ReviewsTelevision & Film

CAPTAIN MARVEL Isn’t Bad, but It’s Not Great, Either

Captain Marvel (2019)
Screenplay by Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck & Geneva Robertson-Dworet
Story by Nicole Perlman & Meg LeFauve and Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck & Geneva Robertson-Dworet

Directed by Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck
Produced by Kevin Feige
Based on Marvel Comics
Rated PG-13

Let’s get this out of the way first: Captain Marvel is not the feminist manifesto that appears to be marketed in the trailers and commercials.

However, there is an obvious (though more subtle than I expected) tilt toward the feminist perspective, in that every character supporting Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) in her past is a woman, while every character that tries to stand in her way is either a white male or a machine. This is slightly annoying for me, as it shows a bias in the filmmakers’ way of thinking.

Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) doesn’t fare much better, as he’s less of a co-lead and more of the sidekick who’s in the movie to get the laughs. It’s a jarring contrast to the other appearances of Fury, who’s always been somewhat grim and determined rather than upbeat and eager to please. I did hear him get called “rookie” early in the film, and it’s a good span of time between this film’s 1995 and the present day of the rest of the MCU, but there were some moments that just felt out of character for Fury.

LIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD.

Larson’s performance is very unbalanced, although I will allow that a lot of what we see in the trailers is “Vers” — Carol without any memory — so the blank look on her face makes a little more sense. But Larson’s range is not far and wide in this film. There are moments when it feels like she’s trying to imitate Robert Downey, Jr.’s wit and dry sarcasm, but the editing and pace of the film never gives her snark time to breathe, so her character’s attempts at humor feel dropped in for the sake of being there, not organic to the character.

Captain Marvel is an origin story told in reverse. And it’s a little like The Bourne Identity, although that movie did it so much better.

We first meet “Vers”, as she’s called, as a Kree warrior in the Star Force. She’s apparently still in training under the tutelage of Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), and he’s always telling her to keep her emotions in check — something mentors have been telling impulsive protégés for gazillions of years, but somehow is now a cis male anti-woman thing — in order to be a better soldier.

She’s also being told this by the Great Intelligence (Annette Bening), which takes on the form of the person each Kree soldier feels to be a big influence in their lives. For Vers, the face is one she doesn’t recognize, but as her memories start to come back, she realizes that it’s the face of a scientist on planet C-53 (Earth).

This is where the main story starts to take shape. The bad guys, the Skrulls (which are totally wasted as proper villains — more on that in a moment), are shape-shifters who are on Earth because their ship has been destroyed by their prisoner, Vers. She lands on Earth in the middle of a Blockbuster Video store (remember, it’s 1995), and there’s the usual level of “fish out of water” humor, most of which falls a little flat.

Enter Nick Fury and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), both agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. trying to figure out what’s what with this woman in the rubber suit talking about aliens who can imitate anyone — and then they start imitating anyone, including certain agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Fury makes a connection with Vers, recognizing that she’s a soldier off the playbook. He sees that she’s got a personal stake in whatever is going on, and she’s still trying to figure out why she’s getting flashes of memory of a live she might or might not have had.

Once the pieces start to fall into place, things pretty much move along the way you would expect. Predictable? Sort of. There is a twist of sorts in the end, where things get turned sideways in terms of who’s the villain and who’s not, and that’s something I don’t think anyone else is talking about, and we’ll get to that in a later article full of spoilers, because it’s a pretty telling piece of the overall narrative that’s getting ignored.

The pace of the film is as unbalanced as Larson’s performance, at times moving along at a good clip and at others meandering around like it’s trying to find its legs. It’s not quite trying to tell too many stories the way Green Lantern did, but it does feel like the movie doesn’t really know what kind of movie it wants to be sometimes.

There are moments at the beginning of the film that presage the moments at the end, when it turns out Carol’s personality is coming through her amnesia in the form of habits and impulses, so there’s at least some consistency in that part of Larson’s performance. But it doesn’t really feel like Larson herself buys into her character. At times, it seems as if she knows this is all make-believe, and you almost expect her to turn to the camera and wink through the fourth wall a couple of times.

did find believably in the friendship between Carol and Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), even though Rambeau doesn’t show up until quite a ways into the film. And no, there’s not anything overt in the action or dialogue that would lead me to think Danvers and Rambeau are a couple, even though there’s a segment of the social media verse that is just absolutely convinced this is a thing… There are things like that you can see in this film if you really want to, I guess.

And then there’s the cat. More personality than Brie Larson? At times, but then the CGI Captain Marvel does, too, at times. Let’s just say that the effectiveness of Goose’s part of the story comes at the expense of Nick Fury’s dignity, in a lot of ways.

Overall, it’s a mediocre Marvel film that helps pass the time until Avengers: Endgame arrives. Not at all necessary to see this film in order to see the next one, which means you can take it or leave it.

I’d leave it.

Jason P. Hunt

Jason P. Hunt (founder/EIC) is the author of the sci-fi novella "The Hero At the End Of His Rope". His short film "Species Felis Dominarus" was a finalist in the Sci Fi Channel's 2007 Exposure competition.

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