Captain Marvel is one of my favorite characters from the comic books. She’s a badass. She’s endured every possible plot device and come out swinging. And, she’s a badass. While the movie certainly captures her character, for the most part, it’s interesting they chose two things to pull that weren’t remotely necessary-her amnesia and her convoluted history. The movie does nothing to streamline her origins, trading one mess for another, and saddling the main character with no real character to latch, are two pretty big missteps for a movie that is doing pretty well otherwise. On a scale of say Iron Man to Hulk, this film falls somewhere just below Ant-Man: an endearing lead and solid supporting cast make for an okay movie, that is missing a few of the thrills we’ve come to expect from the MCU.
Brie Larson is Vers, a Kree soldier (an alien race we’ve met before, most notably in Guardians of the Galaxy) on a mission force to find the oppressive Skrulls, another alien race that have the power to shapeshift into other human-ish forms, but whose natural state is green and scaly (with the same nutsack chin that Thanos had). We’re not given much details as to why these two races are at war, and ultimately it doesn’t matter. We’ve got good guys and bad guys and a decent space battle. Vers is mostly along for the ride, a fierce fighter with no memory of her past before becoming a Kree soldier a few years before. She is trained by Yon-Rogg (Jude Law, having fun with it), and he cautions her to keep her emotions in check as it will make her a better fighter. But that doesn’t work too well for Vers and after one battle she crash lands onto planet C-53, or Earth circa 1995. Vers hooks up with a fresh-faced agent of Shield named Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson’s ninth turn at bat in the MCU, and his strongest). They partner up to find the whatchamacallit before the Skrulls do, and buddy cop adventures ensue. Of course, their search unlocks a bit of Vers’ past on earth where she’s really a woman named Carol Danvers, a pilot who disappeared years before, and who has since developed the power to fly, absorb energy and shoot power bolts from her hands. The heart of the movie is between Carol and her pilot BFF Maria Rambeau, with whom she reconnects.
If all of that sounds a bit jumbled, it is. It plays better on screen, and co-writers (along with Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Nicole Perlman, and Meg LeFauve) and co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (who also masterminded the brilliant Half Nelson) keep the action fast, the twists furious, and the pace hardly lets up. It checks all the right boxes, there’s big space battles, it’s grounded with an emotional core, and when things get too serious, there’s the requisite humor. They’ve even got a cat that manages to steal quite a few scenes. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it all adds up to just pretty good when it should’ve been next-level amazing, say, the way that Black Panther was. There’s a lot of cool action sequences, but none as thrilling as Black Widow’s opener in the first Avengers, Black Panther’s pursuit of the Winter Soldier in Civil War, or even Steve Rogers elevator battle in his second movie.
Because people are awful, and anything with a whiff of feminism angers some people, the movie has become an unfortunate target to a corner of the internet that will surely have a field day that it isn’t next-level amazing. It reminds me of that SNL skit about white people complaining about Beyonce’s “Lemonade” (“I don’t think this was made for us,” “But everything is made for us!”). Even exiting my theater, one of my friends passively complained that she’s just “too powerful,” a comment that was never said about Thor when he took on the power of a star, for example. Carol is powerful, excitingly so, but she’s still saddled with enough baggage to keep her real. Larson captures her punch first, think later attitude and the chemistry between her and Jackson is pretty perfect. I’ve never been a huge fan of the origin movies of any of the Marvel heroes, so it’s good that we don’t have to wait an hour and half to her getting her powers, though it takes about as long for the audience to be let in on the secret. There are a lot of fun moments throughout, and with this out of the way, the sure-to-come sequel will be able to be unburdened with having to spend a movie waiting for the main character to figure herself out.
My Grade – B-