“Captain Marvel” soars at the box office but is nothing to marvel at
By HARRY FISHER
“Captain Marvel” is Marvel Studios’ latest attempt to prove to us that they still know what they’re doing. I didn’t have very high expectations for this film, since the last Marvel movie, “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” was a pretty big let down for me. I wasn’t expecting it to be as good as the masterpiece that was “Avengers: Infinity War,” but I still found it to be a big step down from the original “Ant-Man.” The movie instilled some doubt in me about the future of Marvel movies. Afterall, if they couldn’t make a good sequel to “Ant-Man,” a movie that was generally well-received by fans, how could they make a good movie out of Captain Marvel, a character who even fans of the Marvel comics don’t like?
Still, I wanted this movie to be good. Afterall, this is the first Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film with a female lead, and it could have been a great female empowerment film like “Wonder Woman” was for DC. I was hoping the movie’s plot would do something interesting with the character of Carol Danvers that the comics never did. But it didn’t. And as much as I hate to say it, “Captain Marvel” feels like a cash-grab, a rushed introduction for the character into the MCU to make a quick buck off of people’s hype for the upcoming “Avengers: Endgame.”
The film stars Brie Larson as Carol Danvers, a member of a race of galactic law enforcers called the Kree, and the only human we see among them. It’s never explained if the Kree are one race or a conglomerate of alien races, but if they are one race, I have no clue why Carol never questions why she doesn’t look like any of the other Kree. She has amnesia and doesn’t remember being a human on Earth. She’s been training with the Kree on their home world for six years and has developed a strong friendship with Jude Law’s character, a Kree named Yon-Rogg.
When Carol arrives on Earth in 1995 to pursue a race of alien shape-shifting terrorists named the Skrull, she meets a young Nick Fury, back when he was an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and not its director. The two quickly become partners as they work together to find the Skrull leader, Talos, and put a stop to his plans on Earth. Along the way, Carol begins to regain her memories of her life on Earth, how she used to be a pilot in the Air Force, and how she gained her powers and became a Kree soldier in the first place.
The movie has a few positive aspects. For one, the entire supporting cast was great. Samuel Jackson delivered as Nick Fury, although he seemed kind of out of character, being friendlier and more optimistic than the tough and seasoned soldier we know him to be. At the very least, he’s funny and has a lot of great lines. Ben Mendelson as Talos serves as a pretty funny villain, and like Jackson, he has a lot of great lines. Jude Law does pretty well in his role, although I didn’t find his character to be particularly interesting or memorable.
Lashana Lynch as Carol’s old Air Force friend and Akira Akbar as her daughter Monica both do well in their parts, and Akbar is a great child actress who has a lot of cute scenes with Larson’s character. Annette Bening also does a good job as Wendy Lawson, although her character is significantly different than Walter Lawson, the comic book version of the character who is actually the original Captain Marvel. The changes they make to the character here may upset fans of the classic Marvel comics. And then there’s Goose the cat, who is seriously the best character in the whole film.
The movie had some pretty funny moments with 90s pop culture jokes that came up here and there, but the fact that the film is set in the 90s really doesn’t add anything to the story. Other than the de-aging effects on Samuel Jackson, the special effects and action aren’t spectacular, but they’re on par with what we would expect from a Marvel movie. I wish I could say the movie is worth seeing for all the things it does right, but unfortunately, it’s bogged down by everything it does wrong.
The biggest problem, ironically, is with Captain Marvel herself. For starters, Brie Larson’s performance is all over the place. In the first act of the movie, she’s fine. Her character makes some funny quips and seems to have a friendly and likeable personality. But as soon as she gets to Earth, it’s like all the personality is suddenly sucked out of her, and she’s a piece of wood for most of the movie after that. Not only that, but she comes across to me as kind of smug and pretentious, as if she thinks she’s better than everybody else, and is only being a hero for the sake of fame and glory. She kind of reminds me of the D.C. hero Booster Gold, a character who tries to be a hero only to achieve fame and fortune, except Captain Marvel doesn’t call nearly as much attention to herself as he does.
Of course, this could have led to an interesting character arc. Maybe Carol starts the movie being obsessed with personal gratification, but learns to be humble and use her powers for good, kind of like Thor. But the biggest problem with Carol’s character is that she doesn’t have an arc. As we learn about her past, we learn that she’s spent much of her life being talked down to by men who told her she couldn’t be a pilot because she’s a woman. This could have made a great story of female empowerment, but it feels like they use it as a cheap way to make us care about Carol when we know nothing else about her.
We don’t know anything about Carol as a person, just that she was oppressed. We certainly can and should feel sorry that she had to go through such experiences, but we don’t learn anything about her personality or why she deserves to gain super powers and become a hero. Did she stand up to bullies for other girls as a child? Did she attempt to prove the strength women have to her male peers in the military? There are no moments like these in any of her flashbacks that would show us that she’s always been a heroic female figure who deserves to become Captain Marvel.
With every other MCU hero, including the heroines, we’ve seen them overcome their flaws or past mistakes and learn to use their powers to become inspiring heroes. But Captain Marvel doesn’t have any flaws, and because of that, she isn’t a compelling character. She gets her powers by accident, and then I guess we’re just supposed to assume she’s a good person who knows how to use those powers responsibly, even though we’ve seen nothing in her personality that proves that to us. And yes, she does save lives and do heroic things, but what does any of that mean in the grand scheme of things when it doesn’t cause her to undergo a significant change or become a better person, like a good hero character should?
Why not have a scene where she saves the lives of the men who used to call her weak and helpless, to so that she proves to them how strong a woman can be, but also proves that she has changed by developing humility and mercy for the people who have done her wrong? That would have made her a great, compelling female hero. But Carol never changes as a character or even shows that she’s a good person throughout the film. Instead, she just comes across to me as entitled, as if she thinks she automatically deserves these powers and that she’s better than everyone else because she has them.
Of course, the Captain isn’t the only problem with the movie, and the other glaring flaws include the ridiculous amount of retcons this movie makes to the MCU lore. If you’ve seen any of the trailers for this movie, you may have noticed that Nick Fury doesn’t have an eye patch in any of them. Needless to say, since this movie takes place before all the others, we learn how he lost his left eye in this movie, and the way it happens is beyond ludicrous. It’s completely disrespectful to the character and takes away any sense of charisma or intimidation he had in the previous movies. I almost recommend not seeing the movie if you’re a fan of Nick Fury, because this one single moment may just ruin the character for you forever.
Basically, the retcons just make this whole movie feel rushed, as if they just wanted to get it out there as quickly as possible and didn’t care how it fit in with all the other MCU movies. And really, the whole movie feels like that. It seems like they didn’t care about making a great female Marvel hero with a compelling story. They just wanted to make a quick buck off of the fact that this is the first Marvel film with a female lead, as well as people’s hype for “Avengers: Endgame.” Since the Russo brothers have a knack for fixing characters who have been poorly represented in other Marvel movies, let’s hope that they use “Endgame” as an opportunity to fix Captain Marvel and make her the great female hero her own movie couldn’t.