Let’s just take a moment to appreciate that Captain Marvel is the MCU’s 21st offering. At this point, Marvel Studios has been tweaking a formula that is over a decade long. One would think that any mistakes that were to be made would likely come during the first few years. It is odd then, that Captain Marvel stumbles the way it does.
Unlike other characters in the Marvel universe, Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel is someone I know very little about. My knowledge about the source material is rudimentary at best. If anything, this should make it easy for me as a viewer to accept the character’s portrayal on-screen. It is telling then, that I couldn’t help but feel that what little personality Danvers had, was shown within the first few minutes of the film. One of Captain Marvel’s biggest failings is in wasting the talents of a perfectly competent cast. Brie Larson is likely going to get a lot of flak for this, which is unfortunate. We’ve seen her dish out some killer performances during the course of her career. To me, the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the writers and directors. Both failed here.
It is hard not to see this whole thing as a series of missed opportunities. Now and then, the film gives the impression of being something special. But even in moments where I cheered (and the movie does have a few of those) I almost immediately found myself going “Waaaait a minute… that doesn’t make sense.”
I mentioned earlier that I don’t know much about the character from the comics and that is no accident. Captain Marvel suffers from what I like to call the “Superman Problem”, something that makes heroes of that type considerably less interesting to me. Just like DC’s resident invincible boy scout, Carol Danvers is essentially so powerful that it is all but impossible for her to lose. How do you write a compelling villain for someone like that? There are no physical stakes in a fight unless the bad guy has a matching power-set. In Superman’s case, Kryptonite serves as a nice little equalizer, lazy as it is. Failing that, there’s always a loved one that could be in danger. But there is no equivalent for Captain Marvel. She literally can’t be hurt. Physically, she is impervious. Officially, she is the most powerful character in the Marvel hero roster. She goes through the whole movie without ever losing a fight. And even emotionally there isn’t any vulnerability to exploit. There is nothing to suggest that losing her best friend would perturb her too much. The way the script is structured is too rushed, too dense and too clunky to allow for any such emotional risk to manifest.
There is no real character progression to speak of. Carol Danvers isn’t a person who struggles with the moral implications of a superhuman gift the way Peter Parker or Diana Prince do. She’s just a chick who got lucky and has nothing to make her feel vulnerable. A cardboard cutout character that is hard to root for, regardless of how much she glows. It is lazy, uninspired and forgettable.
Even the inclusion of Nick Fury, as such an integral part of the plot, fails. I mean, can we agree that it takes a special kind of fumbling to waste someone like Samuel L Jackson and Jude Law? I expected the film to show us the evolution of Fury from being an affable sweet-talking-cat-loving chill dude to a man that basically hasn’t smiled in 10 years across 20 movies. Yeah, that didn’t happen. This is probably my biggest complaint. Captain Marvel’s treatment of Fury borders on sacrilege. There is nothing to show or even suggest why such a relaxed and easy going guy turns into the hard-ass we know. As for the way he lost his eye… Ugh. Just ugh. What a joke. Even the talents of Clark Gregg and Ben Mendelsohn are squandered. The latter’s role as the antagonist is by far the best here. But entertaining as he is, it is clear that he had to struggle through what is obviously a lack luster script.
Even the fight choreography is uninspired. Apart from two fights which happen in the first half, everything else seems wooden and choppy. This is a superhero comic flick, for crying out loud. The one thing a movie in the genre should nail, is the action. Like I said, a series of missed opportunities.
To be fair, there are some things it does do well. A large part of Danvers’ back-story is told via a cool and unorthodox method of interrogation that tells the audience just as much as it needs to know without wasting any time. It is unfortunate that the time thus saved wasn’t leveraged to tell a better tale. Another highlight is the de-aging tech, which is spectacular. Both Jackson and Gregg look amazing as their younger selves. I kept an eye out for moments where the effects would run into uncanny valley territory but not once did that happen. It’s crazy how far the tech has come in such a short time. Also the music was a love-letter to 90s kids like myself. I couldn’t help but smile when Elastica started playing in the background. That said, I can easily see how some might think the pop culture references were a tad overdone. I also dug how they allowed Danvers to keep her “comic book look” in certain sequences.
Now for the elephant in the room: I won’t comment too much about the “feminist agenda” drama that the movie has generated around its release (that might be best left for the podcast I think). I choose to see this as a product of entertainment. An offering in a long running series with a set of established norms and expectations. But even if one were to view this film though the lens of women’s empowerment, it fails. Sure Carol Danvers is a strong woman that takes no shit. But that’s all she is. It’s the female equivalent of a six pack toting super soldier whose sole talent is killing baddies and looking good while doing it. It’s not often I get to say this but hell, DC did this one better.
Maybe the MCU painted itself into a corner here by deciding to shoehorn a movie between the excellent Infinity War and the soon to be released End Game. And it was clear that they needed someone powerful enough to go toe to toe with Thanos. Especially considering that Thor alone won’t cut it. Seems to me, the constricted time-line kept them for putting out an entertaining product. In a way the MCU is a victim of its own success. Marvel fans expect a certain quality and Captain Marvel fails to deliver.
Hardcore MCU fans may find something to like here and Captain Marvel make for a serviceable family film. Kids will likely love this. At the very least it provides a little MCU-fix to tide one over till Avengers: End Game drops and then our heads collectively explode. A long term MCU fan might find some value here. For anyone coming in fresh, there are far better stories to start with. That is the best I can say about it. Ultimately this is not so much a “bad” movie as it is an unmemorable one.
FINAL SCORE: 6.5/10