As we approach Avengers: Endgame, we’re not only coming to the conclusion of Phase three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the climax of the ten-plus year journey of the MCU so far. As such, we’re beginning to see the next generation of key players come into the MCU, from Dr. Strange to Spider-Man to Black Panther. The newest player in the MCU (and the last one introduced before Endgame) is none other than Captain Marvel, whom Marvel Studios proclaims to be the most powerful character in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. Of course, no matter how powerful a super hero is, it doesn’t amount to much if the story they’re telling is weak. And with Marvel’s recent string of hits, Captain Marvel has a pretty steep hill to climb.
Unfortunately, despite being the MCU’s most powerful super being, Captain Marvel can’t seem to carry her own movie. It’s not that it’s a bad movie per se, just that it’s so by-the-books and average that it doesn’t stand out in any way. Unless you somehow haven’t seen an MCU movie for the past several years, there’s nothing about Captain Marvel that will prove particularly memorable.
Taking place in 1995, Captain Marvel is a prequel to the all but one other MCU film (Captain America: The First Avenger). Our titular heroine is called ‘Vers’ (Brie Larson), an Earth-born human pilot who gained incredible power after she was involved in a mysterious plane crash that also left her with amnesia. She was then taken in by the Kree, a race of “alien warrior heroes” who have been battling an endless war against the Skrulls, mysterious shape-shifting beings.
Under the tutelage of Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), Vers has become an unstoppable fighting machine in the war against the Skrulls. Though she longs to remember her true past, especially after she meets up with ‘The Supreme Intelligence’ – the Kree’s AI leader who appears to different individuals as “the person they most admire” – whom appears to Vers as a woman she’s seen only in flashbacks (Annette Bening).
Vers inadvertently gets her wish to rediscover her past, when an encounter with a Skrull named Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) ends up sending her down to Earth, where she meets a younger Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and embarks on a journey that takes her to many places from her past.
Again, it all sounds promising. And I once again stress that the movie isn’t bad. It’s just that, when all is said and done, it really doesn’t feel like anything new. It’s the most ‘vanilla’ MCU film to come along in a good while.
The one bit of originality Captain Marvel attempts is telling the origin story of its titular hero in a non-linear, out-of-sequence fashion, with the film jumping between the present day of the film and Vers’s plane crash and the events leading up to it. The film also does a pretty good job at delivering a more novice Nick Fury learning his craft (as well as explaining how he lost one of his eyes).
Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn and Annette Bening all give memorable performances (with Ben Mendelsohn’s character getting a pleasantly surprising amount of comedy, and Bening playing a duel role that showcases very different personalities). The CG used to de-age Samuel L. Jackson is also impressive (we’ve come a long way since the creepy young Tony Stark from Captain America: Civil War), though I suppose it helps that Sam Jackson has aged very well.
Unfortunately, not everyone in the cast is as impressive. Brie Larson feels void of charisma in her role, which is especially affecting to the film seeing as she’s the main character. Of course, it probably doesn’t help that the character is written so blandly, with the film continuously emphasizing how powerful she is, without giving us much reason to care for her as a character. Captain Marvel is already at risk of being a deus ex machine for the MCU, if she is indeed the one to defeat Thanos after just being introduced to the mega-franchise in the eleventh hour. The fact that the character is written without any real character flaw makes this even more concerning.
Although not as big of a detriment, Jude Law’s role also seems surprisingly empty. The movie builds him up to be an important figure in the story, but through long stretches of the film, you may forget he’s even a part of it.
Again, I don’t want to sound too hard on the film, because it isn’t necessarily bad, just resoundingly uneventful. It has great special effects (again I emphasize the de-aging on Jackson), the action scenes are fun, and the overall entertainment value is there to a degree. But the same could be said about most MCU films, and aside from the aforementioned back and forth with the origin story, Captain Marvel doesn’t really try its hand at anything new for the franchise. And when the film starts veering into a series of plot twists that feel like they’ve already been done in the MCU, this is only emphasized. Combine that with the film’s disappointingly wooden heroine, and Captain Marvel fails to live up to its potential.
I’m sure plenty of people will have fun with Captain Marvel. But it too often comes across as too little, too late for the MCU. There’s just not enough here that feels special or unique, and if anything, Captain Marvel feels more like its regressed back to the Phase One days of the MCU with its simple and straightforward origin story. Captain Marvel may be “the most powerful character in the MCU,” but her movie feels like one of the least powerful of the lot in a good while.
6 thoughts on “Captain Marvel Review”
I actually quite like Captain Marvel. I think the MCU people realized they needed to change things up with the obligatory origin story, and I feel they did really well. I like how Carol is learning about her origin with the audience. Plus, the twist was really good as well. Granted, the Kree don’t exactly have a stellar track record when you consider the stuff they did in both Guardians of the Galaxy films, so it might be a little predictable, but I think what made it work is that the film initially portrayed the Skrulls as legitimate threats really well. I liked how it turned out later they were acting out of sheer desperation; they were in a situation in which there was no such thing as a bad tactic. If nothing else, we certainly get an understanding as to why she’d be Nick Fury’s ace in the hole, huh?
To be honest, I’m kind of surprised it didn’t get more of a pass due to its constant nineties references. Considering how Mid90s went over with them, I wonder if that means film critics have that bias under control more than video game critics?
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I saw the movie again with a friend, and I have to say I enjoyed it more this time. Granted, my complaints remain (Captain Marvel doesn’t really have a character, pretty basic Marvel story). But I had more fun.
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Captain Marvel’s shining moments are hidden in the details IMO. They struggle with the audiences empathy for a character who is confused and frustrated for the vast majority of the film, Danvers is going through a rough patch but something as simple as leaning harder into her relationship with her parents or the other flashbacks could have gone a long way. So I agree that her attitude was less than stellar for a story meant to revolve around her (Though I find it appropriate) but was warmed by the depth of supporting characters, which has been the hallmark of Marvel films since The Avengers was first released. Small moments between Fury and Talos, small moments developing a rookie Coulson, the cat, the shape shifting conversation, the poignant cameo, the ongoing tension that the eye would go… but it didn’t a few times before it did. Touching moments of mild humor go a long way in developing empathy in an audience and I really do feel like the story was presented well but with that one major struggle. Danvers has the Superman problem and I’m excited to see if Marvel can give her more humanity in End Game.
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Well said. I just saw it again today with a friend and enjoyed it more. Still one of the weaker recent MCU movies, and my complaints still stand, but I had more fun with it.
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