Captain Marvel (2019)
Higher. Further. Faster.
If you know me personally, you’ll know that I’ve been calling good ol’ Marvel Studios and Kevin Feige out on their crap for ages, chiefly for their lack of female-fronted narratives. And given that it’s taken them 21 movies to churn out a female-lead superhero flick, the fact that we finally have a Captain Marvel shouldn’t be any cause for celebration — quite the opposite, as it’s long overdue! Contrary to what some will have you believe, Captain Marvel (Marvel’s most powerful superhero) is not the female version of Black Panther (2018), and doesn’t do for women what the Ryan Coogler vehicle did for black representation in the superhero landscape — that title still belongs to Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman (2017), who did it first and did it better!
Before getting into specifics, the character of Captain Marvel (created by Stan Lee and Gene Colan) is a bit of an obscure one, initially appearing as a male (yes, a man) in 1967, before changing gender and becoming known as Ms. Marvel about a decade or so later — there have been numerous iterations since, but this movie version is based on the Captain Marvel comic books by Kelly Sue DeConnick, which began their run in 2012.
When we’re introduced to Captain Marvel, she’s known as Vers (Brie Larson), and resides on the planet of Hala, where she lives with a humanoid race of aliens known as the Kree. Vers, however, is something else entirely, our heroine gifted with an immense power that she’s yet to fully understand and master. Little is known about these abilities, bar the fact that they’re linked to some sort of Kree tech dubbed ‘Supreme Intelligence.’ Vers spends most of her time training with her mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law who’s effectively playing himself), the head honcho of the intergalactic military force where she works, Starforce. Their job is to eradicate a species of goblin-looking shapeshifters called Skrulls, who can take the form of any living thing they see.
After a risky extraction-mission goes awry — where Starforce are ambushed by a bunch of Skrull warriors, led by Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) — Vers is separated from her team, plummeting down to Earth, Los Angeles in 1995, crashlanding in a Blockbuster Video Store (coz nostalgia). Stranded, Vers must remain on the planet until she’s joined by Yon-Rogg, despite being perused by Talos and his pesky assassins, and questioned by Samuel L. Jackson’s S.H.I.E.L.D agent Nick Fury (who’s got both his eyes and a full head of hair). Employing the de-aging technology that was used to make Kurt Russell look younger in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017), and refined even further on Michelle Pfeiffer and Michael Douglas in last year’s Ant-Man and The Wasp, Jackson (who’s now 70 years old) looks about 40 here, as if he’s walked off the set of 95’s Die Hard with a Vengeance, this making the guy the movie’s most impressive special effect! Anyhow, with Vers stuck on Earth, or Planet C-53, memories start flooding back of another life as a tough Air Force pilot named Carol Danvers, these flashes suggesting that she may have visited this ‘strange’ place before, and may not be the person she thinks she is.
Directed by indie twosome Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, Mississippi Grind (2015), Captain Marvel is competently assembled for the most part (minus a shambolic first act), even if it comes off feeling kind of pedestrian and far from top tier Marvel — the action, score and cinematography are okay, albeit quite ordinary. This wouldn’t be much of an issue if the script were actually ‘good.’ Unfortunately, the screenplay by Boden and Fleck — who’ve had help from Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Tomb Raider (2018), and additional story input from Nicole Perlman and Meg LeFauve — is lackluster at best, writers using an amnesia plotline to skimp out on a backstory for Danvers, giving us brief snippets of the character’s past but never a complete picture. We get hints of Carol stumbling (amid some hazy bullying) then picking herself up again (as seen in the trailers), but it’s nothing when you compare it to something like Wonder Woman, and watching Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince train as a little girl, then witness her aunt and mentor Antiope get murdered right before her very eyes.
