Director: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Writers: Anna Boden (screenplay and story by), Ryan Fleck (screenplay and story by), Geneva Robertson-Dworet (screenplay and story by), Nicole Perlman (story by), Meg LeFauve (story by) Starring: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn
Runtime: 123 mins
MPAA Rating: PG-13
For better or worse, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has grown so expansive to the point it is easy to get lost in the myriad of tales that comprise the saga. What is impressive about the MCU is that the studio and creative minds behind it all have fine-tuned their formula to the point that they can essentially guarantee that none of the movies will be incoherently bad (looking at you DC) and all of them will be enjoyed by the target audience on some level. Having established a strong foundation with distinct, cool, and likable characters, Marvel has reached the point where they can efficiently create complex spectacles that have resonance beyond the scope of the movie you are currently watching, and the vast majority of these films stand out on their own. However, that same formula holds them back from ever doing anything really bold since they have to cater to their established target audience and necessarily run through a rote checklist of things that have to be in each movie. Being the precursor to next month’s be-all-end-all Avengers: Endgame, Captain Marvel is a pivotal entry in the series and has the tough task of needing to stand out from the previous seventeen films while also needing to introduce and bring motivation and depth to a brand new character. So…does it succeed?
Well…yes and no. Captain Marvel is an origin story. That is not necessarily a bad thing. At a high level, the plot structure is rather clever in the way that it avoids the tired old origin story formula for a new superhero. We immediately get the formidable space-suited Captain Marvel doing her thing with blue blood pumping through her veins. From there, the origin is presented as a mystery, revealing bits of Captain Marvel’s red-blooded human past as her “present-day” (which is in reality the mid-90s) plot unfolds on planet Earth. Along the way she runs into a young Nick Fury (and Agent Colson, but he is less important to the plot). Together, they go on an adventure to neutralize an extra-terrestrial threat and discover the secrets of her past and who she really is.
It all sounds exciting and it should be, but the execution is poor. Two directors and six writers is in general a bad sign. The biggest problem with this film is that Captain Marvel is just not very interesting. Brie Larson, a fine actress, gives a performance lacking any sort of charisma and is just boring, and I do not even think it is her fault. The character is just written very flat. I can tell they were going for a cool and collected female action hero who is also snarky and brash, but her dialogue is just so monotonous and awkward for the most part. With this character, they had the chance to genuinely develop the female empowerment angle in a more nuanced way as Captain Marvel and for the most part they do as she is almost always the strongest person both mentally and physically at any given point in the movie. However, the movie also needs to pander and beats you over the head with that idea through obnoxious, awkward, and unintentionally funny flashbacks. Samuel L. Jackson, who was given the digital Fountain of Youth for this production, stands out as always, this time as a younger, less intimidating Nick Fury. Jude Law plays Captain Marvel’s mentor and is fine as the most predictable character ever. The actresses who play Marvel’s fellow female pilot and that pilot’s daughter give terribly unconvincing performances (there is no reason the young girl should have been given that many lines of dialogue). Once again, I completely blame the writing as well as the direction for not extracting better performances. The direction is painfully poor all around. There is an action sequence on a train involving Captain Marvel pursuing a shapeshifting foe and the extras are just so incompetently directed to the point that it is hard to take seriously. The editing is unnecessarily jumpy during action sequences and makes it hard to focus on anything. The film’s pacing is not fluid, having a brisk first half followed by the energy coming to a grinding halt for about a half hour which is in turn followed by a fast-paced, over-the-top finale. The plot takes an extended period of time getting to some pretty predictable places and it makes me wonder if a more traditional structure would have worked better for simplicity’s sake. Negative aspects aside, I enjoyed the production design for mid-90s United States as it captured the feel of the time period fairly accurately; little details such as a Blockbuster, a Nine Inch Nails t-shirt, etc. help bring it together. Finally, as expected, the CG is above average as one would expect for a Marvel movie.
As I said before, this film is successful in some ways and fails in others. The film adequately introduces us to Captain Marvel and puts her into prime position to make an impact in the immediate Marvel future. However, the film fails to get me excited for seeing more of that character. Captain Marvel is simply boring, overpowered, and vaguely defined. I enjoy the personalities and motivations of most of the Marvel characters and completely understand their strengths and weaknesses, but, with Captain Marvel, I am not intrigued in the slightest. Hopefully, she is used in a more interesting way in Endgame, but all this film did was make me less excited for it. Examining this film in a vacuum, it is a painfully average supernatural action flick, and I would not recommend it unless you are fully invested in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and cannot live with a gap in your knowledge.
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