Review - 'Captain Marvel'
I’ll just rip the band-aid off right from the get-go: Captain Marvel is a disappointment. Believe me, it pains me to say that, but it’s true. This film isn’t bad, but seeing as how it’s the first Marvel film with a woman in the lead, you’d think the filmmakers would have made sure it was a home-run, yet here I find it rubbing elbows with the likes of Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 2.
In Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers is a powerful Kree warrior who has visions of a life she once knew. When she crash lands in Los Angeles after a battle with an alien race called the Skrulls, she begins to uncover the truth about her past and learns that therein could lie the key to unlocking her true power.
There are two big reasons why Captain Marvel doesn’t work as well as I would have liked it to. The most critical wound this movie suffers is in the form of Brie Larson’s performance. I thought Brie Larson was a shoe-in for this character, and she might still be under better direction. Larson has proven that she’s great at comedy and even better at more dramatic roles having won a well-deserved Oscar for her performance in Room. In Captain Marvel she comes off as lethargic, monotone and lacking in emotion. I never felt like Carol Danvers believed she had superpowers because I never saw conviction in her eyes. She shoots photon beams from her hands, punches and kicks people and flies like a superhero would, but it all lacks that energetic oomph that you would expect from a character whose name is “Captain Marvel”. At the very least, Larson does find some much-needed chemistry with Samuel L. Jackson’s de-aged Nick Fury, and she looks absolutely fantastic as the titular hero, I just wish the performance wasn’t so miscalculated.
The other crippling flaw with this film is its structure, and perhaps that is why I found it harder to get behind Captain Marvel as a character. Whether it was mandated by Marvel Studios or it was Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s decision; this film tried its darndest to avoid being an origin story. This is unfortunate because Captain Marvel is a brand new character to the big screen that I feel many don’t have a firm grasp on (including me). I think she desperately needed a ground-up origin story in chronological order to properly introduce her to the MCU. Instead what we get is a film that starts with a well-established, memory loss- afflicted Captain Marvel who has flashes of her past. So I don’t get to see her grappling with powers she doesn’t yet understand, and I also don’t get a good explanation for how her powers work. There’s no meaningful arc to her character because it has basically already happened and we only get glimpses of it.
Captain Marvel also has a bit of an identity crisis. There are times when it tries to be the 90’s to The Guardians of the Galaxy’s 80’s, and while I appreciate how lovingly the filmmakers recaptured the aesthetics of the 90’s, they never dial it to “10”. We also get an under-cooked fish-out-of-water story not unlike that of Thor’s, and there’s even some shades of Captain America here and there. As a result, the tone seesaws from goofy to serious unnaturally. I think if Boden and Fleck had committed to a singular look and feel, their film would have been more successful overall.
Despite its significant shortcomings, the film does have a myriad of strengths that keep it from falling too far. My favorite part of Captain Marvel is Ben Mendelsohn. Mendelsohn plays a fascinating villain named Talos who is part of an alien race known as the Skrulls and every scene he was in breathed new life into the film. In fact, everything involving the conflict between the two alien races, the Skrulls and the Kree, was more compelling than whatever Captain Marvel was up to. Samuel L. Jackson also turns in what I think might be his best work as Nick Fury yet; he’s young and decidedly less jaded than his older counterpart. I especially loved his natural chemistry with Brie Larson and his character’s affinity for the best on-screen cat ever: Goose.
I also found the action in Captain Marvel to be, for the most part, on-point. A car chase/train fight sequence is an early stand-out moment that showcases Larson’s physicality. There’s also a fun moment where Captain Marvel has to take out a bunch of henchman while her hands are encased in metal braces that reminded me a bit of the clever sequence in Iron Man 3 where Tony Stark only had an arm and a leg of his Iron Man suit to work with. It’s always fun when we get to watch a hero be forced to resort to their brains over their brawn to get out of a tricky situation. Finally, the inevitable fireworks show that seems to close out every Marvel film is still pretty to look at, even if none of it feels tactile in the least.
Captain Marvel is your typical superhero film, only the featured hero lacks the conviction and spirit required to get you to root for them. The structure and tone of the movie is also an incongruous mess that doesn’t know what it wants to be. While I did have fun at times and there are certainly some great moments, I was hoping for so much more, especially from Marvel Studios. With Captain Marvel, the lights are on but nobody is home.