Most of the time, Marvel Studios deals squarely in the realm of the mediocre. Sometimes a Marvel film will dip below being just watchable and sometimes they rise to the level of ‘pretty good,’ but more often than not any given installment in the MCU is treading water.
As such, “Captain Marvel” comes as a modest disappointment, officially signaling the end of a hot streak of ‘pretty good’ that the studio had been on recently starting with “Spider-Man: Homecoming, going through “Thor: Ragnarok” and “Black Panther” and seemingly ending with “Avengers: Infinity War.”
It’s not bad, but it’s extremely forgettable and almost guaranteed to draw unfavorable, possibly unfair, comparisons to Patty Jenkins’ superior “Wonder Woman.”
Vers (Brie Larson) is a Kree (first introduced in “Guardians of the Galaxy”) partaking in a war against the shape-shifting Skrulls aided by a squad lead by the name of Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). She is getting disconnected visions detailing memories of a life she is unfamiliar with. A battle with the Skrulls causes her to crash-land on Earth, where she enters the radar of SHIELD and a de-aged Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).
It is worth mentioning that the movie opens with a tribute to the recently deceased Stan Lee in its opening credits that is genuinely lovely and liable to get a few standing ovations. The acting is also, mostly, quite strong.
Apparently star Brie Larson is in trouble over comments she made about a perceived lack of diversity in the film press. These comments seem to have been twisted and taken out of context. Speaking subjectively; I don’t take this backlash very seriously, and it would be disappointing to see this factored into appraisals of “Captain Marvel,” whether it be the film’s critical reception or its box office.
Larson offers up a game performance, which moves us to the first problem with “Captain Marvel,” which is that the titular captain is more of a blueprint of a character. She has an arc, the film is about her self-discovery and empowerment, but it doesn’t explore that much beyond surface level characterizations.
Early on in the film, when we are getting flashbacks to Vers’ past, they seem to carry an implication that the tough exterior that we have seen Vers display so far is a performative masculinity that she was conditioned to employ. It presents the idea of toughness as a safeguard against some other form of abuse, which is an original angle to take the strong female character.
The movie offers up a hint of an implication that there might be more to a strong female character than simply performing as male, which is a compelling angle to explore in a future sequel. It would have been great in this movie.
Jackson is passable. The CG used to de-age him looks convincing, which considering that could have backfired in a major way, is not bad news. The issue is that Jackson’s titanic talent is put to use as the comic relief character, and while the breaks for humor are not as obtrusive as they are in other Marvel movies, just about every character in these movies is a comic relief character most days.
(SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT)
The film’s biggest issue is its script. Most will know going in that Captain Marvel is a woman named Carol Danvers, yet in the context of the film, this thing that can be revealed in a simple google search is played as a major discovery. That, in turn, makes these parts of “Captain Marvel” tedious to sit through when they needn’t have been.
The big twist midway through the film is that the Kree are the villains and the Skrulls are sympathetic. This is a clever idea from a casting perspective, cast handsome Jude Law as Danvers’ Kree comander and the villainesque Ben Mendelsohn as the primary Skrull. The way this is revealed is via an audio tape where the movie stops for five minutes to explain away what should be an earthshattering emotional moment for Danvers.
There are other things to complain about, but “Captain Marvel” is never anything less than watchable, and its post credits scene is a genuinely exciting tease for “Avengers: Endgame.”
It’s a B-/C+.