Perhaps the best way to describe “Captain Marvel” is that it feels outdated, like a movie Marvel Studios would have made in the mid-2000s.
Much like “Doctor Strange,” the movie dives into the origin story formula that defined the early Marvel movies, such as “Iron Man” and “Thor.” It is honestly shocking to see Marvel return to this kind of story after more recent entries in their filmography have been far more willing to take risks.
This formulaic approach leads to “Captain Marvel” having a hard time standing out from the crowd, a problem that plagues many aspects of the movie. However, a few great performances and a tight script elevate “Captain Marvel” above pure mediocrity and make it worth a watch. The film begins by introducing us to our lead, an amnesia-stricken woman (Brie Larson) going by the name of Vers. Having lived among the Kree, an alien species, for the past six years, she puts her mysterious abilities to work as part of a Kree commando team led by Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) in their campaigns against the Skrulls, an empire of shapeshifting terrorists.
In the aftermath of a battle against a group of Skrulls led by General Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), Vers crash-lands on Earth in 1995. She then joins forces with S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to hunt down the Skrulls, simultaneously discovering that she once had a life on earth as a pilot named Carol Danvers.
The best thing to get out of the way is that the first act of the movie, where Vers conducts a mission alongside her commando team, is absolutely terrible. It also lays the groundwork for almost everything wrong with the rest of the film.
Simply put, it’s a poorly done sci-fi piece filled with clunky exposition, bogged-down pacing and exceedingly-boring characters. The Kree make absolutely no impact as characters and are all essentially interchangeable with any other generic sci-fi soldier.
It’s impossible to care about them, and they come dangerously close to bestowing the same problem on our lead, a potentially fatal error. Thankfully, “Captain Marvel” picks up once Vers lands on Earth, joins up with Fury and begins to discover her identity as Carol; the focus of the movie then shifts to these two characters and their interactions.
The dynamic between Carol and Nick is by far the best part of “Captain Marvel” — the chemistry between Larson and Jackson is put on full display. It is delightful and fascinating to watch a young Nick take his first steps into the world of superheroes and exhibit a playfulness that’s grown out of him in his older incarnation.
It can be easy to forget with all the jokes surrounding him, but Jackson is still one hell of an actor and it’s a treat to get to see him take center stage in a Marvel film. In addition, the de-aging effects on Jackson are mind-boggling; the actor looks like he could have just walked off the set of “Die Hard 3” with only a few minor slip-ups in the façade.
My feelings toward Larson’s performance are complicated. To be fair, she plays her role well enough as the brash, headstrong hero who favors brute force over any other strategy. However, she is without a doubt crippled by the film’s plot and characterization of its lead.
For one thing, Carol has absolutely no character growth. She starts as a snarky heroic soldier-type and ends as a snarky superhero, despite the whole plot point of her re-discovering her lost identity and personality. It is incredibly frustrating to see Larson held back by this, and I hope that it’s a problem that we can see go away in future appearances of the character.
On the villainous side of things, Mendelsohn brings his trademark level of melodrama to the character of Talos, chewing the scenery as probably the most sardonic and affable Marvel villain yet.
However, Talos’ character had an unexpected layer of nuance, providing him with depth that just goes to show how far Marvel antagonists have come from the likes of Red Skull or Ronan.
The action scenes also play a large role in weighing down “Captain Marvel.” Once again, they feel like they could have come out of the earlier era of Marvel movies. To begin, we’ve got some boring fight scenes of a depowered Captain Marvel throwing down with generic mooks, without any interesting choreography or scenarios.
Sadly enough, these prove to be the action highlights of the film; after a certain point in the plot, all the stakes simply vanish as Captain Marvel tears through any and all opposition without breaking a sweat in a gross mismatch of opponents.
This final sequence honestly feels insulting, in that the movie is trying to convince you that any of our hero’s opponents could even hurt her. Her final battle is not won through sheer determination and skill, but rather acts as an undeserved victory lap.
There are also a few moments in “Captain Marvel” that are blatant fan service, and the worst kind of fan service at that. Some scenes which only act as fan service seriously undercut the impact of previous Marvel films.
For instance, remember the infamous scene in “Solo” where the movie took the time to give us a ridiculously contrived origin for Han Solo’s name? A similar incident happens in “Captain Marvel.” Someone needs to get the message to Hollywood that not everything needs an explanation.
As Marvel’s first female-led superhero movie, the expectations for “Captain Marvel” were high. First and foremost, the movie’s feminist message is not subtle. Pretty much every aspect of the film has some level of additional meaning that can honestly get a little worn out over the two-hour run time.
However, considering the wide range of the movie’s audience, and the fact that the message is clearly aimed at young children, I’m willing to give it a pass. If I had to choose between a kid potentially missing out on an important takeaway or me getting a little annoyed by the repetition, I’ll gladly take the latter.
“Captain Marvel” isn’t a bad movie; it’s not even an average one. However, the sad truth is that so many parts of the movie are either mediocre or bad that it makes it easy to forget what the movie does right. Larson, Jackson and Mendelsohn are all great to watch in action, but their success only makes a greater contrast with the failures this movie makes.
I can only hope that, like Spider-Man and Dr. Strange before her, Captain Marvel excels in the Russo brothers’ “Avengers” films. Both Larson and the character Carol Danvers deserve better than what they got in “Captain Marvel.”