What do you say about a movie whose most heartfelt, touching moment is found within its own studio logo (a beautiful tribute to the late Stan Lee)? Like many films nowadays, Captain Marvel, the 21st film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has been plagued by the type of overwhelming guano dump of controversy that one wonders if it was factored into the film’s own marketing (I’m sure many would debate the case). Agenda wars have been at play – some ingrained in the film’s own DNA but a majority hail from online. To speak ill of the film can get you branded as an incel, a troll, or a bigot (cue variety of “ists”). To speak well indicates that you’re a shill, a far leftist, or a regressive feminist. There’s no winning in this war and the battlefield is a comic book movie featuring a character who projects flaming pulses from her fingertips at evil aliens. To think that as far back as the Great Depression, films were a blessed escape from the hardships of life and politics. That said, there is only one agenda I’m interested in here: is it a good or bad film? If there is any messaging in its content, is it effective? Revolutionary, right?
[Mild Spoilers Ahead]
Serving as a prequel to all the MCU films save fellow Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain Marvel kicks off discordantly with the character (played by Brie Larson) fighting in the Kree/Skrull War on an alien planet. Though suffering from a bout of amnesia, she pursues her enemies ruthlessly, kicking ass with her energy blasts under the strict leadership of Commander Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). After being captured and separated from her group, she escapes and crash lands on mid-1990’s Earth.
Reluctantly teaming up with a young Samuel L. Jackson as Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Nick Fury, she hunts down the remaining Skrulls whilst discovering the hidden truths of her past, present, and future.
Heralded as the feminine companion to Black Panther, Captain Marvel falls as often as the titular hero falls in many of her aggrandized recurring flashbacks. Its empowering message is too blatant to be effective and its hero too bland to be influential. How much fault lies on Larson or on directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck may be debatable but her presence here recalls the banal results of prequel-era George Lucas. The constant accusations from her tormentors that she is too emotional come across as a running joke than a mighty comeuppance waiting in the wind.
When she does attain the full strength of her powers, the engagement is as desaturated as the film’s dull color palette. What should be a rousing number akin to Thor’s Led Zeppelin-fueled climactic Ragnarok moment is deflated by a song choice so on-the-nose that it leaves you with a nasty nose bleed. The mere fact that it is preceded by an escape that’s a mirror image of a similar escape earlier in the film only solidifies the low, predictable stakes that the film and the character have to overcome.
Fairing better are the supporting players as Marvel also presents a minute origin story for Nick Fury who entices some of Larson’s better scenes in the film. By far, the most impressive effect here is the thoroughly convincing de-aging process used on the actor, easily outpacing a previous series’ best with Michael Douglas in Ant-Man. Although certain revelations about the character fall flat, he injects some much needed energy in the production alongside Lashana Lynch (one of Marvel’s blast from the past), and Ben Mendelsohn as the shape-shifting Skrull leader. Jude Law’s Yon is as engaging as the homonym of his character’s name.
Overall, Captain Marvel serves as neither an effective propaganda piece (as some have claimed) nor as a film worthy of division. Beyond a few legitimately fun moments (many of which involve a much-publicized cat), the film is as tame as it is ultimately forgettable.
[Note: the film features a mid-credit and an after-credit scene.]