Movie Review - Captain Marvel
Since you’re likely a nerd reading this site, I’m hoping I won’t have to overly explain myself with the following analogy. You know how every so often (once or twice a year for DC, once or twice a week for Marvel) there’s a line-wide crossover…’Worlds live, worlds die and nothing will EVER be the same’, that sort of deal? In these, there are the peripheral tie-ins, maybe making some mention of the great cataclysm that everyone else seems to be participating in or focusing on some aspect away from the main storyline…then there are the main tie-ins, the books you need to pick up in order to get the whole story (even though they always try to tell you that all the story you need is right there in the main limited series…which is ALWAYS bullshit). And in every crossover you’ll buy into, there’s always at least one title that’s included that isn’t typically in your pull list…whether it’s because you hate the character or don’t like some aspect of the book (writer, artist, the direction the title’s going, a nerd’s nit-picks are endless). Anyway, you buy it because, duh, complete story…and sure enough, it ends up being a disappointing chapter.
In the grand crossover that has been the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I finally have that issue…and it’s Captain Marvel.
Now, don’t hate me yet. I get it. 1) It’s Marvel, so everyone loves it and I’m just a bitter old asshole if I don’t. [And yes, your DC Fanboy status will be used against you in the court of public opinion. – Ed.] 2) I’m going to be VERY upfront about the fact that I’ve never been a fan of Carol Danvers as a character in all her various superhero identities, so, yes, I come into this review with a little bit of baggage and a little bit of bias. And 3) Pulling myself away from said bias, yeah, I can see the good things about this film and will readily admit that I appreciate what Marvel is trying to do…although we’ll talk about how they could’ve done it better.
Let’s start off with the big one: I'm not a Carol Danvers fan. Never have been. In my exposures to Carol, she’s had a confidence (that’s good) that’s bordered on, and often tipped over into, arrogance (that’s bad). Now, surely the same thing could be said about the Green Lantern Hal Jordan…so why do I like the male DC one and not the female Marvel one? Clearly, I’m sexist, right? No…for me, Hal has usually channeled that into humor while Carol turns it into a chip on her shoulder. And hey, maybe she has a reason to be that way…but it’s just not a personality that clicks with me. I don’t like those type of people in real life and as such, I’m not gonna read about them in my escapism. Simple, right?
That being said, while I knew I was going to go see this film, because comic book movie, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to it…and as such I knew that this would color my opinion. What I will say as a compliment to the movie is that yeah, it’s pretty true to the Carol of the comics. Brie Larson does a great job bringing that character to life and taking her through the journey that the film presents for her. And I can say that because I didn’t like movie Captain Marvel any better or worse than comics Captain Marvel. I get that sounds like a backhanded compliment but look, I’m of the mind that if a movie can make you feel something, be it a positive or negative emotion, then the movie has accomplished something and thusly, in my mind, is well done.
Before we plunge too deep into my likes and dislikes with the movie, let’s go into briefly what it’s about and no, there won’t be any spoilers. The movie opens with an amnesiac Kree soldier (an alien race we were introduced to back in Guardians of the Galaxy that come in three colors: Blue, Black and Honkey), Vers (pronounced Veers and yeah, this is our good Captain), in training, as she’s having difficulty keeping her emotions in check and thus, butting heads with the Kree way. Her mentor, Yon-Rogg, played by Jude Law, leads her and a team of other Kree soldiers called the Starforce. They’re dispatched to retrieve a Kree sleeper agent on a border world of the Empire…but things go awry when they get ambushed by the Kree’s ancient enemies…a shape-shifting race called the Skrull. While much of the team is able to escape, Vers is captured and interrogated by the Skrulls aboard their ship…and this is where we meet Talos, played by the seemingly always reliable Ben Mendelsohn, the Skrull leading this particular band. Fighting to get free, Vers finds herself stranded on a strange alien planet…Earth in the 1990’s…and in the custody of SHIELD, in particular, a young agent named Nicholas Fury. Having had a jumbled mess of memories knocked loose by the Skrull interrogation and egged on by clues she finds on this world she’s supposedly never been to, can Vers find a way to make sense of her past, the war she finds herself in the middle of and the backwater planet and people that she seems to have a strong connection to?
With a few exceptions, this film, like a number of Marvel Movies doesn’t really do anything new…so to sit and write a critique, you have to weigh in more on the presentation, the nerd factor and how well it adapts said nerdish things to the general audience. And for the most part, Captain Marvel checks the boxes as well as all of Marvel’s previous entries. It was nice to finally see Skrulls enter the MCU and, yes, as any Marvel fan will tell you, once they appear it’s only a matter of time before Secret Invasion takes place. And that prospect does have me very excited about future Marvel phases. It’s great to see that as we reach the climax of the Infinity Stones saga that the next big thing is already being developed.
