Jacob Richardson | 06/03/2019
Despite a strong hero turn from Brie Larson, this groundbreaking Marvel film feels predictable and rote.
Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) woke up 6 years ago on the planet of Hala, home of the Kree. With a fiery power emanating from her hands, she worked hard with Yon Rogg (Jude Law) to control her emotions and train as a warrior. Finally she gets the opportunity to mount her first mission against the Skrull, a shape-shifting breed of dastardly colonists. But the mission goes wrong, and she winds up crash-landed on Earth, pursued by Skrull leader Talos (Ben Mendelsohn). Little does she know, but Carol Danvers grew up here on Earth, and stopping the impending doom with require her to rediscover her life on this green planet.
There is a lot to love in Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s Captain Marvel. Some of the action is fun, albeit generally shot in a murky haze. It is bright, exciting and consistently entertaining, if in at ambling and relaxed pace. Brie Larson is an incredible lead, and personifies the power and vivacity of the titular hero throughout; she truly is Captain Marvel.
The buddy-cop dynamic between Carol and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is also frequently hilarious, as is an incredibly dangerous cat. They light up the screen with witty banter, and you’ll find yourself laughing at pretty regular intervals throughout this film.
Boden and Fleck play with the 90’s aesthetic to delight. It’s a joy to see throwbacks to such classics as Blockbuster, underscored by a consistently uplifting 90’s soundtrack of classic bangers, working to convey the culture of the time. Whether or not certain songs or search engines were actually around at the time the movie is set be damned; this movie loves a good throwback, and knows its audience won’t care about those minor details.
One should never forget the significance of this film as a cultural moment. There hasn’t yet been a female-led Marvel film, and this is the 21st entry in the extended universe. Boden and Fleck make sure to hit all of the culturally important messaging in Captain Marvel, whether it is taking down mansplaining Yon Rogg, or the constant thread that Carol Danvers has to overcome so many more obstacles than her male counterparts.
So far, so good then, right? Alas, the problems with Captain Marvel start almost immediately with the story. Frankly, not only does this movie feel rote and predictable, but also unconscionably inaccessible and ill-timed.
On the predictable front, Captain Marvel’s underdog hero tale is one we have heard countless times before. There are some fun little twists on the villainy, but in general it is what we have seen in any number of other Marvel movies; a hero who is discounted because of some inherent trait, who has to learn to believe in themselves to defeat a villain intent on vaguely ‘destroying the world’. It isn’t going to win an award for complexity. Perhaps its closest comparator in terms of cultural touchpoints is Black Panther, but where that movie was specific, convincing and defined, this feels loose and generic.
When we are making comparisons, we can also look at Avengers: Infinity War. Nestled between Infinity War and Endgame, this movie feels like a limp bridging entry, rather than the kickoff of a new hero. One almost wishes that Captain Marvel was introduced to the MCU with a bang like Thor crashing into Wakanda in Infinity War, rather than being given a standard origin story with relatively unimportant stakes.
The final nail in the coffin is the lack of accessibility. Marvel films are consistently criticised for being inaccessible to the uninitiated, and certainly there is a feeling that in many respects that criticism is unwarranted as if you wanted to be interested in a Marvel movie, you should familiarise yourself with the preceding content beforehand. But for this movie, the first with a female lead front and centre, maybe that shouldn’t be the case. Maybe for those who, for the first time, can see themselves on the big screen as a superhero, the barrier to entry should be a bit lower.
Whereas Black Panther made a very self-contained and well explained story that did just that, Captain Marvel right from the outset loads you up with such a broad range of characters, locations, phrases and linkages with other films that even one who has seen every Marvel movie might struggle, let alone the uninitiated.
It speaks to a larger testament about this movie; it just feels like more of the same. We love Marvel movies, so that isn’t such a bad thing - it’s just that, with such a groundbreaking moment, with such an incredible cast, with the most powerful hero in the Marvel roster and with two great indie directors, one wanted something a little more challenging, boundary-pushing and, dare I say, interesting.
Not a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination, but not the shakeup the MCU so sorely needs.