“Captain Marvel”: not so marvelous

“Captain Marvel” tries to be a lot of things during its two hours. On one hand, the film is another high-flying (literally), high-octane superhero action flick that we’ve come to expect from Marvel Studios. At the same time, it makes an attempt at being a socially-aware, empowering film, since it’s also the first female led Marvel movie.

While trying to balance both ambitions, “Captain Marvel” doesn’t do either justice, resulting in a uneven and oddly generic movie.

The film tells the origin story of Carol Danvers (Brie Larson). When we meet her, she’s a member of Starforce, an elite intergalactic mercenary squad. Danvers seems to have amnesia, not remembering anything about her life before Starforce aside from a few fragmented memories.

When a botched mission leaves her stranded on planet Earth, hunted by a villainous species of shape shifting aliens known as the Skrulls, Danvers finds herself teamed up with a young Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and whisked away on an adventure to save the world – an adventure that also holds the key to her illusive past.

What holds “Captain Marvel” back is an uncharacteristically weak script. The character’s backstory and mythos are admittedly complicated and strange, so I can understand the screenwriters’ need to boil things down, but they overdo it and remove all the flavor.

This causes Danvers to come off as a fairly one-note, uninteresting character. She lacks the personality of her Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) cohorts. She feels like a generic hero lady who cracks jokes and skulls only when she needs to.

This lack of characterization hampers Larson’s performance. She’s clearly giving it her all and having fun while doing it, but no matter how hard she’s trying, she just can’t elevate the weak material she’s been given.

Nick Fury suffers a similar fate. The brooding, dark mastermind of The Avengers Initiative is reduced to nothing more than goofy buddy for Larson to quip with. For a long-time fan of the MCU, it’s off putting.

The film has been at the center of controversy due to alleged feminist overtones. These claims are unfounded because one: there’s nothing wrong with a superhero movie trying to empower women, and two: the film doesn’t flesh those themes out well enough for it to matter.

The theme of empowerment is certainly there, but it gets lost beneath the action (which is admittedly pretty cool) and the trademark Marvel humor (not so cool). Any moment of weighty subtext feels sudden and underserved, and the film moves on to its next set piece before there’s a moment for it sink in.

“Captain Marvel” is not a bad film. It just, much like Carol Danvers, doesn’t know what it really is. The end result is a movie that’s just okay, but that’s disappointing as it could have been so much more.

2 out of 5 Stars

mason.robert.dredge@mail.umkc.edu

1 Comment

  1. j__m

    March 22, 2019 at 7:04 PM

    this film is amazing, and even more so on a second viewing. it does a fantastic job as a 90’s era action flick. it doesn’t really contain any gender politics beyond what you bring to the theater with you. the very existence of this film, and what it means for representation, can be seen as a feminist triumph, and there’s nothing in the film that will contradict that view. however, when “i’m just a girl” plays during a fight scene, it immediately follows a scene in which an alien demeans captain marvel as only human, and she decides that being human is actually a strength. that’s the context of the song — that she’s just a [human] girl, fighting technologically advanced alien oppressors. in summary — anyone looking for a good time will have it, and anyone who has a problem with it made up their minds before ever seeing it.

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