As I alluded to, the story isn’t particularly original: amnesiac following clues to piece together their past and along the way discovering that nothing and no one are as they seem. And, I think as Marvel’s first female-led film, it succeeds in what it has to do to varying degrees. Unfortunately, given that we got Wonder Woman back in 2017…as well as how some of the gender inequality issues were handled in the storytelling…sadly Captain Marvel already feels a little behind and not as sophisticated as a film two years older than it. This movie also suffers from what I’m starting to call ‘Supergirl Syndrome’: telegraphing its entire story and being extremely heavy handed with its messaging, not being persuasive with its feminist message but instead opting for the repeated bludgeoning of its point. I want to be clear, I’m not one of these nerds that was dead set against this movie because of something Brie Larson might have said to the press or the countless other reasons there’s been some internet hate directed toward it. Yes, I had my biases going it, but those were tied directly to the character as I’ve already addressed. Instead, this film is written without an ounce of subtlety. It doesn’t champion girl power, it champions GRRRRRRRRRRRRLLLL POWER! It almost feels like it’s written by people who spell ‘women’ like ‘womxn’ (yes, this is a real thing and yes, I REALLY wish I was making it up). Perhaps the best way I can sum up their difference is that Wonder Woman felt more about gender equality: Steve Trevor and Diana always felt like equals and one didn’t necessarily have to listen or play second fiddle to the other…and didn’t for the majority of that film. Whereas with Captain Marvel, while the chemistry between Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson is good (after all, they did work together previously in Kong: Skull Island), the young Nick Fury in this film seems to play second fiddle to every woman he shares the screen with, whether it’s Danvers or, later on in the film, Maria Rambeau. But, again, to be as unbiased as possible, the thing is perhaps I’m not the intended audience. Maybe this is aimed at young girls or women in need of a tale of strength or a role model/heroine to look to when the boys have soooooo many, someone that they can finally see on the big screen and say ‘yeah, that COULD be me’. That’s fine and I can totally accept that. Sure, since DC beat them to the punch, with both Wonder Woman in theaters and Supergirl on TV, Marvel needed this. But even within the Marvel Universe, we’ve already had a message of diversity that didn’t feel exclusionary of anyone with Black Panther. That’s not to minimize Captain Marvel’s importance, again, as I just said, Marvel needed this…but the good Captain’s message could’ve been handled better and made more palatable. And that’s weird to see from a company like Disney who usually aims for the vanilla-iest of the vanilla. Even weirder? For once, DC has them playing catch-up for a change!
One last negative…and that deals with the period nature of the film. Just as Bumblebee was guilty of taking EVERY SINGLE OPPORTUNITY it could to remind you that the film took place in the 80s, well, this film does exactly that to remind you that “HEY, DUMBASS…THIS MOVIE HAPPENS IN THE 90S!” Given that we’ve already talked about this films distinct lack of subtlety, sure, this isn’t exactly a surprise, but it does chafe a bit after a while.
Let’s wrap this up on a positive though: the interplay between the characters is good, aside from when there’s a point to be bludgeoned and, for me, I always welcome an opportunity to dive into Cosmic Marvel…as it’s always been my favorite aspect of their comics. While it has a different flavor from Guardians, there is a consistency that one would expect when it comes to depicting this side of the MCU. And, to be honest, I kinda dug the gender-swap on one of the important characters in Captain Marvel’s mythos…that was cool and will keep those familiar with the character guessing. All the other reviews you’ve read have likely commented on this…and they’re absolutely right, Goose steals the show. Oh, and I can’t believe I nearly forgot this, the film comes with not only Stan Lee’s usual cameo, but a wonderful little tribute at the beginning that yes, will jerk on the tears of even the most embittered nerd. [Which is apparently you, given this review. – Ed.] Speaking of Stan’s cameo, there’s a damn good reason Kevin Smith cried…and good on Marvel for giving him this fairly touching shout out.
Again, I get it, Captain Marvel was not for me. I’m not a fan of the character and the writing was pretty heavy handed on lessons were handled better by the Distinguished Competition. But it is a movie Marvel needed in its lexicon and now, here it is. As any movie goer has come to expect, it continues to have the qualities that have made the Marvel films as bankable as ever and, like my earlier crossover analogy, you do need this if you’re going to jump in to Avengers: Endgame coming up in April so of course it goes without saying that you’re gonna need to stick around through the credits. But it’s more than just a little odd to see Marvel on the footing that WB’s DC movies usually find themselves on: in a rush to catch up and in trying to do so, end up overcompensating and ultimately hurting the final product. For good or for ill, Captain Marvel meets expectations and is an important addition to the MCU…but with a heavy handed narrative and message, it’s not going to be for everyone.
Plain Cat - Not my favorite MCU entry, in fact, pretty close to the bottom for me, but there are enough good to great to awesome things as well as potential for future films/storylines that help to take the pain away from the overly preachy grrrrl power vibe.