“Captain Marvel” review

by Austin Casey | Staff Writer

After not one, not two, but twenty previous movies in this massively popular franchise, “Captain Marvel” has finally given the Marvel Cinematic Universe both its first female-led superhero film and its first female (co-) director and it was about time. While the movie will assuredly be remembered for breaking that new ground, for being the first on-screen adaptation of the character, for being compared to “Wonder Woman” probably more than is necessar, and for simply being included in any part of this juggernaut series that has no signs of slowing down, the question must be asked: Will it be remembered by the actual quality (or lack thereof) of the film itself?

The answer to that question has to start by examining what the movie set out to accomplish. The number one goal of course is to establish on a basic level who the heck this character is for people who have never picked up a comic book or heard of her before and that much is indeed a success. Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) is a superhero with truly immense power who got her abilities as an adult and seems to try to do the right thing through some confusion about her past, her identity and the many forces (both human and alien) of the universe.

It is an origin story of sorts because we do see how Captain Marvel becomes a hero. However, the story is revealed somewhat non traditionally, as she starts the movie as a member of an alien race with her powers (and with visions of a past life on Earth) and the audience discovers exactly what happened along with the character, which generally works. The film is trying to do a lot more than a straightforward origin story like “Batman Begins” however; an obvious consequence of being the 21st movie in a series filled with lore.

These other tasks surrounding that central challenge of establishment are what makes the movie feel a bit too busy. This is also a movie that presents two alien races, the Kree and the Skrull, and the intergalactic war the two sides are engaged in. It functions as a 1990’s period piece on Earth, a task in itself, but also depicts the foundation of secret organization S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avenger Initiative, and does some set up for the climactic next installment in the MCU, “Avengers: Endgame.” The movie being a flat two hours was a good idea and to be honest the pacing and organization of events is just fine, but these other side goals make the movie feel like it’s about too many things without being about something in the way that something like “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is about resilience and the danger of biting off more than one can chew or “Black Panther” is about tradition and identity.

While the movie can sometimes feel like it is missing a deeper message, it also left me thinking that it was short a gimmick of some kind to make it more memorable and unique. The comedy and colors of “Thor Ragnarok” make it stand out amongst the genre, as do the inventive action sequences of “Ant-Man.” I suppose perhaps the 90’s setting and seeing younger versions of characters like Nick Fury was meant to serve that purpose, but it only truly affects the soundtrack of the film. That soundtrack, while filled with some catchy throwbacks, is not meshed well with the typical superhero score in any kind of natural blend. It’s as if any given scene had two options: generic orchestral themes or radio hit, without any thought put into how to integrate the two or implement them to their maximum potential.

There are more minor flaws to pick out as well. The comedy, while not as forced as in some other MCU titles (I’m looking at you, “Doctor Strange”), still falls flat a large portion of the time. Some scenes had an almost awkward level of low energy, particularly a stretch where Captain Marvel is at a former friend’s house and the emotions should be much more intense. In the third act when she is at her strongest, Captain Marvel is also essentially unbeatable which is true to what her character is supposed to be but also deflates any dramatic tension. And some twists were predictable even by superhero movie standards. I’m sorry, but it just isn’t shocking that a group that is set up in the first half of the film to be flawless heroes are not actually as perfect as they seem, or that an often-present cute harmless kitty turns out to not be so innocent.

All in all, the movie is successful but not stunning, and competent but not “call your parents and tell them to see it”-level quality. The choice of directors (Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck) was somewhat strange just based on their indie-based filmography and the finished product feels perhaps a bit more generic than I would have hoped, but it’s difficult to see this movie as a failure in any serious way. It goes without saying that we need more female superhero films to make sure all voices are heard in this genre and Marvel did a good job making this character one to look forward to seeing more of even if giving this “Captain Marvel” movie a second watch seems unlikely to me. 7/10

Film Information:
Title: Captain Marvel
Directors: Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck
Released: March 8, 2019
Runtime: 124 minutes
Genre: Action, Superhero
Starring: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson