Captain Marvel was …. well, it was okay.
I know that’s potentially a controversial opinion. Since the movie was released last week, I’ve seen it described as being the greatest comic book movie ever made. I’ve also seen it described as being, if not the worst film of all time, than certainly the worst chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Really, it depends on who you ask and how they voted in 2016. Myself, I would argue that both sides are incorrect. Captain Marvel is neither the greatest nor the worst movie ever made. Instead …. it’s okay. It’s a middle of the road MCU film, one that has more in common with the first Thor, Ant-Man, and The Incredible Hulk than with Black Panther or Doctor Strange. It has its moments but there’s a reason why everyone’s favorite character is a cat who only has about 15 minutes of screen time.
Brie Larson plays Vers, who is an elite warrior for the Kree Empire. The Kree are an alien race. We know they’re aliens because they have blue blood and their planet looks like a more cheerful version of Blade Runner. The Kree are at war with another group of aliens, the Skrulls. The Skrulls are green shape-shifters and, for some reason, they have Australian accents.
Anyways, Vers can’t remember anything about her past but she’s haunted by nightmares that suggest that she might not be a Kree at all. Instead, she might be an Earthling! Vers gets a chance to investigate that possibility when, while escaping the forces of the Skrull general Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), Vers plummets to Earth and ends up crashing into a Blockbuster Video. Working with a youngish Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Vers sets out to discover the truth about her past.
Ever since this film was first announced, Brie Larson has been the target of a lot of unfair criticism. A lot of it has centered around the fact that Larson rarely smiles in the film but you know what? Brie Larson’s resting bitch face is the most empowering thing about Captain Marvel. Vers is a warrior and she’s on a mission. She has no reason to smile and giggle and jump around like some sort of manic pixie dream girl. When Vers responded to a man telling her to smile by stealing his motorcycle, I wanted to jump up and cheer. I mean, hell yeah! Not only did she refuse to be pushed around but she also got a sweet ride out of it! Seriously, the next guy who tells me that I need to smile more is losing his car.
Actually, regardless of what some people on twitter seem to believe, Vers does smile in the film. She smiles when she’s talking to her best friend, Maria Rambeau (Lashanna Lynch). She smiles when she’s talking to Maria’s daughter, Monica (Akira Akbar). She smiles when there aren’t any men — or Skrulls — around, demanding all of the attention. Both Maria and Vers are smiling because, finally, they can both be themselves. It’s a scene that, like Vers stealing that motorcycle, feels far more honest and empowering than some of the film’s other more obvious and on-the-nose girl power moments. Maria is a rather underused character, which is a shame because the brief scenes between Maria and Vers are some of the best scenes in the film.
That said, I still had mixed feelings about Brie Larson’s overall performance. As good as Larson has been in so many other films, she often comes across as rather wooden and awkward here. Larson delivers almost all of her lines in a rather flat monotone and she’s not helped by some painfully clunky dialogue. Larson’s awkwardness is painfully obvious whenever she shares a scene with more experienced co-stars like Jackson, Mendelsohn, Jude Law, or Annette Bening. Bening practically steals the entire film, to the extent that I would have preferred the film has been about her rather than Vers.
(Again, it’s easy to compare this film to the first Thor. Just as it took the MCU a while to figure out what to do with Thor, one gets the feeling that they’re still not quite sure who Captain Marvel is supposed to be.)
The film’s main weakness is that, when compared to the more recent MCU films. there’s no sense of wonder to Captain Marvel. Compare the blandness of the Kree homeworld to the vivid worlds of Guardians of the Galaxy or Thor: Ragnarok. Ben Mendelsohn brings a little bit of depth to General Talos but, beyond the shape-shifting, there’s not much to the Skrulls, either. When Captain Marvel flies into space, there’s nothing transcendent about the moment. It’s actually kind of boring. Whereas previous MCU films made space feel alive, the universe feels flat in Captain Marvel.
To cite just one example, one of the film’s biggest battle scenes is over the possession of a lunchbox. The villains think that there’s something important in the lunchbox. However, what they don’t know is that Vers has already emptied the lunchbox and is just using it to distract them. For some reason, directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Bolden show Captain Marvel emptying the lunchbox before the big battle. As a result, there’s no stakes to the battle and, from the start, we know that it doesn’t matter who wins. When, after a lengthy fight, the lunchbox is revealed to be empty, Brie Larson mutters a weak one liner that has no impact because there was never any suspense to begin with. This is pretty basic stuff and it’s somewhat shocking that this film manages to screw it up.
Despite those flaws, Captain Marvel is occasionally diverting. Samuel L. Jackson brings flair to even the lamest of lines and Clark Gregg has a welcome cameo as Phil Coulson. Annette Bening plays two different roles and she kicks major ass in both of them. (One of her characters is named Intelligence, which leads to this hilariously awkward exchange of dialogue between Larson and Bening: “Vers.” “Intelligence.”) Despite being buried under a ton of makeup and prosthetics, Ben Mendelsohn does a good job and Jude Law is amusingly arrogant as Vers’s mentor. Hopefully, Lashawn Lynch will get a bigger role in a future MCU film.
And then there’s the cat.
The cat is named Goose and …, well, look, I won’t spoil it. Let’s just say that he’s a very special cat and he steals every scene. In this film, we discover that Nick Fury loves cats, as well he should!
Anyway, Captain Marvel is okay. There’s a few good scenes and there’s a few clunky ones and finally, there’s Goose and that stolen motorcycle. One gets the feeling that the most remembered scenes will probably be the ones that were inserted during the end credits. Captain Marvel will return in Avengers: Endgame and I hope that she doesn’t smile once.