This leads me to the central performance from Brie Larson, Room (2015), who’s a bland, stoic one-note cardboard cut out. The character (although an amnesiac) looks lost (or bored) for most of the film’s 124-minute run-time, searching for answers connected to her past, or, no doubt, thinking about something else (maybe A Wrinkle in Time). And, fine, we get that Larson and the studio are trying to push for some kind of feminist social reform, but here it really feels as though this type of agenda-driven storytelling is taking precedence over actual character development. There are moments throughout the movie where the gender-related stuff becomes a little too cringe-y, namely a part where an alien discerns the ‘threat level’ of a human male as low (they could’ve just said human), and a particular third act insertion of No Doubt’s ‘Just A Girl’ — we get it, guys, women can be strong and independent, too! We have, however, seen strong, independent women before, in flicks such as Kate Beckinsale’s Underworld series, or Milla Jovovich’s Resident Evil movies, and in television — Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1996-2003) anyone? What’s the difference here? I don’t know … Danvers hasn’t got a love interest and refuses to smile!
With that said, Carol Danvers is probably the least interesting character in the entire MCU; she’s a generic Mary Sue who excels at her newfound powers almost instantly. She’s also totally OP (sure, Superman is strong, but he’s got his Kryptonite). Again, going back to Wonder Woman, we were right there beside her when she ran into the battlefields of No Man’s Land (and because I cared, I felt that shit). In comparison, I didn’t feel a thing when Danvers discovered her untapped potential and began to glow … meh, whatevs. Carol’s journey isn’t compelling. She has no family and no connection to Earth bar a fellow pilot friend Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), who she hasn’t seen nor spoken to for six years. And when they are reunited, there’s no spark or chemistry, which is odd seeing as scribes Boden and Fleck are usually known for their solid character work.
Look, it’s not all bad. The film features a ton of fun retro-centric references, which I dug (i.e., Internet cafes, the AltaVista search engine and a scene where a file takes forever to upload onto a computer), as well as some nifty nineties needle-drops and call-backs to previous McGuffins and characters — Clark Gregg shows up as a young Phil Coulson (whose de-aging work is less convincing than that of Jackson), as do Lee Pace’s Ronan the Accuser and Djimon Hounsou’s Korath, who were last seen in the original Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). Larson’s co-stars are also excellent, these guys reminding us how much fun a ‘Marvel movie’ can still be. Sam Jackson transitions smoothly from bit part to main player as a younger, more naïve Nick Fury, the veteran star providing many of the film’s heartiest laughs — bits involving a scene-stealing ginger tabby cat (or Flerken) named Goose brought the house down at the media screening I attended, and it’s mainly thanks to Jackson that these gags work. The real star and MVP, though, is none other than Australia’s Ben Mendelsohn, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), who delivers the film’s best performance under layers of green latex, Mendo supplying the bulk of the story’s emotional beats, and making me care about his sneaky milkshake-drinking Skrull leader Talos.
Elsewhere, Gemma Chan, Crazy Rich Asians (2018), is pretty kick-ass as expert Starforce marksman Minn-Erva (I wanted more of her) whilst Annette Bening, American Beauty (1999), does the best she can (even dance to Nirvana) as Dr. Wendy Lawson, Carol’s old boss and a scientist who the Skrulls are looking for. Seeing as this is the first MCU picture to open since creator Stan Lee passed in November ’18, the film also begins with a loving tribute to its cherished architect and his contributions to the Marvel universe. And oh, as usual, stick around for the obligatory mid-end credit scenes, the former linking this directly to the forthcoming Avengers: Endgame.
Ultimately, it’s somewhat ironic that Captain Marvel, a film whose message revolves around giving into emotions — women are often criticized for being too sensitive — lacks the very thing it’s trying to sell. And it’s disappointing really. If you’re keen to see a film that features a three-dimensional heroine and some cool action to boot, I’d say check out James Cameron’s flawed yet superior Alita: Battle Angel instead. Higher. Further. Faster. I don’t think so, folks.
2.5 / 5 – Alright
Reviewed by Mr. Movie