It’s been 11 years since Marvel began their journey of creating one of the most lucrative cinematic universes in film history. Through those many years, there’s been some major highs (Iron Man hitting big, Captain America: Winter Soldier changing the game, Guardians of the Galaxy proving little-known titles could also score big, Black Panther nominated for a best picture Oscar, and securing a deal with Sony for the rights to include Spider-Man) as well as a few stumbling blocks (director controversies; Thor: The Dark World), but even the most mediocre film in their arsenal is better than sitting through Suicide Squad. So, it’s a bit hard to talk about Marvel’s newest entry, Captain Marvel, not because it’s bad, but because it comes off a little flat in comparison to the majority of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
There’s plenty to admire about Captain Marvel, starting with Brie Larson, who brings the title character (aka Carol Danvers) to life. She imbues Danvers, also known as Vers, with a strength that allows her to be vulnerable without being weak. She is funny, smart, caring and fierce all rolled into one, creating a well-rounded character that doesn’t have to be ashamed of her emotions while standing toe-to-toe with the villains trying to take her down. Every beat of the character’s journey from loyal foot soldier to betrayed friend is played with the utmost honesty, and Larson brings you along for the ride with the perfect amount of flair.
It’s also great seeing Clark Gregg back on the big screen, sharing screen time with Samuel L. Jackson as younger versions of Agent Coulson and Nick Fury, respectively. They both found their groove in a more idealistic presentation of the characters before they were hardened (or desensitized) by the realities of the universe. The de-aging technology that Marvel has been employing in several of their films now has progressed to the point of wondrous. Never did I believe that either actor was being manipulated or computer-generated in any way. And with Jackson’s near lead role in this film, that’s a testament to how far the technology has come in its young age.
Then there’s Goose, the awesome tabby cat that always seems to find a way to tag along with Danvers and Fury as they try to stop the Skrull, a shape-shifting alien race led by Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), from tracking down a weapon that could wipe out the Kree, the blue-skinned alien race who’ve popped up in not only Guardians, but had a major arc in season 5 of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The cat is used as the perfect sidekick, never seen as a nuisance or a prop.
The majority of the rest of the cast fits in well, from Jude Law as the commander of the Kree army, to Annette Benning as both Danvers’s mentor and the image Kree high intelligence generates when Danvers must meet with the A.I. that control all of Kree actions. The action was on par with the best of what we’ve seen prior and the references to nineties culture were used sparingly and never felt forced. Finally, much like Solo, we get some references to nostalgic moments, finding out what Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) and other Kree warriors were prior to the events of Guardians, learning the reason behind Fury’s eye patch (not near as bad as how Han got his surname) and subtle hints to the future of the MCU.
Where it seems to fall flat is in the direction and the overall story.
Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck fail somewhat in capturing the true heart of the character or her meaning within the universe as a whole. It feels slightly muddled with a off-kilter editing style, a color palette and cinematography that are nothing special, and the inability to fully capture the fun moments when they occur. The balance between humor and drama is also a little weak in some places, making it feel as if they weren’t quite sure how to manage it all, pulling from what’s come before, then pretending it’s all new and fresh.
The story Boden and Fleck (along with Geneva Robertson-Dworet) chose to use to map out Captain Marvel’s origin also comes off a little weak — not in the overall writing, which is right on par with every other film in the series, but in the placement of the film itself. They can’t quite seem to manage the fact that the film takes place prior to every other film. Several moments come off weak simply because hardcore fans of the series (and even those who have just seen all of the films) already know what’s coming, which inherently make some of the twists and story beats feel outdated and rushed. One of the major story threads, in fact, felt odd up until the major reveal. But by then, is it too little too late?
Compared to other films outside of the Marvel universe, the film stands as a great movie. It has a lot of terrific moments, some great acting and a lot of well-delivered action sequences that help the film stand on its own two feet. As part of the MCU, though, the film falls a little short as it tries to manage your expectations while delivering a character whose overall backstory doesn’t quite fit right among the rest of the films.
I have no doubt that Larson herself will fit right in among the rest of the team when she enters the fray in next month’s Avengers: Endgame, but will her presence be enough to give her the power to help the team find a way back from the events of Avengers: Infinity War and defeat Thanos on a level that feels authentic and natural? I hope so, because I believe Carol Danvers and her alter ego are strong characters that deserve to be given the royal treatment. I just felt in this instance, Captain Marvel was given a bit of the short straw when it came to developing the backstory of a character that can be just as innocent as she is badass.
My Grade: A-
Next week, new movies include Five Feet Apart and Wonder Park. If you would like to see a review for one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.