ReviewsTelevision & Film

Is CAPTAIN MARVEL Great? Maybe Not. But Still Pretty Good.

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: I’m a feminist. It always surprises me how many people bristle at the idea of feminism; to me, it just means I’d like equal options and the ability to determine my own destiny, irrespective of my gender. It doesn’t mean I hate and resent men, that I want women to take over the world at men’s expense, or that my husband has no say in our relationship or family. I just want a fair shake. Okay, got that out of the way. Phew.

Recently here at SciFi4Me, our fearless leader and editor-in-chief Jason Hunt published a tepid review of Captain Marvel. Now, I should mention that I thoroughly respect Jason’s opinion as a friend and genre expert. However, my experience with Captain Marvel didn’t align with his experience, and that’s probably in whole or in part due to my feminist and female worldview. But one of the really cool things about our SciFi4Me family is that we don’t have to agree with each other. Differences of opinion are not only tolerated, but encouraged, and respect still abounds. It’s quite lovely. All this brings me to my own assessment of the movie that you see below.

LIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD

So let’s lead with the feminist themes in the movie. Carol is attracted to speed and racing at a young age. Her father, and later, fellow pilots in the Air Force, attempt to discourage her interest. Fathers discouraging their daughters from pursuing “masculine” careers certainly isn’t unheard of, especially with my generation and earlier. And the Defense Department only amended the rule that women could serve in combat aviation positions in 1993, two years before the setting of Captain Marvel. The movie, in a fair and realistic way, shows limitations that some women have had to overcome in pursuit of their interests. And yet, for every setback Carol experiences along the way, she gets back up and keeps fighting the good fight. Feminist? No. After the movie, my husband told our 11 year old soccer-playing son that on the field, he needs to emulate Carol’s tenacity. Keep fighting; those are words for everyone.

Jason’s criticism of the film is that every character supporting Carol Danvers in her past is a woman. In my own experience, women band together during tough times, and this was a tough time for both Carol and her best friend. These women were trying to break into a male-dominated profession, which has reportedly and repeatedly been hostile to women. They simply sought out the receptive and like-minded, which in this case, was the small number of other women in their workplace. As a woman whose career developed in a mostly male-dominated engineering field, this is real to me. Even today, I can be feeling depleted and unsure of myself, and a night out with a close girlfriend refuels my self-belief. Do men emotionally connect and refuel when they have one-on-one time? Are they vulnerable with each other, do they talk about their fears, build each other up? Women do, and if the feminist manifesto tells women to seek each other out for support, that’s way okay with me.

And speaking of self-belief…it is a common thing amongst women to struggle with Imposter Syndrome. We have these critical tapes playing on loop in our heads: “you’re too fat”, “you’re not smart enough”, “you’re not good enough to do that”, “everyone can see you’re bluffing”, etc. These thoughts emanate from all the crummy things that were ever said to us by frustrated parents, jerk boyfriends, and mean girls (and boys) in middle school. All this negative self-talk stops us from fully realizing our own personal power. Captain Marvel uses this metaphor to great effect partway through the movie (sorry, can’t really say more without ruining it!). Feminist? I don’t know. Do men ever suffer from Imposter Syndrome? If so, then it’s a metaphor for all, and not a feminist one.

On to Brie Larson in the role of Captain Marvel. Brie Larson is relate-able; she is attractive and in good shape, but also looks like a real person. Jason felt that her range was limited, and unfortunately, I tend to agree with him on this one. There are Marvel roles that I cannot see anyone else having done: RDJ as Tony Stark, Chris Evans as Cap, even Chris Hemsworth as Thor. Larson was okay (if a bit flat) in her role, but her performance wasn’t iconic. To give you a better female comparison, think back to Winter Soldier…Black Widow rolls up to the curb to pick up Cap and says, “Hey fellas, either one of you know where the Smithsonian is? I’m here to pick up a fossil.” Keep that delivery in mind while you watch Brie’s performance, and you’ll better understand the difference between understated and flat.

Jason’s assessment of Nick Fury as sidekick is fair, in that Nick’s character is certainly less grim and determined, but this isn’t problematic for me personally. In my mind, Fury is a younger agent who hasn’t yet had the weight of the world on his shoulders, so he’s lighter and freer. Fury takes a special interest in a housecat that he and Carol encounter in their search for information, and he coos at and cuddles with the kitty like every grown man should. Personally, I like this softer side of Fury that we see thirteen years before Iron Man is set. Also of interest, we finally see why Fury loses his eye, at least according to MCU, and it’s a fun twist.

And let’s not forget the setting. Carol smashes into a Blockbuster Video with a huge nod to the time, and she wears a Nine-Inch Nails shirt for much of the movie. But other recent works set in the past (Ready Player One, Stranger Things both come to mind) seem to have had way more fun with including little details to root viewers into the time in which it is set.

And finally, the soundtrack was fabulous. For me, the music of the 90s was such an integral part of my transition from teenager to adult; every single one of the songs brings back a flood of memories, and hopefully introduces younger people to the music of that time, e.g., Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” and TLC’s “Waterfalls”. One of the fight scenes uses No Doubt’s “Just A Girl” brilliantly, I thought. But did they ever actually work a Nine Inch Nails song into the soundtrack? I didn’t hear one. Opportunity missed.

Overall, is it my favorite MCU movie of all time? No. Winter Soldier and GotG1 probably claim those spots, for me at least. Ragnarok and Homecoming are also up there. But if nothing else, you get a post-credits glimpse into how Captain Marvel begins to fit into the larger Endgame storyline, which continues with the Endgame trailer that dropped today (and gave me chills).

Extra Captain Marvel bonus: the Stan Lee memorial at the beginning of the movie. If it doesn’t move you to tears, you’re not a true believer.

Should you leave it? If you dislike action movies that focus on women, cats, displaced people, and/or men as sidekicks, maybe it’s not for you. Otherwise, it’s a good enough time to keep the MCU story going.

One thought on “Is CAPTAIN MARVEL Great? Maybe Not. But Still Pretty Good.

  • Hey, Leslie!
    Thanks for this review. Love that both of you covered it. Full disclosure: feminist and founder/CEO here. Also a giant genre nerd and reviewer. I just saw this film, and I have to say…meh.
    I described it as cute. My biggest challenge is one of the things you and Jason both agreed on, and frankly it’s what makes or breaks a movie for me – my connection to the lead. I just didn’t care. I felt more attached to the cat. I know Ms Larson has a nice gold statue, but none of that was coming through here. I’m hoping she found her spark while shooting Endgame.
    Side note: this is the same thing that worries me about Dark Phoenix.
    Again, thanks to you guys for the two perspectives.

    Reply

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