Film

'Captain Marvel' Is Predictable

Brie Larson as Carol Danvers / Vers / Captain Marvel (© Marvel Studios / IMDB)

Directors Boden and Fleck skimp on the character development and emphasize the action in the disappointing misfire from the MCU, Captain Marvel.

Captain Marvel
Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck

Walt Disney Pictures

8 Mar 2019 (US and UK)

Other

Captain Marvel, the latest film in Marvel Studios ever-expanding Cinematic Universe (MCU), is one of the more disappointing entries in the franchise. In a departure from other Marvel superhero films, Captain Marvel emphasizes the super over the hero. Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck are so eager to showcase the power of their heroine that they skimp on the humor and quiet moments needed to transform Air Force fighter pilot Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) into a compelling character. The result is a larger-than-life superhero whose human alter ego is a complete bore.

For the first time in its remarkable 20-year run of popcorn supremacy, Marvel is playing catch-up to another superhero franchise. Though conceived years before the release of 2017's immensely successful Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel was left scrambling to create a female superhero capable of holding her own with the meticulously crafted MCU boys club. As a light speed, fire-fisted superhero, it's clear that Captain Marvel could easily smash the likes of Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk into tiny pieces. Carol Danvers, unfortunately, is an inferior counterpart to the carefully crafted personas of Tony Stark and Bruce Banner.

Brie Larson is a gifted dramatic actress, but she has an almost insurmountable task facing her in Captain Marvel. For starters, Carol Danvers has no idea who she is. Ostensibly rescued from a plane crash on Earth by an alien race known as the Kree, Carol is transformed into a robotic assassin by her charismatically-challenged mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law).

"There's nothing more dangerous for a warrior than anger," counsels Yon-Rogg, who is determined to squash every trace of Carol's remaining humanity. Here, Law plays the type of faux-philosopher/stoic sensei you might find in a Star Wars prequel; short on personality and long on pomposity. Carol's personality isn't much better, as she slips into some ill-defined space between irreverent wisecracker and noble warrior. It's a mix that doesn't work, leaving Larson to somehow conjure a relatable, interesting character from nothing more than murderous Kree resolve and half-formed memories from her earthling past.

Jude Law as Yon-Rogg and Brie Larson as Carol Danvers / Vers / Captain Marvel (© Marvel Studios / IMDB)

Wisely, directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (who co-directed 2015's Sundance darling Mississippi Grind) hastily whisk Carol to Earth (circa 1995) where she can find more entertaining people to hang out with. There, she searches for a missing scientist named Lawson (Annette Bening), whose light-speed engine might help the Kree win their never-ending war against the Skrulls. Pursuing her is the Skrull leader Talos (the snarky scene stealer Ben Mendelsohn) and an inexperienced S.H.I.E.L.D. agent you might recognize as Nick Fury (in an era obsessed with youth we have a digitally de-aged Samuel L. Jackson).

Captain Marvel finds a pleasant, if unspectacular, groove once Fury joins the adventure. Larson and Jackson generally have a natural rapport, although the quips often seem forced. The smaller throwaway moments provide the greatest payoff, such as Fury painstakingly reproducing a jailor's fingerprint to escape his cell only to have Carol casually blast a hole in the door with her fiery fist. Otherwise, with the exception of Mendelsohn's droll delivery and a stowaway cat named Goose (who knew that zero gravity cats could be so funny?), this is an uncharacteristically dry affair for the MCU.

Failed banter aside, Fury allows Carol to explore her humanity. With each clue she uncovers about her true identity, she moves one step closer to understanding that her suppressed emotions are the key to unlocking her enormous superpowers. The moment in which Carol makes this realization is not only the highlight of Captain Marvel, but one of the most empowering and inspirational scenes in the history of the MCU.

Most of the film's remaining dramatic moments come courtesy of Carol's childhood friend and Air Force co-pilot, Maria (Lashana Lynch). Absconding to the Louisiana bayou after Carol's disappearance, Maria clings tightly to the memories of her lost friend, even storing away treasured mementos like Carol's leather jacket and faded photographs of her father. Maria's struggle to re-attach the emotional tether swinging just beyond Carol's confused grasp hints at the film Captain Marvel might have been with a more relaxed, nuanced approach to the story.

Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury (© Marvel Studios / IMDB)

It's a surprising failure because, traditionally, Marvel has excelled at the origin story. By placing its characters at the forefront and allowing the action to flow organically, the MCU has produced some of the most relatable schlock to ever pummel the screen. Here, Captain Marvel recedes into the background, becoming a simple conduit for action. When Carol starts glowing and easily dispatching her startled enemies, the pyrotechnics are impressive, but the emotional component is absent. Thus, the film is flat and predictable; the cinematic equivalent of a resigned shrug from Marvel, as if to say, "We had to make it, but at least she kicks ass, right?"

Also disappointing is the lack of '90s period detailing. What might have added some much needed texture and spice, if you will, to the otherwise drab visual palette is relegated to easy sight gags. Defunct businesses like Blockbuster and Radio Shack get name-checked, and characters roll their eyes at the lethargic '90s technology. The oppressive 'best of the '90s' song selection infects every scene like a virus of mediocrity. You may think you know how bad some music was in the '90s, but nothing can prepare you for the horror of No Doubt's "Just a Girl" serving as the background for a gigantic superhero clash.

Ultimately, Captain Marvel is one of Marvel's most baffling missteps. It adequately ties up several loose ends before the release of Avengers: Endgame (April 2019 in the US), but fails to forge its own dynamic identity within the larger canon. Carol Danvers should be more interesting and her emergence as the Universe's most powerful superhero should be more fun. Unfortunately, not even an inspirational dose of Girl Power can save Captain Marvel from crashing down to Earth.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

Political Cartoonist Art Young Was an Aficionado of all Things Infernal

Fantagraphics' new edition of Inferno takes Art Young's original Depression-era critique to the Trump Whitehouse -- and then drags it all to Hell.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

OK Go's Emotional New Ballad, "All Together Now", Inspired by Singer's Bout with COVID-19

Damian Kulash, lead singer for OK Go discusses his recent bout with COVID-19, how it impacted his family, and the band's latest pop delight, "All Together Now", as part of our Love in the Time of Coronavirus series.

Books

The Rules Don't Apply to These Nonconformist Novelists

Ian Haydn Smith's succinct biographies in Cult Writers: 50 Nonconformist Novelists You Need to Know entice even seasoned bibliophiles.

Music

Siren Songs' Merideth Kaye Clark and Jenn Grinels Debut As a Folk Duo (album stream + interview)

Best friends and longtime musical collaborators Merideth Kaye Clark and Jenn Grinels team up as Siren Songs for the uplifting folk of their eponymous LP.

Music

Buzzcocks' 1993 Comeback 'Trade Test Transmissions' Showed Punk's Great Survivors' Consistency

PopMatters' appraisal of Buzzcocks continues with the band's proper comeback LP, Trade Test Transmissions, now reissued on Cherry Red Records' new box-set, Sell You Everything.

Music

Archie Shepp, Raw Poetic, and Damu the Fudgemunk Enlighten and Enliven with 'Ocean Bridges'

Ocean Bridges is proof that genre crossovers can sound organic, and that the term "crossover" doesn't have to come loaded with gimmicky connotations. Maybe we're headed for a world in which genres are so fluid that the term is dropped altogether from the cultural lexicon.

Books

Claude McKay's 'Romance in Marseille' Is Ahead of Its Time

Claude McKay's Romance in Marseille -- only recently published -- pushes boundaries on sexuality, disability, identity -- all in gorgeous poetic prose.

Music

Christine Ott Brings the Ondes Martenot to New Heights with the Mesmerizing 'Chimères'

France's Christine Ott, known for her work as an orchestral musician and film composer, has created a unique new solo album, Chimères, that spotlights an obscure instrument.

Music

Man Alive! Is a Continued Display of the Grimy-Yet-Refined Magnetism of King Krule

Following The OOZ and its accolades, King Krule crafts a similarly hazy gem with Man Alive! that digs into his distinct aesthetic rather than forges new ground.

Books

The Kinks and Their Bad-Mannered English Decency

Mark Doyles biography of the Kinks might complement a seminar in British culture. Its tone and research prove its intent to articulate social critique through music for the masses.

Music

ONO Confronts American Racial Oppression with the Incendiary 'Red Summer'

Decades after their initial formation, legendary experimentalists ONO have made an album that's topical, vital, uncomfortable, and cathartic. Red Summer is an essential documentation of the ugliness and oppression of the United States.

Film

Silent Women Filmmakers No Longer So Silent: Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers

The works of silent filmmakers Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers were at risk of being forever lost. Kino Lorber offers their works on Blu-Ray. Three cheers for film historians and film restoration.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.