Captain Marvel (2019)


Crash-landing on Earth in 1995, Vers, an extraterrestrial warrior from the planet Hala, begins to have nightmares, dreams of a life she might have once had. See, she’s been told that she is a Kree soldier, locked in an eternal war with the shape-shifting Skrull, but these dreams suggest that she may have actually once been Carol Danvers, a human air force pilot. Her commander, Yon-Rogg, tells her to ignore these visions, insisting that they are implants put there by the Skrull, who did tamper with Vers’ memories while she was captured. But before she can ask too many questions, Skrulls show up, hoping to catch her again, and she winds up running into a young government agent by the name of Nick Fury, and they all chase each other across the country for… some reason.

Captain Marvel is a film that a lot of people want to love, and a lot of people want to hate. For my part, I don’t really care. I’ve made it clear in previous reviews that I’m not a huge Marvel fan, but, at the same time, I never want movies to be bad. They’re a source of entertainment that I’m paying to see. I want to get my money’s worth out of them. And having watched Captain Marvel, I can safely say that I don’t regret going to see it, but, at the same time, I can’t necessarily recommend it to you all. Now, starting off with the positives, Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury is great, and the CGI they used to make him look younger is terrific. The film moves quickly. There’s a touching tribute to the late Stan Lee at the beginning. There are some funny moments scattered throughout, and I actually really like what they did with Ben Mendelsohn’s character, the leader of the Skrulls. I won’t spoil it, but he is actually a very likable, very sympathetic villain. I cared about him a lot, much more so than Carol, which leads me into my biggest criticism of the movie.

Captain Marvel has many problems, most of them script-related, all of which conspire to make the film’s central character not that interesting. Part of this has to do with how she is introduced. In most superhero origin movies, we start with the character before they get their powers, we learn a bit about them, we see them obtain said powers, and then they go on a specific mission or quest. Captain Marvel doesn’t do that. It starts with Carol already having her powers, living on Hala, and going on missions. We get no introduction to the Kree/Skrull conflict, what her relationship with her team is, or how she got her powers. And while we do eventually get an answer for that last one, it comes very late in the story, long after the film has tried to get you to care. It feels like the writers were scared people would be annoyed by “yet another” origin movie, and so decided to just jump in without much explanation, but, here’s the thing; not knowing anything about your central character can create a distance between you and them. What little we learn about Carol’s past is given to us in brief flashes and snippets of dialogue. We never really sit in these moments. Instead, the film cuts back to the present, and the “mission,” as much as possible, which is ironic, because, like I said, the film doesn’t really have a central plot. Carol doesn’t have a single goal throughout the story. What she wants to do changes drastically whenever she learns something new. First, she wants to kill some Skrulls on a distant planet. Then, when they capture her, she wants to escape. When she escapes by crash-landing on Earth, she wants to get home. But then she starts having Flashbacks to her old life and wants to find out what these images mean. And this pattern of, “learn something new, completely change your goal” happens repeatedly throughout the rest of the story. This is poor writing because, if you don’t know what your hero wants, and the characters themselves are just bouncing around without any apparent purpose, they, and the films they’re inhabiting, can wind up feeling listless. Even movies that don’t have central plots, like Wong Kar-Wai’s In The Mood For Love, still have characters with single, discernible goals. Mrs. Chow and Mr. Chan aren’t pursuing Lost Arks, but they are pursuing each other. We know what they want. I don’t know what Carol wants in this movie, since it changes so often, and, as a result, she winds up feeling kind of flat. Which brings me to my final criticism of her character, the fact that Brie Larson seems somewhat miscast. I’ve read tons of reviews which include the sentence, “She’s a fantastic actor, but–” and I’m not going to repeat that. I’m just going to cut to the chase, and say, “she just didn’t work here.” Her line delivery was kind of wooden. Now in fairness to her, a large part of that is due to how her character is written, with not much personality being conveyed in her dialogue. And I imagine that the directors told her to be more serious, no doubt as a means of conveying her strength. But you don’t need to be serious all the time to be taken seriously. It’s okay to smile, cry, be scared, and show self-doubt. These are relatable, human traits. She can be strong and emotional at the same time. And to the film’s credit, that does appear to be the underlying message, with Carol becoming more expressive as the story unfolds. It’s just the filmmaking itself kind of undermines that message. Which brings me to my final criticism of Captain Marvel; it’s filmmaking. There are choices made, like in the cinematography and editing, which kind of hurt the movie. There’s an action sequence on this alien planet, which is so poorly lit, and full of smoke, that I legitimately couldn’t tell what was going on. There’s a ton of 90s pop music played throughout the story, including one particularly obnoxious use of a No Doubt tune during a fight scene, and they kind of get distracting. The No Doubt song is clearly meant to hammer home the idea that Carol is not going to be silenced by men, and is fighting back, but it’s so heavy-handed that it becomes annoying. People in my audience groaned when they heard it, which is not good for a movie that’s seeking to empower women. Speaking of groaning, the revelation of how Nick Fury lost his eye is beyond stupid. Yet another bad filmmaking decision.

Now, in case it sounds like I hate this movie, I don’t. Like I said, it’s never boring, it has some funny moments, and I really like the direction it took the Skrulls. It’s a Marvel film, so you know that the sets, costumes, and make-up will all be up to a certain standard. And I’m glad that we’re getting more female-led, female-directed blockbusters. I just had problems with some of the storytelling, editing, and acting choices, which I feel undermined the film and its message. Wonder Woman is also a female-led, female-directed superhero movie. But unlike Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman takes the first few minutes to go over the protagonist’s origin, gives her a single, clear goal, and allows the character to show emotion. Yes, it’s not perfect, but all of these qualities I just mentioned make it a superior movie to Captain Marvel. Then again, this is just my opinion. You may love Captain Marvel, and if so, good for you. I’m glad you enjoyed it more than I did. These are just my thoughts. Make of them what you will.


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