After ten years and 20 movies, the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to grow, building on its timeline and introducing probably its most powerful hero in this weekend’s “Captain Marvel”. This film has stirred a lot of buzz, both good and bad, but its most notable claim to fame is that it acts as the first female-led superhero movie in the MCU. On top of that, it’s the lead-in film to next month’s “Avengers: Endgame” and follows a nearly flawless track record of Marvel projects that have all been certified “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes. Oh, and star Brie Larson stirred controversy due to her wanting more diverse journalists to cover the film while many have taken to comparing it to DC’s female-led “Wonder Woman”. So, yeah there’s a lot going for and against this picture. But I’m here to look at it subjectively. No controversies, no personal bias, I just wanted to review “Captain Marvel” as it relates to not only past MCU movies but also how well made it is as a project all its own. So, without further ado, this is my review of “Captain Marvel”.
“Captain Marvel” stands as the second film in the official MCU timeline after “Captain America: The First Avenger”. It takes place in 1995 and focuses on Vers aka Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) who is a member of the elite Kree strike force called Starforce. Vers experiences nightmares hinting at a past she can’t fully remember while she trains under her mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) to learn to control her emotions and her special abilities. The Kree are at war with a race of shapeshifting beings called the Skrull. When Starforce is sent on a mission Vers is captured by the Skrull and escapes, finding her way to Earth. There she meets S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and teams with the agent to gain intel on a secret device the Skrull and their leader Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) are after. In the process Vers learns about her past as human pilot Carol Danvers and uncovers a conspiracy that challenges everything she knows. Danvers must embrace her powers and her inner hero to do what’s right and end the Kree-Skrull war before Earth is caught in the crossfire.
I have a lot to say about this movie, so strap in. First off let’s get the hero herself out of the way right off the bat. If I’m being honest while I enjoyed Brie Larson as Captain Marvel to an extent, I didn’t find the MCU’s strongest hero to be as memorable as some of the other characters brought to the big screen. Don’t get me wrong she has her moments…many in fact, but one of the issues I had with “Captain Marvel” was a lack of depth into who Carol Danvers is and the lack of truly effective character moments. We do learn a lot about Danvers as the story progresses and she uncovers her past, but for a Kree soldier with powers who discovers she is from Earth, she seems to take the news of her previously unknown identity pretty lightly. In fact, it seems that the people around her are more taken aback by her revelations than she is. I’d even go so far as to say Carol Danvers is actually one of the least developed or interesting main characters in her own movie. She is a fun hero to say the least. Brie Larson brings great charm to the role and sells us on this sarcastic, over-achieving and witty adventure seeker who is unafraid to test her powers or take on any challenge. So, we DO get to understand what makes her a worthy hero, but we don’t get to see what makes her HUMAN.
In past MCU films heroes have been handed moments that test and challenge them on a personal level. “Captain Marvel” does include a scene that challenges the hero’s resolve, but doesn’t really challenge her on a deeper level. This comes earlier in the film through the big twist and it happens so quickly neither the viewer nor the characters, including Danvers herself, really have time to digest the true impact of the moment. This could be explained away by Carol’s confidence in herself as she takes the revelation in stride and does that needs to be done, but it doesn’t make her interesting. She’s almost too resilient. We also have some tender moments with Carol and her best friend Maria, played by Lashana Lynch, and Maria’s daughter but these moments lack enough depth to really sell Danvers humanity or her coming around to realize what she has missed out on for the last six years. Once again she just seems okay with it all. By the time the film was done I felt like I understood who Captain Marvel the hero was but I knew very little about who Carol Danvers the human was. When you look at other MCU movies you can pick out moments like T’Challa standing up to his dad or Tony Stark realizing he shouldn’t make weapons anymore or Thor realizing how his arrogance and ego has affected his brother Loki. These are all much deeper, more developed and better built moment to challenge the hero on a deeper level than anything we get from “Captain Marvel”.
