Captain Marvel movie review: Brie Larson's film has crowd-pleasing moments but is ultimately forgettable
Marvel makes 'carnival ride' movies, and if you embrace Captain Marvel as another one of those, you’ll find yourself fairly regaled. It’s all ‘fine’.
As a filler movie that ultimately undoes the dour finale of last year’s Avengers Infinity War, Captain Marvel starring Brie Larson works well as a quick-fire ‘catch up’ story that segues in with the MCU. There is no doubt that Marvel knows their formula and utilise their well-oiled machine for tailored results in servitude of fans.
As a standalone superhero movie, however, this is one of the less impressive entries in the franchise, standing alongside the second Thor movie and the Edward Norton Hulk: snacky but forgettable entertainment.
On a writing level Captain Marvel does seem like it tries to do something different in the MCU canon.
In the hands of indie darlings Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson), the story converges into many timelines, and the first act is a challenging piece of filmmaking, which confuses the viewer and requires one to really pay attention to the details. Larson is chaotically introduced as Vers, a part of an elite mercenary force called the Kree that goes on a recon mission to take out the Skrulls, a species of scary looking humanoids capable of shape-shifting. Things don’t go according to plan and Vers lands up on a mysterious planet called Earth during the mid ’90s, but the Krulls have followed her there, and she is embroiled in a battle with her own memories that seem to hide a secret.
This is, of course, a different route from the cinematic hand-holding that the Marvel films generally do, and your reaction to the first half an hour depends on how puzzling you like your popcorn entertainment films. The pace is relentless as our heroine storms from one set piece to another smashing things with fiery beams that seem to be coming out of her hands and she can’t explain how or why she is able to do this. The film finally settles down when a familiar face turns up and jams with Vers on the adventure. The story does a bait and switch you may not see coming.
When it works, Captain Marvel works very well. Huge space battles, nice gags courtesy of a hilarious and de-aged Samuel L Jackson and his cat, Ben Mendelsohn once again with a memorable scenery-chewing countenance, and crowd pleasing moments like a man being kicked in the ass by a woman who says she doesn’t need to prove herself to anyone. It’s a good looking movie that razzles and dazzles constantly in its smorgasbord of ideas. Marvel makes 'carnival ride' movies, and if you embrace Captain Marvel as another one of those, you’ll find yourself fairly regaled. It’s all ‘fine’.
But when it doesn’t work the film is a gaping hole of anticlimaxes.
The injection of the ’90s is entirely inconsequential here – even if the film were set fifty years into the future it would have made zero difference. There are nods to popular brands like Blockbuster, Nirvana etc, but they are rammed into the film as a reminder that the film is set in the ’90s, as opposed to them being key elements to further the plot. Compare this to the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, where the pop culture references were essential to the narrative.
Lack of focus and the ability to convince is also a problem here, particularly when friends become enemies and vice versa. There just isn’t enough time dedicated to develop nuances within the characters and their dynamics to make the drama work, and the social commentary that you ultimately get is a belly flop. This is especially shocking considering the directors’ flair for finding grays in the black and whites of postmodern American suburbs.
The biggest disappointment, however, is Larson, whose presence in the film is its least interesting element. She seems a little too aware of her character being a big deal, but the ‘attitude’ that she carries doesn’t ring true, and the awful one liners she hurls throughout don’t help matters. We’re forcibly supposed to find her ‘cool’, and yet despite the parade of hero shots she appears in, the CGI is always given priority over her character.
It’s a strangely anesthetized performance, bereft of warmth and charm, and even during her back and forth with Jackson it is the latter who does the heavy lifting of making the moments work. You want her to be a Miyazaki character but she becomes a soulless action figure. Hopefully her camaraderie with the rest of the Avengers in the future movies would be far more interesting.
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