Captain Marvel is a frustrating film. It doesn’t boast the signature wit or visual flare of a Guardians of the Galaxy nor the compelling narrative or emotional character development of an Iron Man or Captain America: The Winter Soldier. By comparison, Captain Marvel is a poorly structured and bland superhero origin story that harkens back to a time when the MCU still hadn’t found its identity.
Captain Marvel is the twenty-second film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the first to completely take place in the past. To be more specific, in 1995. This is when we meet Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel, who’s actual name is Carol Danvers, but at the time goes by Vers (pronounced “Veers”). You see, for the last six years Vers has been living as a member of the Kree race on the planet Hala (sounds like “Holla”). We don’t get much insight into Vers’ life on Hala, but we quickly learn she can’t recall her past, she can shoot energy blasts from her hands and occasionally she spars with her mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), who continually reminds her to control her emotions during combat.
After receiving the blessing of the Supreme Intelligence (portrayed by Annette Bening), Vers is off on her first mission with Star Force, a special band of peace-keeping Kree warriors led by Yon-Rogg. Of course, things go wrong and Vers gets captured by Skrulls, the sworn shape-shifting enemies of the Kree who want to access Danvers’s shattered memory in order to locate a tool they believe will help them win the Kree-Skrull War once and for all.
This is all in the first fifteen minutes, by the way.
Eventually, Vers finds her way to Earth and crash lands through the roof of a Blockbuster in California. For moviegoers old enough to remember trips to the video store, it’s a fun moment; however, the novelty of nostalgia doesn’t last long despite the film’s best efforts to remind us that Captain Marvel takes place in the 1990s by playing a relentless and often poorly timed stream of hits from the decade.
This is where we catch up with, or should I say flashback to Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who at this point is a wetter-behind-the-ear S.H.I.E.L.D. agent looking for a reason not to retire. He ultimately finds one using the payphone outside the local Blockbuster and decides to tag along with Vers on her mission to stop the inevitable Skrull invasion and hopefully unlock the memories of her previous life, which currently only reveal themselves to her in brief flashes or dreams.
Now, traditional sense says to recast Agent Fury if you’re going to present him 20 years in the past; however, Marvel Studios seems to have an affinity for the new-fangled de-aging technology that can make even their oldest stars look decades younger. Well, they utilize that tech to stunning and unprecedented effect here on Jackson. The man co-stars alongside Brie Larson (Captain Marvel) for most of the movie, yet never once did I question that I was watching Sam Jackson in a movie two decades old.
The rest of the digital effects in Captain Marvel, I’m sorry to report, range from underwhelming to mediocre, which is disappointing coming off the heels of Avengers: Infinity War, which broke new ground for CGI characters in live-action films with Thanos and was nominated for Best Visual Effects at the Academy Awards just last month.
Additionally, directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck bring virtually no visual style to Captain Marvel. Most of the shots are evenly lit and the cinematography is uninspired, which gives the film an unexciting and dare I say amateurish aesthetic.
My biggest gripe with Captain Marvel, however, is its structure. Repeated extended flashbacks and/or dialogue explaining her past life create a persistent air of dramatic irony that kills the mystery of who Carol’s identity. It is revealed to viewers early on and thus I felt disconnected instead of invested in the questions Carol has.
Take for example The Bourne Identity. Jason Bourne has no clue who he is when that movie starts out, but he slowly uncovers clues and hidden abilities as the it progresses. The audience is invested in Jason’s story because we are consistently discovering new things about him at the same time he is. That story structure creates a sympathy and fosters emotional solidarity towards Jason’s character in a way Captain Marvel fails to do with Carol.
My emotional disconnect with Captain Marvel was weakened further by the film’s lack of character development. Simply put: Carol Danvers has no arc in this film. She is a sassy, hard-hitting badass when we first meet her and she is exactly the same once the house lights click on. Does she learn facts about her past? Sure, but they have no bearing on who she is or how she acts in the end. The only thing that changes is she realizes she is even more powerful than she thought.
Ben Mendelsohn positively steals the show as Talos, the Skrull commander. He brings nuance to the aloofness of his character that I won’t delve too much into for the sake of spoiling anything. But trust me when I say you’ll remember Talos once you walk out of the theater.
You’ll also remember Brie Larson and Sam Jackson’s infectious chemistry. Though the character work is not as here is surface-level at best, you can tell the two actors enjoy working together and that comes through on screen.
What did you think of Captain Marvel? Are you with the 80% of critics who enjoyed the film or did you find it lackluster? Sound off in the comments below and let me know all your Captain Marvel-related thoughts and feelings!