Review: Captain Marvel
Marvel Studios had a landmark year in 2018, with the cultural touchstone “Black Panther” becoming the first ever superhero film nominated for Best Picture as well as the highest grossing movie of the year stateside.
Then there was “Avengers: Infinity War,” the studio's juggernaut, superhero mash-up event film of the year that became the fourth movie ever to make more than two billion dollars in the box office.
The delightful and highly entertaining “Ant-Man & the Wasp” was just the cherry on top for the Marvel 2018 lovefest.
Even “Thor: Ragnarok,” “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” “Doctor Strange,” “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” and “Captain America: Civil War” were fun and high-quality films that have set a new standard for Marvel—just over the last four years.
All this being said, Marvel has built a cinematic empire with a certain level of quality expected, and with “Captain Marvel” as the first-ever female-led movie for the studio, the public holds even greater level of expectation for the 21st film in the 11-year franchise.
So, what’s the deal with Captain Marvel?
“Captain Marvel” takes us back to the year 1995 to introduce us to Carol Danvers, who, after obtaining powerful abilities from alien technology, loses all memory of her life on earth as an Air Force pilot and joins Starforce, a team of elite operatives working for the Kree alien race.
Starforce is a military unit led by Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) whose mission is to eliminate shapeshifting invaders, the Skrull, from infiltrating and taking over worlds across the galaxy.
For those who need additional context, the evil blue guy that Chris Pratt dance battled in the first “Guardians of the Galaxy,” Ronan the Accuser, was a Kree extremist.
On the other hand, the Skrull are new to the movies, but they have played a significant role in the comics in the past, most notably with the famous “Secret Invasion” storyline.
So why is “Captain Marvel” significant to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)?
If you recall the post credits scene to last year’s “Avengers: Infinity War,” as Nick Fury was crumbling to ash he managed to send out a page that featured the “Captain Marvel” logo, obviously indicating that he sent out a last resort call for help.
Now we have a full movie to explain the identity of this hero who is supposedly needed to save the universe after the ending of “Infinity War.”
Back to the Basics
The choice to set “Captain Marvel” before the explosion of events throughout the MCU was a smart choice, giving the film the freedom to tell a new story independent of 20 other movies.
That's why it's a bit unfortunate to say that “Captain Marvel” really doesn't take advantage of this opportunity much at all.
Setting it back in the '90s was a neat idea, and the filmmakers do have some fun with it, but it’s primarily used as a way to fill in some holes and play around with some of the lore.
Ultimately, the movie plays like one of the studio’s earlier efforts, back when they were still finding their footing. The film has disguised its basic origin story narrative by restructuring it around Carol’s memory loss, but in doing so it lost a lot of what makes those stories compelling despite the familiar beats.
For example, we never really get a full picture of who Carol really is, nor do we get to see the progression of how she became “Captain Marvel” in any meaningful way.
The only information we get about the character before her transformation is shown to us through minimal flashbacks that reveal she's fallen down a lot—but don’t you worry, she's also gotten back up time and time again.
It’s an effective image to repeat for sure, but without context or any real understanding of her motivations, it’s left feeling like a hollow attempt at achieving an emotional response.
Cast of Characters
Academy Award-winner Brie Larson (“Room”) takes the screen as the titular hero. Larson does fine with what she’s given, but that’s just the issue—she’s not given much. It’s a shame that her talent feels so wasted here, given the significance of her role within the testosterone-dominated MCU.
Several characters from past Marvel movies get to make an appearance in the film.
Lee Pace and Djimon Honsou reprise their roles from “Guardians of the Galaxy” with small cameos. Despite the brevity of his screen time, it is nice to see Clark Gregg return to the big screen as a baby-faced Phil Coulson before his time spent recruiting Avengers.
The de-aged Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury is definitely the highlight of the movie. The youthful effects look impeccable, and Jackson is clearly having a good time getting to play with a much younger and less experienced version of the character who has never even seen an alien before.
Rounding out the cast, Annette Bening, Lashana Lynch and Ben Mendelsohn deliver quality performances that, much like the rest of the movie, just feel a bit underdeveloped.
I almost completely forgot about Jude Law being in this movie, and given the significance of his role, that should be all you need to know about how I feel about that.
Still Looking Up
While overall I was left feeling like the film was lacking, I still found the film adequately diverting and pretty enough to look at that I ended up not having a bad time.
If this film had come out around 2011 or so, it would have been par for the course with much of its Marvel contemporaries, all of which I enjoy just fine. However, “Captain Marvel” is the victim of raised standards, and in that way I cannot fault the film for not meeting the imposed standards in every department.
Nothing quite gels as well as it could have or has in other similar films, but that’s not to say it’s bad—it’s just not as good as one has come to expect.
As far as the film on its own, I’d say its a totally fine, perfectly watchable experience. As part of a greater universe 21 films deep, I wish it had felt more substantial. But we’ve seen an underwhelming start rise into something great before (look no further than the “Thor” movies), so I’m optimistic about the future of the character and the role she is going to play in the Marvel Universe.
And we don’t even have to wait that long to see what's next because “Avengers: Endgame” comes out in just over a month.
Runtime: 2h 3min
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive language