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Review: Captain Marvel

March 7, 2019

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been grinding its gears for over a decade now, a timespan that has already seen the release of twenty movies, including last year’s insanely successful double hitter of Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War.

Together, they are two of the highest grossing movies of all time, and Black Panther was even awarded with a trio of Oscars just last week. Now we have Captain Marvel, the 21st film in the franchise, and the first one to focus solely on a female superhero.

This is a fact that should be celebrated, which is partially why it’s so frustrating that Captain Marvel never quite rises above being a fairly entertaining but decidedly minor entry into the series. And just to be clear, the fact that it’s centred around a female character has nothing to do with my mild disappointment regarding the film itself, but nor should this make it immune from criticism.

The film functions as a prequel of sorts and follows Carol Danvers (Brie Larson), whose presence in the MCU was already hinted at during the end credits of Avengers: Infinity War. When we first meet her in Captain Marvel, she is living on Hala, the home planet of the Kree. Carol is a member of Starforce, a team of warriors led by Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), who were brought together by the Supreme Intelligence (Annette Bening) to do battle with the Skrulls, a race of shape-shifting aliens who have been locked in a lengthy war with the Kree.

Following a battle with the Skrulls, Carol crash lands on Earth, falling through the roof of a Blockbuster Video in Los Angeles, circa 1995. But she has been followed to our planet by a gang of Skrulls and their leader Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), who is trying to find an energy source that will allow them to travel at light speed. Carol teams up with a young Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to try and beat the Skrulls to tracking down this technology, and along the way she starts piecing together her own forgotten past, which included serving in the United States Air Force, with the help of fellow pilot Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch).

The film serves up 1990s nostalgia much in the same way that Guardians of the Galaxy paid tribute to the ’80s, with a soundtrack of mostly punk and grunge songs from the decade that really helps set the mood. Because the film is set in the past, they have also utilized state of the art digital effects to “de-age” Nick Fury and Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) by about two decades, and it’s an effect that is both mostly seamless and also more than a little eery.

It’s fun to see Jackson playing around more with the character of Nick Fury, who is given a larger role here than in many of the other films. Mendelsohn does some interesting things with his character, while Law feels underused for an actor of his calibre. Larson is fine in the leading role, and she certainly shows potential to expand the character from here, even if her delivery of some of the film’s one-liners feels a bit forced. But I have a feeling this might have more to do with the screenplay, which has a lot of witty banter that doesn’t always land.

The whole endeavour feels formulaic, offering a predictable and somewhat dull origin story. A character rediscovering parts of her past that were stolen from her when her memory was wiped should make for a compelling plot, and yet Captain Marvel falls a bit flat. There are no real personal obstacles for its main character to overcome, and therefore no real sense of growth, either.

Carol is almost pretty much exactly the same at the beginning and end of the story, and this lack of a proper character arc renders the film largely free of suspense. Because of this, the emotional beats feel somewhat muted. The story takes some interesting turns involving Yon-Rogg and Talos, who actually ends up being the most interesting character, but it doesn’t properly capitalize on them.

Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, a married team who got their start with gritty indie dramas like Half Nelson, keep the film feeling somewhat small. This is fine for the character moments, but the action scenes feel largely generic and don’t have the same scope we have to come expect from the series. It lacks some of the cinematic grandeur of other instalments in the MCU, and at times the film ends up feeling more like an episode of a sci-fi TV show from the decade in which the story is set. The Earth scenes are definitely the stronger moments in the movie, with the space stuff often coming off as a bit cheesy.

Rightly or wrongly, Captain Marvel has been drawing a lot of comparisons to DC’s Wonder Woman, mainly because of the fact that they are both films centred around female superheroes. But where as that film offered a fully realized portrait of its heroine, mainly thanks to Gal Gadot’s wonderful performance, Captain Marvel can’t help but feel like a bit of a missed opportunity. There was a lot more that could and should have been done with this character, so I’m really curious to see how she fits into Avengers: Endgame and how she is handled in subsequent solo adventures going forward.

While Captain Marvel is fine, and even genuinely fun at points, the film also never quite takes flight the way that I hoped it would. There are things to like about the movie, including a scene-stealing orange cat named Goose, but when all is said and done, it’s one of the more minor entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s a mildly entertaining film that is just good enough to make you wish it was better, but the character of Carol Danvers deserves more than this.

Captain Marvel opens tonight in theatres across Canada, before going into wide release tomorrow.

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