Directors – Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Cast – Brie Larson, Samuel L Jackson, Jude Law, Ben Mendelsohn, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Gemma Chan, Annette Bening
Rating – 3/5
It’s a bit of a miracle that despite such a rocky take-off, Captain
Marvel manages to regain any sort of control over its journey at all. From the very first scene, the film pounds you over the head with grand world-building, pointless backstory, and unintelligible exposition. Arriving late is out of the question.
While you’re still familiarising yourself with the vibe (and perhaps still reflecting on that excellent new Marvel fanfare), Brie Larson has already had two fights and learnt valuable lessons that may or may not come in handy in the film’s final battle. There has also been a lot of talk about an ongoing war, a bulbous information dump about alien species known as the Kree and the Skrulls, as well as a bunch of planet hopping.
There’s a lot to enjoy in Captain Marvel, though – especially since the pre-established goodwill of the Marvel Cinematic Universe will likely be forgiving to its many flaws – but it can’t help but feel stunningly insignificant in the larger scheme of things. It’s like a feature length trailer for the character – all set-up with little payoff – and reignites repressed memories of Iron Man 2.
Like that film, the primary agenda here seems to be setting up an Avengers movie; this time it’s Endgame. At more than a decade old now, the MCU has found that it can evoke nostalgia from the simplest moments – the return of Agent Coulson, despite not being a secret at all, will likely be welcomed with warm applause. Some of the film’s best scenes are the ones in which Coulson and a young, more optimistic Nick Fury pretend like they’re in a ‘90s buddy cop movie.
Unfortunately, Captain Marvel, for lack of a better description, is just another Marvel movie – set to a robotic, unmemorable score; deeply reliant on old tropes; and featuring yet another underwhelming villain. It falls squarely into that half of the MCU that feels entirely committee driven; not at all like some of the franchise’s best films – Iron Man 3, Guardians of the Galaxy, the first Avengers, Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok, which were all proudly stamped by their filmmakers’ personalities.
Perhaps the most unique contribution directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck make here is to extract a brilliant performance out of their Mississippi Grind actor Ben Mendelsohn, who makes the objectively hilarious choice of retaining his native Aussie accent. Despite being slathered in Idris Elba-Star Trek levels of makeup, his Skrull character is easily the most relatable of the lot. His arc is also the only time the film is likely to wrong-foot the very clued-in MCU fanbase.
There is no point in trying to explain the finer details of the plot here, and I’m certainly not going to pretend like I understood any of it. But the film’s strange, non-linear structure robs it of any chance of having an emotional payoff. Because we know so little about Carol Danvers – she disappeared like Amelia Earhart from the face of the Earth, but is also an amnesiac Kree warrior – it is difficult to fully invest in her journey.
Whatever little spark she has is all thanks to Larson’s witty, charming and immensely down-to-earth performance. Most of her shortcomings, however, can easily be blamed on the five credited writers who’ve had a pass at this thing. The screenplay is a hodgepodge of clashing ideas, where dramatic storylines jar gratingly with the more science-fictiony elements.
In fairness, Marvel certainly hasn’t spared any expense in introducing Carol to the universe. Under the fine eye of cinematographer Ben Davis, who is largely responsible for the look of the MCU’s intergalactic excursions, the film switches between several aesthetics – with nifty homages to not just ‘90s buddy cop movies, but also ‘90s action (Top Gun) and ‘90s sci-fi (Armageddon).
Perhaps that’s the movie Boden and Fleck initially pitched to Marvel, before it was diluted by too many cooks. As it stands, it’s a better Nick Fury origin story than a Captain Marvel origin story.