With that said though even while Carol Danver’s actual character ark might not be as satisfying as I would have hoped there’s still plenty to love about this movie even if it’s pretty formulaic and paint-by-numbers most of the time. The supporting cast, including Jude Law, Samuel L. Jackson, and Ben Mendelsohn, are all pretty spot on and are having just as much fun as Brie Larson bringing this story to life. There’s some great humor mixed into the script that reminds us not to take it all too seriously and it balances several different tones nicely, going from straight up sci-fi to casual humor and even touching on the subtext of refugees that was a relevant in the 90s as it is today. It also moves at a brisk pace. “Captain Marvel” isn’t tedious or drawn out. It knows what it wants to be and while it could have and maybe should have been more it does a fine job providing harmless escapism to entertain the masses. There are also a LOT of references to other elements of the MCU that, in the official timeline, actually come into play AFTER this movie takes place which, if you’re an MCU nerd like me, provide some great “Ah Ha!” moments that help tie “Captain Marvel” to the rest of the franchise. The fact that Carol Danvers is the first hero other than the frozen Captain America to be discovered also eliminates the consistent plot hole present in other MCU movies as to why heroes from the Avengers have to take on a challenge by themselves. The Avengers don’t exist yet in 1995 so it makes sense Danver’s exploits would be her own. So as an entry in the larger cinematic universe and a source of pure superhero entertainment “Captain Marvel” hits most of the right marks.
One of the complaints a lot of people will probably have about the film though is that this origin story follows a familiar formula to many other MCU movies. A lot of the same story beats as past Marvel movies are worked into this film to the point where it becomes terribly predictable. Even the big twist wasn’t much of a surprise for me because, well, as fun as each MCU entry tends to be there’s always this sense that we’ve seen this before. It’s fun to see it again reimagined for a new hero but you can definitely feel that there’s a slight lack of imagination here and that Marvel might be leaning a bit too heavily on a formula that continues to work but is showing signs of wear and tear. It’s still fun to watch and the studio continues to find new and inventive ways to reimagine the same concepts over and over, but “Captain Marvel” was the first time I truly said to myself that maybe some of the fun was taken out of it because we already knew what to expect from a Marvel movie. It doesn’t ruin the experience by any means, but it does water down what should have and could have been an even more epic entry in the franchise.
Adding to that, the MCU has made great strides in recent years in solving one of its biggest criticisms, the lack of great villains. While “Captain Marvel” helps resolve the lack of gender diversity in the series it’s a step in the wrong direction in terms of the bad guys because the true villains of this film are really not that interesting, threatening or memorable. They’re made even less interesting by how poorly they match up against the frankly overpowered Captain Marvel. I will give the movie credit once again for setting up elements that play well into the development of villains of later entries in the MCU timeline, but as far as handing us a worthy opponent for Carol Danvers to face in her debut adventure the end result is a bit underwhelming. Essentially what we get from this film is a fun but underdeveloped hero, a great and entertaining supporting cast, a lot of awesome action and visuals, and villains who are okay at best and don’t really pose as big a threat as Captain Marvel deserved to face. So, depending on what you’re looking for you can take that for what it is.
To conclude, while it’s not my favorite movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe “Captain Marvel” is still a great time. It’s fun, it’s visually stunning, it has some great fanfare when you consider its 90s nostalgia and its inclusion of numerous elements of the wider MCU, it’s fast-paced, and it includes some great humor mixed with a few tender moments and social elements to keep things interesting. All of this makes for an engaging and enjoyable experience. The problem is there’s little here to really set it apart from the pack and it lacks that one true humanizing moment that has allowed me and others to relate to other MCU heroes in the past. There’s a lack of depth to really sell the emotional core of the film and the villains didn’t satisfy me at all. In the end I had a good time with it and I’d very much love to see it again, but it’s important to grade this film in a way to respects what Marvel has accomplished to date and what they should have accomplished with their first female-led picture. “Captain Marvel” is just a very good film in that respect. It’s not the game changer many probably thought it would be, but it does continue the studio’s penchant for pushing out quality products that satisfy on at least a few levels if not every level. It’s a fine entry in a franchise that keeps pushing the boundaries even if this time Marvel may have played it a little too safe.