After more than half a year without a Marvel Studios film in theaters, Captain Marvel makes her debut on the big screen. This is Marvel Studios’ first foray into a female-led film, with it being the 21st film in the massive franchise that has become known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the film stars Brie Larson as a Kree soldier who finds herself on Earth, unravelling a mystery that delves deep into her past, as well as the very foundations of the war that she finds herself in the middle of.
While there’s been quite a controversy surrounding the film and how it has been received in political fields, this review will focus on the quality of the movie itself, without letting outside agendas get in the way of reviewing it for the film that it is. With that said, Captain Marvel was an enjoyable flick, adding another colorful hero to the Avengers’ roster. However, it fell just a tad short of the gargantuan expectations audiences have come to expect from Marvel Studios movies.
Higher, Further, Faster…
The biggest strength of the movie is when it explores uncharted territory. The film reintroduces us to the Kree—showing audiences a different side of this alien race, as well as the world they find themselves in throughout this adventure. On Earth, the movie explores the 90s, but nostalgia does not get in the way of the film’s storytelling.
The film might be a slow burn for some, but this is due to the nature of the film’s story. There’s a lot of exploration going on, and the movie really takes its time to go through the beats, before ruminating on about what it means to be a hero—a message ever present in these films. Overall, it’s frustrating that this nuanced exploration of one’s self isn’t developed more, leaving just the potential for a truly groundbreaking movie that has its foundation built on these introspective moments.
The film’s portrayal of Captain Marvel herself is divisive for some. One can see that Brie Larson is a talented actress, as she has proven as such in the films Room and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, but she is somewhat subdued in the film. It may be down to her character not being given the strongest writing, or the story not providing a more in-depth exploration of her character. Nevertheless, she does well with what she is given, and it will no doubt be interesting to see how she performs under the guidance of the Russo Brothers in Avengers: Endgame.
The side characters don’t really get the time to shine either, save for the performances of some. It might not have occured to most who Nicholas Joseph Fury was before becoming the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., but Samuel L. Jackson’s reprisal of the character gave us that backstory with style. In typical fashion, he manages to inject a level of charisma to the film that elevates its overall quality, doing so in a way that reminds us of how fantastic an actor he is. Ben Mendelsohn’s Talos is also a highlight. Over the years, he’s built up a reputation for portraying the bad guy, having done so in films like Ready Player One, Rogue One, and Robin Hood. To an extent, he goes there in the film, but it was refreshing to see that he was allowed more room for expression, and he does so in ways that create a much more compelling character.
Or Maybe Not?
The overall tone of the film is really hard to pin down, something that can be attributed to the inconsistent writing apparent throughout its runtime. There are strange music choices as well, seeming to pander to 90s culture a little too much as these songs are put in the strangest parts of the movie.
Some fight scenes and battles, particularly in the third act, leave a lot to be desired. Oftentimes it is hard to see who is fighting who in the film, and it leaves one in a state of confusion rather than awe. Some fights are also extremely anticlimactic, cutting things short just when things are getting good. This could, at best, leave one humorously surprised, but at worst, it creates bitter disappointment.
The film has a number of problems, but then so do many of the other fan favorite Marvel films. So why is it that there is a large portion of the fans who are having difficulty embracing the film? After all, it’s a perfectly serviceable movie with decent characters and a decent plot.
Therein lies the issue: the character of Captain Marvel, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the fans deserving more than decency.
The film will inevitably draw comparisons with 2017’s Wonder Woman, as they both represent the first female-led films of their respective franchises. While Wonder Woman took the world by storm, people seem hesitant to embrace Captain Marvel in the same light. The film did Diana Prince justice in a way that Captain Marvel failed to do with Carol Danvers. It firmly established her as a character, her morals, her beliefs, and her will in becoming a hero, and thus made Wonder Woman a game changer despite any flaws the film may have had. Captain Marvel makes attempts to do that, but falls short due to writing inconsistencies, and a story that for the most part stifles the character from going through many emotional beats.
From the perspective of the overall franchise, Captain Marvel should have been better, too. Marvel Studios is a company that has constantly defied and reinvented the rules of the game and has set the bar higher and higher. But the movie feels a bit dated; while treading new ground within the universe, it hardly pushed any boundaries thematically. The Guardians of the Galaxy films explored familial bonds, Black Panther delved into themes regarding race and heritage, Infinity War based its story on a protagonist who is the main villain—where films in the MCU are constantly pushing the boundaries, Captain Marvel seems content staying right where it is: teasing certain boundary pushing elements, but never fully committing.
Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s first film in this expansive franchise isn’t quite up there with other blockbusters such as Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Black Panther; but in the end, it is nowhere near the bad film that it is being made out to be. The film provided what may be the last piece of the puzzle before Avengers: Endgame ends the story. There is potential here, not just for these directors, but for the character as well—potential that may be tapped into come April. Nevertheless, Captain Marvel is a fun time at the theater with an interesting premise and a largely entertaining story that adds another piece of lore into the Marvel machine.