Captain Marvel may not be marvelous but Brie Larson is


Captain Marvel isn’t spectacular in its entirety, but the assembled cast creates an atmosphere that’s positively extraordinary and transcends its flaws.

Since Marvel started putting out movies with Disney it’s been asked time and again, when was a female superhero going to get a solo film?

That question was partially answered in 2018 when Disney and Marvel released Ant-Man and the Wasp, but it truly comes to fruition this week with the arrival of Captain Marvel (that’s Mar-Vell, by the way).

Captain Marvel nicely holds the Marvel way of storytelling in her photon-blasting hands, acting as both an origin story and a lead-in to Avengers: Endgame but the two are often at odds. Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck are indie darlings with a penchant for storytelling that gets dwarfed by larger-than-life sci-fi elements needed to further the Marvel brand, leaving this to be a great superhero origin story hobbled by the corporation using it for their own selfish purposes.

Marvel Studios’ CAPTAIN MARVEL. Captain Marvel (Brie Larson). Photo: Film Frame. ©Marvel Studios 2019

The origins of Carol Danvers and her transition to Captain Marvel starts on the alien planet of Hala, where Carol is a woman without a past. She ended up on Hala six years ago with nothing but a name, Vers, and vague memories involving aircraft, friends, and a woman known as Wendy Lawson (Annette Bening).

Vers is on a mission to stop the Skrulls — evil aliens with the ability to replicate into any person they want, intent on infiltrating and destroying the universe — when she’s kidnapped and her memories awoken. Stranded on planet C-53 (known as Earth), Vers becomes committed to finding out her past and stopping the Skrulls… or so she thinks.

In its two-hour runtime a lot happens within Captain Marvel and yet it takes about an hour for things to truly coalesce. The scenes on Hala breathlessly establish a world not too far removed from Guardians of the Galaxy. In fact, watching that 2014 feature, as well as the first Avengers, are musts if you aren’t 100 percent solid on your Marvel lore.

Marvel Studios’ CAPTAIN MARVEL. L to R: Leader of Starforce (Jude Law) and Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Brie Larson). Photo: Chuck Zlotnick. ©Marvel Studios 2019

The Skrulls are touted as the film’s big bads and as soon as we’re introduced to Vers, her mentor (Jude Law), and a team that consists of a wasted Gemma Chan and Djimon Hounsou, Carol is immediately kidnapped. Held captive by the Skrulls, a beautiful flashback is allowed to unfold with snippets of Carol’s past life on Earth unfolding, as well as some 1980s misogyny that will leave you cringing.

Brie Larson is wonderful as Carol and bonds you to the character even when the material doesn’t. Her camaraderie with Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury is great, particularly as it opens the — as far as we’ve seen — closed off head of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Marvel Studios’ CAPTAIN MARVEL. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Photo: Chuck Zlotnick. ©Marvel Studios 2019

Jackson gets to let loose, sing a little, and generally just presents us a Nick Fury still awed by the presence of aliens. Watching him make googly eyes at a cat tells you this was a man who wasn’t always committed to the job and, in fact, might have a life outside it.

Larson and Jackson create a comedic duo that anticipates each other’s moves, though the true heart of Carol’s relationships comes through in her friendship with Lashana Lynch’s Maria Rambeau. The moments of female friendship between Lynch and Larson aren’t given a lot of time considering they detract from the fighting, but they give Carol moments of humanity, away from the hard exterior she’s built up.

Marvel Studios’ CAPTAIN MARVEL .L to R: Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) and Captain Marvel (Brie Larson). Photo: Film Frame. ©Marvel Studios 2019

It’s evident that Marvel hopes Captain Marvel will appease critics who find Marvel’s emphasis is on male characters only. Boden and Fleck certainly understand how to create characters who have messy relationships. Carol’s interactions with Jude Law’s character are uncomfortable in how insidious his manipulation of her is, which doesn’t truly come through until the end, but there’s a hesitancy to go too far into things.

Really, much of the film’s feminism has a hollow, “rah-rah” element that rings as simplistic in a world where Wonder Woman was more overt. Carol’s discovery of her power and besting over the men in her life is good, but it’s a movie that falls back on a 1995 definition of Girl Power, and in 2019 hearkening back to 1995 doesn’t work.

The problem lies in how much of the movie is meant to establish Carol Danvers herself and her life on Earth and how much set up there is for Endgame. The movie doesn’t really understand how to balance the two. The space-set sequences and side characters are painfully underdeveloped, with the likes of Gemma Chan having nothing to do but pepper the atmosphere.  It’s as if this was a role she took on well before Crazy Rich Asians.

Marvel Studios’ CAPTAIN MARVEL. Starforce. Photo: Film Frame. ©Marvel Studios 2019

Annette Bening plays the Supreme Intelligence, the equivalent of God and the President on Hala, but audiences’ only get one scene in order to know who she is as well as what type of world we’re in on Hala. Strong moments of character development are immediately dashed away for extended fight scenes leaving characters to feel more like archetypes and not actual people. An extended sequence in Louisiana seems drawn from another movie entirely and should have been developed further.

This underdevelopment leaves the third act feeling confusing and unearned. It’s hard to fear what we don’t understand. And yet that mantra permeates Captain Marvel in a way that rings truer than the feminist message it wants to be about.

Marvel Studios’ CAPTAIN MARVEL. Captain Marvel (Brie Larson). Photo: Film Frame. ©Marvel Studios 2019

Ben Mendelsohn plays the lead Skrull, Talos, whose plotline continues the colonialist themes iterated by Hela in Thor: Ragnarok. The interplay between the Kree, Skrulls, and Carol is biting and it’s hard not to see a story about refugees “invading” the “border” of a country as similar to what we’re seeing now in America.

It’s moments like these, though, that the film doesn’t seem to answer with as deep a nuance as in other Marvel movies, especially in a world post-Black Panther. To his credit, Mendelsohn actually gets to shine in a good movie, giving Talos an empathetic core as well as having excellent comedic timing.

Marvel Studios’ CAPTAIN MARVEL. Captain Marvel (Brie Larson). Photo: Chuck Zlotnick. ©Marvel Studios 2019

As mentioned already, Captain Marvel isn’t a standalone film and that’s also a problem in a film landscape where Marvel had seemed to figure out how to make these movies fly solo while still giving off hints of a continuing plot. Here, audiences need to be well-versed in elements from movies released nearly a decade ago.

Suffice it to say if you don’t remember the villain from Guardians, how the Tesseract factors into everything, etc. you will be confused, and that’s the saddest thing about Captain Marvel. It openly forsakes story to become a Marvel movie, almost erasing its autonomy for a corporate overlord (hmm…).

Captain Marvel is on par with most Marvel movies and it should be so much more. Brie Larson is worth the price of admission, as are some fantastic musical cues, but the movie feels messed with to its own detriment. Being the lead-in to Endgame was always going to force the feature into developing certain storylines for an eventual payoff and it shows. This feels like just another cog in the wheel when it should have been revolutionizing the industry.

Learn the history of Captain Marvel here:

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