Well, now we live in a world where Captain Marvel has come out…the first MCU movie headlined by a female superhero. For some people this is great big huge deal, and apparently for others, it is a sign that this is the end of days. Or at least that’s what I’ve heard. Maybe there really are people who believe it is a sign of the end of days, but I guess I don’t frequent the right websites because I’ve never read anything by any of them directly, only by those who are refuting them. (Spoilers ahead).
For me, it’s certainly not the end of days. A female superhero taking a lead role in the MCU was an inevitable, welcome, non-event, which was only odd in that it’s taken as long as it has (it’s a little mystifying that a Black Widow film has only just recently gotten moving). It only directly effects things in the movie in that it all tries a little too hard to be significant in this way. Carol Danvers (for she’s never called “Captain Marvel” in the movie) is cool, tough, sassy…and just a bit too self-confident to be interesting. But she is self-confident enough to be an iconic female superhero, which maybe fulfills what Marvel was going for, but doesn’t lend itself to the strongest possible film.
To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with Captain Marvel, not really. It’s got good performances, clear storytelling, and satisfactory sequences. And it’s got quite a strong story concept going for it, which should have lent itself to an emotional character-driven film, about a warrior who realizes she was actually an abductee and who is now fighting for the wrong side. But somehow, the movie’s handling of this material leaves me a bit distant and cold, like I’m never really able to engage with Carol, or to identify with any struggle that she has to overcome.
Indeed, Carol barely struggles in the movie at all, even though there was plenty to work with there. All of her fights, all of her emotional upheavals, all of her identity-shattering revelations, they all come just a little too easy for her. Even at the climax, Carol ultimately wins not through any act of courage or resourcefulness, but simply by just cutting loose when she realizes that she’s way tougher than she first thought.
It’s hard not to compare this film to Wonder Woman, with which it shares some superficial similarities. In addition to being about female superheroes, both movies show it’s heroine in a fish-out-of-water predicament in mundane America (though Carol only seems to occupy this position for a couple of minutes), both connect them to the American military, both reveal that the expected villain is not the real villain, and both feature the character ultimately kicking butt in the climax by coming to realize the true power that lies within. But while Diana was able to draw me into both her strengths and vulnerabilities as a character, Carol always keeps me at arms length.
I don’t think this is a fault of the actress, Brie Larsen. I think she does a good job and she oozes charisma all over the place. She makes Carol Danvers into an awesome hero whom the Avengers are going to be grateful is fighting alongside of them against Thanos. But for whatever reason, the clearly capable directors–Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck–keep her from being a person that I connect with or even really enjoy being around. It’s as if the film’s attempt to ape the action movies of the story’s 90’s setting, combined with its self-awareness of introducing the MCU’s first female lead character, has all resulted in something that’s a bit too much style and not quite enough substance. And that’s disappointing because there is tremendous potential in this story to give us a rich, layered superhero action-drama, but the resulting product never quite gets there.
Samuel L. Jackson co-stars as a young Nick Fury, which is interesting to see from a Marvel Cinematic Universe history sort of way. He does a good job playing a less jaded version of the character, though looks unavoidably weird thanks to his CGI de-aging. Jude Law shows up Carol’s alien squad leader, who is neither the best nor worst villain Marvel has ever introduced. And ubiquitous villain Ben Mendelsohn plays the leader of the movie’s Skrulls, who reveals to us that Skrulls actually have thick Australian accents, which is, frankly, a strange choice.
Speaking of Skrulls, the debut of Marvel’s longstanding race of alien shapeshifters was something I was excited about. It seemed like a great way of introducing all sorts of nifty paranoia-driven stories into the MCU. But when the Skrulls first show up, they seem to be lame and unconvincing antagonists, a fact which is justified by the movies midway twist: the Skrulls are actually sympathetic refugees, and the real villains are Carol’s Kree comrades. This is a decent turn of events as far as it goes, but it does seem to throw away some potentially strong future story material. I think there should have been a way to maintain the Kree as the movie’s main villains, without going so far as to making the Skrulls “good guys.” And I think that might have helped this movie by making Carol’s early battles more intense and dangerous.
On a final note, there’s a cat named Goose in the movie which featured prominently in the trailers. It turns out to not be a cat, but some shape-shifting alien (not a Skrull, but some other shape-shifting alien). The shots where you see that it’s actually this horrific monster (albeit a mostly friendly one) make for some of the least convincing CGI that Marvel has had to offer, and invites comparisons with those over-powered monsters in Han Solo’s hold in The Force Awakens.
And whilst all this makes a cute side-element to the movie, it makes zero sense story-wise. When they still think it’s a cat, nobody wonders why this cat is roaming around SHIELD headquarters or why it’s following the heroes on the plane they steal. When it’s a revealed to be an alien, nobody wonders where in the world it came from or what it’s doing on earth, or why it’s roaming around SHIELD headquarters or why it’s following the heroes on the plane they steal. It feels like the writers simply didn’t care because…hey, it’s funny, right? And it is funny, but it’s also a little annoying…especially when it’s used to make Nick Fury’s loss of an eye into a dopey joke.
So there we go, Captain Marvel…a movie I wanted to love and which I should have loved, but instead made me slightly bored and made me wonder if the so-called “Superhero Fatigue” was finally catching up to me. As such it’s one of the biggest disappointments that I’ve had with the MCU, even if it’s not the worst movie (or even a genuinely bad one). I wanted to interview a couple of my daughters for this post–I’d like to see what ways their perspective, as young women, is different than mine–but I ran out of time and they’re going away for a few days, so that will have to wait.
Until then I’m looking forward to Avengers: Endgame (which of course, does get directly referenced in a post-credit scene) and seeing, amongst other things, how Captain Marvel fits into that whole tableau.