about the MCU’s Nick Fury. For example, we learn that even his mother calls him “Fury” and how he loses his eye. The origin of the intergalactic beeper that he uses at the end of Avengers: Infinity War is also explained. Ultimately, this is a more vulnerable, relaxed, and less jaded version of Nick Fury than we’ve ever seen. It’s still Nick Fury though.
Captain Marvel finally takes flight in the last act, but overall, the film never truly soars. It’s just a mediocre Marvel movie – which is still good compared to the majority of the DC Universe, but Carol Danvers is not the hero I was expecting. Maybe the Russo Brothers can flesh her out more in Avengers: Endgame. It’s not a bad movie, and you definitely want to see if before Avengers: Endgame, but I was hoping for something higher, further, and faster.