“Captain Marvel”, the twenty-first installment in the ever-growing “Marvel Cinematic Universe”, and is the first to feature not only a female lead, but also the first to feature a female as one of the directors. When “Black Panther” was released in 2018, it blew audiences away. The political and social nuance that the film brought to the table truly redefined what a superhero film could be. It was more than costumed characters throwing punches, but instead, a platform to both inspire and educate people on the political and cultural importance of black representation. “Captain Marvel” is a film that is equally important, and there is no reason that it should not have done the exact same thing for female representation. Unfortunately, it does not, not well enough at least.
Set in 1995, “Captain Marvel” follows ex-U.S. Air Force Pilot Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) as she becomes the superhero Captain Marvel after an alien race secretly invades earth. Along the way, she is joined with Agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) as they attempt to uncover the secrets of Danvers’ past.
Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who have never headlined a high-budget film, are simply not well enough attuned to juggle a giant blockbuster like “Captain Marvel”. At times, the film feels like it was ripped off of the SYFY network, which is not a good thing. The film has less than stellar pacing, and really drags, despite its relatively short runtime at just 124 minutes. Its fun to see characters performing visual thrills, but with so many jump cuts and poor lighting in areas, it’s hard to make sense of what plays out on screen. Boden and Fleck really struggled with not only balancing the tone, but also bringing any relevance or excitement to the screen. If the film had been released along the likes of both 2011’s “Thor” and “Captain America: The First Avenger”, it may have sat better for me, but thanks to the far superior recent Marvel releases, “Captain Marvel” feels painfully dated.
“Captain Marvel” may be riddled with direction, structural, and tonal problems, but fortunately, Brie Larson helps pull the film out of the mud. Larson who has proven her acting chops in films like “Room”, and she is far more likable as Carol Danvers than trailers for the film would have you believe. She has a genuine wit that made me laugh out loud several times, and a strong personality. However, due to the direction and tonal unbalances, the character of Captain Marvel too feels uneven. As I mentioned earlier, she feels like she belongs in the 2011 era of Marvel films. Just as directors and writers struggled to bring the character of Thor to life, Captain Marvel feels destined for the same fate, despite Larson’s efforts.
Samuel L. Jackson returns as Nick Fury, albeit 25 years younger. The process used to digitally de-age Jackson is absolutely stunning. Not once was I not convinced by their game-changing special effects and I look forward to seeing it utilized more often. Jackson himself was also a delight to watch on screen, and his chemistry with Larson added a much needed pallet-cleanser for the otherwise convoluted film.
A handful of other performances are very good as well, such as Ben Mendelsohn and Lashana Lynch. Some of the 90’s references are handled well, and I particularly liked the placement of some of the 90’s pop songs such as “Just a Girl” by No Doubt. There are also many great nods to the rest of the “MCU” and a few solid jokes.
Perhaps the greatest offense of this film, is how irrelevant and forgettable it is. It isn’t particularly good, nor is it overwhelmingly bad. It is merely here, and it brings almost nothing to the franchise or industry, and it very much should have. Nothing in this film seems to have importance to the rest of the “MCU”, other than introducing audiences to the character who is slated to appear in “Avengers: Endgame” later this year. Hopefully, with more seasoned directors and writers, a sequel or future appearance of the character will give her the representation she deserves.
There is no reason that Captain Marvel should not have been one of the best characters in the “MCU”. It’s not because of her sex or the performance of the actress, but the writing and mishandling of the actual character. Gal Gadot proved that a woman could headline a comic book film not only adequately, but exceptionally in 2017’s “Wonder Woman”, and it feels like such a missed opportunity that “Captain Marvel” underutilized Marvel’s first female lead in a fine but forgettable slog. Despite solid performances by Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson, “Captain Marvel” never truly takes flight, and struggles a bit to stick any meaningful landing.