Marvel’s first female-led superhero movie has been marred with controversy prior to its release. Unlike 2016’s Ghostbusters or 2017’s Wonder Woman, the uproar was, for the most part, self-inflicted courtesy of lead actress Brie Larson’s outbursts. From tirades about “white dudes” or defensively reacting to the most mundane questions, Larson’s comments should have sparked a debate, but ultimately any germ of a point becomes lost in her juvenile attitude. The internet characteristically overreacted, with even Rotten Tomatoes changing their mechanics in response to the film’s backlash.
That aside, we meet Larson as Vers, training alongside her Kree commander and mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). When a mission goes south, Vers is captured by Skrull leader Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) and during her interrogation recalls fragments of her previous life as pilot Carol Danvers. When both she and her captors crash land on Earth (in 1995) during an escape bid, Vers goes in search of herself and attempts to end a war with the help of a young Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson).
While dizzying at first, you can’t fault directors and co-writers Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck for attempting to shake-up the superhero origin story. The film settles once on Earth with Larson and Jackson sharing a natural chemistry that’s hindered with a handful of laboured gags. In the same way Spider-Man: Homecoming tried a little too hard to be a John Hughes film, Captain Marvel rigidly attempts to be a buddy cop movie at times. While unsettling CGI has recently resurrected the dead in other franchises, it was a relief to see that the effects used to de-age Jackson were flawless. Not distracting from the fact Fury actually had something interesting to do, rather than just ordering the Avengers around.
Larson’s performance does fall a little flat, mainly because despite the turbulent journey to discover who she really is, she doesn’t really evolve. She’s either Tony Stark-light with snarky remarks or just unflinchingly self-assured. A few brief glimpses into Vers’ past offer up some characterisation, it’s just a shame these ultimately lead to a CGI overload, where the faint sniff of a theme dissipates as her unbeatable powers (that are as boringly bland as Superman’s) come into play. After being completely blown away by Larson’s work in Room, it’s a shame she hasn’t really excelled in recent blockbusters. While admittingly Larson (like most of the cast) had little to do in Kong: Skull Island, she didn’t quite become the much-needed emotional linchpin of her own movie this time around.
Other characters surprisingly pack a punch with Ben Mendelsohn outshining everybody (except Goose the cat) despite his face being largely concealed. When certain characters find themselves hurled together, there’s certainly a Guardians of the Galaxy vibe which is only accentuated with the appearance of Ronan, the Kree and the inclusion of various pop songs.
Considering Marvel had meticulously planned their entire cinematic universe to build to 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, Captain Marvel’s presumably substantial part in it (judging by her powers alone) seems slightly rushed. Although I don’t subscribe to Marvel’s continually perceived high standard of films, at the very least we’ve spent time with all of the other heroes. Even later additions such as Black Panther have already been integrated into Avengers: Infinity War and are seemingly not posed to be the potential difference-maker.
Larson described Captain Marvel as her “form of activism” and the film is heavy-handed when it comes to gender roles. From crowbarred-in dialogue between mother and daughter to an awkwardly on-the-nose song choice. Although DC counterpart Wonder Woman (I’m not intentionally stirring that pot) was more effortless in this department, I generally find that empowering films tend to be by nature, not because a conglomerate like Disney wants to pat themselves on the back. While changes in casting choices are a positive, similar to the self-congratulatory enthusiasm that Marvel surrounded the release of Black Panther with, audiences shouldn’t be expected to like a film simply because a studio has finally been dragged into the 21st century.
Captain Marvel is an adequate, albeit underwhelming introduction to a pivotal character.