Marvel’s latest bends under heavy expectations

FIlm Review | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Captain Marvel
Now playing

2.5 out of 5

Much like with the all-female reboot of Ghostbusters, Captain Marvel has been attacked from the Internet’s darkest, reddest corners. I wouldn’t normally be troubled by trolls or James Woods (I know, same thing), but some may bunch less-than-glowing reviews together with the rambles of individuals that feel threatened by Brie Larson’s activism or the idea of a feminist superhero. I don’t want any part of that. My critique is focused on the film exclusively, and external considerations have no weight in my analysis.

Captain Marvel has a tall order to fill: it must bridge the cataclysmic events of Avengers: Infinity War to Avengers: Endgame, and establish a hero not only capable of going head-to-head with Thanos but also leading the super-team into a presumably post- Iron-Man era.

The 21st MCU film completes the task, but doesn’t excel at it. Captain Marvel is a functional popcorn flick without much identity outside being proudly feminist. It’s surprisingly drab-looking for a Marvel Studios movie and the action sequences are perfunctory.

The performances –not the plot– carry the film, a rarity for this universe.

Following a lovely tribute to Stan Lee, we encounter our hero, Vers (Brie Larson), fighting alongside the Kree against the Skrulls — presumed terrorists who are also shapeshifters. Her team of super-soldiers is led by Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), a charismatic veteran who struggles to keep his star pupil under control. Vers has no memory of her past, outside snippets of what seems to be a life on Earth.

Vers’ encounter with the Skrulls shakes up her noggin and sends the hero back to Earth, where she quickly makes  an alliance with a young Nick Fury (digitally de-aged Samuel L. Jackson). In her efforts to figure out what the extremists are up to, Vers finds some clues about her origins, including her terrestrial name: Carol Danvers.

There is a fair amount of information I’d rather not spoil. I shall mention, though, that Captain Marvel trades on two fairly recognizable plot threads: one person’s terrorists are someone else’s freedom fighters; and the comfort of accepted knowledge often hides unpleasant truths.

While noticeably out of their element, the directors — indie stalwarts Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Half Nelson) — recognize the easy rapport between Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson is their best asset (they regularly end up front and center). Jackson’s digital rejuvenation is remarkable. One wishes the same care would’ve been put into Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson: dyed eyebrows just don’t cut it.

Another coup is Ben Mendelsohn, with whom Boden and Fleck worked in the criminally underseen Mississippi Grind. Mendelsohn starts the film as yet another menacing authority figure (as in Rogue One, Robin Hood, Ready Player One…), but loosens up along the way. It’s a delightful reversal of his usual onscreen persona.

Character-wise, Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel is basically a collection of noble and antisocial traits that applies to half the Avengers. While Brie Larson owns the role, it lacks some colour; idiosyncrasies that would make the character unique, outside her electric fists. Something like Nick Fury’s cat-crazy side.

I’m aware asking for subtlety to a superhero movie could be considered an oxymoron, but the hackneyed way Captain Marvel forces ’90s sounds and sights on audiences is off-putting. Like Gwen Stefani belting “Just a Girl” as Carol/Vers wipes the floor with her enemies. We get it — she’s powerful, she’s angry, she’s sick of gaslighting.

After a while, the on-the-nose girl-power references become white noise, not ideal for a movie that wants to be recognized as a turning point in women’s representation.

This is might be courting hate-mail, but for all its problems, Wonder Woman made the same point without having to verbalize it every other scene.