As both the first female Avenger to lead a solo movie and the savior set to hit “undo” on the events of Infinity War, it’s difficult to overstate just how important Captain Marvel is for the movie studio which shares her name. With this in mind, it’s perhaps unsurprising that directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck take almost no risks here whatsoever, resulting in an origin story which is serviceable but generally uninspired.
Brie Larson takes the lead role as Carol Danvers a.k.a “Vers” a.k.a Captain Marvel (although nobody actually refers to her by that title in the movie). In the opening scenes, we see that she is a courageous soldier for an alien race known as the Kree, but flashes of a mysterious past life reveal there is much she does not know about where exactly she comes from.
Crash landing on nineties-era planet Earth brings her into contact with the familiar faces of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), both of whom look a great deal sprightlier than the last time we saw them. Antics ensue as the uncertain motives of her commander Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) and the shape-shifting Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) attempt to sway her in opposite directions.
Acting opposite a stellar supporting cast, Larson really struggles to keep up. While her performance contains a handful of rousing moments, for much of the movie it simply doesn’t connect. This is less a problem with her casting and more to do with the script she’s saddled with, written by Geneva Robertson-Dworet along with directors Boden and Fleck.
There’s a palpable desperation in the smug quips that flood out of Carol Danvers. Of course, wisecracking heroes are nothing new to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but in this movie the jokes come densely packed with little time to breathe and most notably, just aren’t very funny. Larson’s comic timing perks up a little when paired with the masterful Samuel L. Jackson, but even still the character who got the most laughs ended up being Goose the cat.
Surprisingly, Captain Marvel‘s strongest asset ends up being Ben Mendelsohn. If his recent stock villain roles in the likes of Robin Hood and Ready Player One had damaged his credibility somewhat, his performance here is more than enough to restore it. Faced with the challenge of acting through prosthetics, he excels in both the film’s lighter and more dramatic scenes. While his character may not strike a chord straight out of the gate, by the end of the film he feels unquestionably real.
One can only hope that he reappears in a story with more ambition. As previously stated, this film sticks rigidly to the textbooks, offering a remarkably predictable story that harks back to the great Marvel slump of 2013 (see: Thor: The Dark World). It wouldn’t be a spoiler to say that Captain Marvel becomes ridiculously powerful in the final act, something which has been alluded to in every trailer and interview, but it only serves to rob the climax of any intensity or drama.
Without careful handling, Captain Marvel could easily face the same problem which has plagued Superman throughout his long existence. Both characters have incredible cosmic abilities, but with that comes difficulty in presenting foes that could realistically challenge them. It’s no coincidence that so many Superman stories involve the character being depowered by kryptonite or other means, and it seems likely Marvel will need to rely on a similar trope moving forward.
Is Captain Marvel the revolutionary super hero film many had been hoping for? Absolutely not. With its paint-by-numbers story and disappointing lead performance, you could argue it’s anything but. However, claims that this film is a disaster for the Marvel Cinematic Universe are obnoxiously hyperbolic. It lays down groundwork for future stories in the same conventional way as the first Thor and Captain America movies did before it. In that sense, it’s difficult to get excited about or even recommend, but in no way is it insulting.
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