Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel (2019)
★★★ / ★★★★

A third of the way through the picture, I couldn’t help but feel like an important ingredient is sorely lacking. The war between Kree and Skrulls is propelled with a high enough level of excitement, the special and visual effects are strong, and there is intrigue in how the events unfolding in 1995 may tie into Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) eventually putting together Earth’s mightiest superheroes. The problem becomes tantalizingly clear when the picture hits its first important dramatic note. Given Brie Larson’s track record of independent dramas, she is most powerful as a performer when the scene is quiet and the camera is still—almost the polar opposite of an action film.

This does not mean Larson does not belong in the picture. In fact, I enjoyed her interpretation of Captain Marvel, who comes to know herself as Vers, a soldier of the Kree Empire, but has fragmented human memories as Carol Danvers. Despite a potentially confusing exposition, Larson has a way of making us care for our heroine not just as a superhero but also as a woman who feels incomplete due to being in the dark when it comes to her very own identity. Notice that for the first forty minutes or so, it is a challenge to invest emotionally into the material because there are far too many attempts at making jokes but not enough convincing dramatic gravity. It would have been such a breath of fresh air if “Captain Marvel,” written for the screen by Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, and Geneva Robertson-Dworet, had been a character drama first and an action picture second. Of course, this more inspired avenue would not rake in the big bucks.

Still, this Marvel outing is entertaining enough. I liked how chase scenes on Earth during the mid-90s are photographed and directed almost exactly as similar movies within the genre at the time—clichés included. There is a wonderful chemistry between Larson and Jackson which is necessary because their characters must forge a convincing friendship from the moment they meet at a payphone next to a Blockbuster video store until one of them must leave and travel to another galaxy. (The story’s timeline is about twenty to thirty five hours.) Danvers and Fury share a handful of amusing moments but not once do these come across as forced as bad buddy comedies.

Like many superhero films, this one, too, suffers from a lack of a strong villain with complex motivations. Observe that once Captain Marvel is able to reach her full potential, her enemies, including the main antagonist, are simply thrown about like rag dolls. Because they are no longer a threat, the bright colors, the bubbly soundtrack, and the acrobatics are reduced to an exercise of futility. I was bored by them and I was reminded of what I disliked immensely from “Wonder Woman”—we are handed action with not much context or purpose. It can feel like a waste of time.

Perhaps the most curious relationship is between Danvers and her best friend Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch). Both were Air Force pilots and their few but valuable interactions suggest a deep history. The two sitting down and having a conversation can be more entertaining than the big, loud, and ostentatious action pieces. The reason is because, with the former, we know precisely what is at stake. There are times when it is easy to forget that we love or admire our superheroes not because of what they can do but rather who they are despite their powers or abilities, when they are unmasked, vulnerable, one of us.

3 replies »

  1. it feels like your rating and review do not quite match; judging by your review, this feels like a 2-star rating. did you rate it a bit higher b/c it’s a film you think people should see, or did I misinterpret your review, and you actually liked it a lot? *i know your ratings aren’t always 100% reflective of your thoughts and feelings of a film, as your rating system is more of how much you recommend said film than the actual quality of the movie…

    I have to be honest and say the promotion of the film has been quite annoying how they continue to push “girl” or “woman” superhero b/c it’s not necessary; you can have a strong woman superhero and if the story is good, people will watch, men included, and we don’t care if the superhero is a man or a woman; we just want an interesting story…

    We loved Sigourney Weaver in Alien, Linda Hamilton in Terminator, and Carrie-Ann Moss in Matrix; and as far as I know Gal Gadot was very popular in Wonder Woman, and there wasn’t all this talk about a woman superhero; it was just a superhero that was a woman; men respect that; it’s annoying when certain media groups create these false narratives that men don’t respect women in strong female roles. I absolutely LOVED “High Tension” and it was b/c of Cecile De France’s performance and her character had the courage to chase a serial killer to save her friend; that ending was bogus, though! I forgave it, though, b/c I loved the first 75 minutes so much…

    And what about Jessica Chastain in “Ms. Sloane” and “Molly’s Game”? Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween? How about the way it’s usually a woman who survives in horror movies, so much so they even labeled the role “survivor girl”. Notice there isn’t a “survivor guy” label. lol. And that’s fine; my point is it’s ridiculous the way some of the media are now pushing this narrative that men don’t respect women in movies, which is extremely dishonest. You and I have been talking movies for like 4 years, and we’ve never disrespected a woman simply for being a woman; maybe a woman character who was annoying or did stupid things, or maybe a bad actress, but she earned her criticism, just as many men do, as well. lol.

    • You’re right; and I’m glad you picked up on that. Since I don’t do 1/2 stars, I did push it toward a 3 instead of a 2 because I couldn’t deny I was entertained at the time even though it was in fits and starts. I liked the performances even though some of the characters are underwritten for my liking. So instead of a “maybe/mabye not a recommendation,” I decided to recommend it because I feel that most of its target audience would enjoy it.

      I think the reason behind the grrrl-power! marketing is reflective of our times. I’m with you. I like the idea but when it supersedes the film, an argument can be made that it is a problem, that it shifts away focus from what the movie is supposed to be. On the flip side, it would be remiss if I didn’t admit that I take pleasure in backward-thinking men getting their feelings hurt when a strong females are front and center on film. There are a lot of them out there, and I feel sorry for them.

      Personally, though, I ignored to see it through the grrrl-power! lens because I’m not interested in evaluating a work with that sort of influence or perspective. You gave excellent examples of strong, badass female roles that didn’t need to be marketed through the basis of sex commanding power–they just are. The movie comes first. And that is why, I think, too, these roles are so iconic. I’m not sure if the Captain Marvel in this movie would be seen as icon ten, twenty years from now.

      • oh yeah, and let’s not forget Charlize Theron in Mad Max Fury Road! She was more talked about than Tom Hardy. She should have been Captain Marvel.

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