For 21 movies now, Marvel has been taking us on a one-time-in-a-generation ride. If you haven’t at least been aware of what Marvel has been doing the last ten years, then the odds of you finding this blog are very slim. Its unprecedented. And I think we will look back on this time in movie history with the same fondness as those who look back at the original Star Wars, or the time when people would go to see the same movies in theaters over and over again.
Unfortunately, after a great run, that includes Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, and Avengers: Infinity War, the Marvel machine has put out a couple of weaker entries: last summer’s Ant-Man and the Wasp and now Captain Marvel. That sounds like I think the movie is bad. It’s not bad at all, but it’s nowhere near the levels of the top tier movies Marvel has produced. That’s the problem with connecting all these movies. The audience is being asked to compare them. When you raise the bar with one film or series of films, then anything less still feels like a let down.
Kudos to writer/directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck for trying to subvert the typical origin story structure. Captain Marvel stars Brie Larson as the titular hero, or Vers (pronounced VEERS) as she is known at start. She begins the film already super-powered and ready to roll, on an alien planet, a part of a Kree warrior unit called Starforce, and has no memory of her past. This of course bothers her, although everyone around her tries to get her to let that go.
After a battle, kidnapping and torture, she ends up back on earth (in 1995) with some memories of her previous human, non-super powered life beginning to surface and is pursued by the sworn enemies of the Kree, the Skrull. They are a shapeshifting alien race at war with the Kree. They can mimic anyone and even take on some of the recent memories of those they mimc. This is a fun plot device that the directors play with to good effect.
Vers runs into a young Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and the two try to figure out what the Skrulls are after and piece together Vers past, which hopefully holds the key to the present. Plot plot plot. There is a lot of plot, and a lot to unpack. There are twists and turns. Some you see coming, and some are genuinely surprising and fun.
The supporting cast is all aces in this outing, including Annette Bening, Jude Law, and Ben Mendelsohn. Jackson really shines, which is nice for Marvel fans, as he has been mostly on the sidelines of these films, even while being some of its strongest connective tissue. Honestly, if the supporting players didn’t carry most of the weight, the film would have been a mess.
Brie Larson is fine as Captain Marvel. I can’t decide if the decision to make her an amnesiac for most of the film is the issue (writing) or if she just doesn’t have the spark the writers were going for with the dialogue. There is just something a bit off in her portrayal and Vers is the least interesting character on screen most of the time. That’s not great news when the movie is about her and carries her name.
If you are Marvel, and the goal here is to tell a female superhero origin story that inspires young girls and invites them into the Marvel tent as fans, then you could not have picked a more bland character to do that. I am not a girl, but I am married to one and am raising another, and if I wanted to show my daughter the story of super powered girl that doesn’t know who she is or where she came from, I’d just stick with the latest Star Wars trilogy. Rey is a much more complete, compelling character.
By the end of the film, I did feel hopeful about where they were taking her story, however. Usually after a “meh” intro film, I’m not too intrigued by the prospect of a sequel (see Doctor Strange and Ant-Man), so that is at least a win for the filmmakers.
The story has some pretty interesting themes its playing with, such as the nature of war, heroism, and emotion and intelligence. Of course it’s a popcorn flick, so they don’t delve too deeply into those themes. It is a bit disappointing to see a fluffier effort from Marvel when Black Panther felt like such a breakthrough a year ago. That movie showed you can tackle big, even controversial themes with popcorn fair to great effect, all while still thrilling audiences. I guess one can’t expect too much from ALL their comic book movies.
Look, the good news is that the movie isn’t terrible and doesn’t do any damage to the Marvel brand, and it gives the Russo brothers (directors of the upcoming Avengers: Endgame) another character to play with. They have proved the ability to round out some characters that had rough introductions (see Scarlet Witch, Vision, and Black Widow to a degree). They may have a character arc planned for Captain Marvel in the next installment that makes this movie more enjoyable in retrospect. Or maybe it will make a bunch of money and then we will forget it (I’m looking at you Iron Man sequels).
At any rate, if you are excited about Endgame, this will tide you over until then. OR you could skip this outing all together if your not a completist like myself.