A film review by Craig J. Koban March 19, 2019



2019, PG-13, 125 mins.


Brie Larson as Carol Danvers / Captain Marvel  /  Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury  /  Ben Mendelsohn as Talos  /  Jude Law as Yon-Rogg  /  Annette Bening as Supreme Intelligence  /  Gemma Chan as Minn-Erva  /  Lee Pace as Ronan  /  Mckenna Grace as Young Carol Danvers  /  Djimon Hounsou as Korath  /  Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson

Directed by Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden  /  Written by Boden, Fleck, and Geneva Robertson-Dworet






Yes, the fact that CAPTAIN MARVEL is the Marvel Cinematic Universe's first solo super hero entry that stars a woman and is co-written and directed by a woman is definitely something to be celebrated.  

Having said that, it's taken the MCU an unforgivably long time - twenty films and over ten years, as a matter of fact - to release a female driven comic book film, which means that CAPTAIN MARVEL is in the better late than never category (by comparison, the MCU is seriously late to the gender inclusion party compared to the DCEU, which successfully launched last year's WONDER WOMAN to great popular and critical acclaim...and just four films into its cinematic universe). 

Regardless, there's been a massive amount of pre-release build up and anticipation with CAPTAIN MARVEL going in, and the film certainly boast considerable talent in front of and behind the camera that greatly pumped my interest.  There's recent Academy Award winning Best Actress Brie Larson (who gave one of the best performances of the last decade in ROOM) quarterbacking the whole affair playing the titular character, and the hiring of filmmaking couple Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (who previously made three of the finest indie films of the last decade in HALF NELSON, SUGAR, and MISSISSIPPI GRIND) to direct here revels in the MCU's commendable willingness to go outside of the box with filmmakers for their respective films.  Despite the high pedigree of talent on board, some historic firsts for the MCU, as well as some ambitious scripting, I left CAPTAIN MARVEL feeling like it was a modestly enjoyable in small dosages MCU installment that, rather regrettably and disappointingly, felt generically underwhelming and disposable.  And that's quite a shame. 



The film has lofty aspirations, to be sure, as a super hero film: It serves as an origin tale for the Captain Marvel character (which dabbles in the oldest storytelling troupe in the book - amnesia - as well as some intergalactic political conflicts) while also serving as a period film, of sorts, and prequel to the entire MCU as a whole.  There's simply a lot going on here in the film that Boden and Fleck (along with a series of screenwriters too numerous to count on one hand) have to wade through, some of which is pulled off successfully, whereas the rest...not so much.  And it's all pretty convoluted stuff, to be honest, that almost requires a road map given to moviegoers to make sense of it all.  I'll endeavor to keep things simple: The film introduces the aforementioned galactic conflict between the Skrulls (shape shifting aliens) and the more noble minded Kree, the latter of which take orders from a collective artificial intelligence know as...The Supreme Intelligence. 

Still with me? 

Now, the Kree have a squadron of space trekking noble warrior heroes at their disposal, a sort of space police force, which is led up by their commanding officer Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), who spends much of his time barking orders at his crew, which includes Vers (Larson), who has one unique skillset of being able to punch out plasma energy from her hands.  It should be noted, though, that Vers is not Kree born, but is rather human (real name Carol Danvers) and has no memory of her life prior to her Kree home planet arrival six years earlier.  After a problematic skirmish between the villainous Skrulls and the peace enforcing Kree ends badly, Carol ends up crass landing on planet C-53 (described as a "real shit hole" by one of her alien colleagues), also known to us as Earth...but in 1995.  We know that it's not present day very quickly when she crash lands right into a closed Blockbuster Video surrounded by VHS tapes on the shelves. 

Still with me? 

While on Earth - and attempting to acclimate to the culture and norms of the 90s - Carol finds herself coming in contact with a young Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), a new S.H.I.E.L.D. agent that assists her with piecing together the fragmented memories of her past while learning what her real destiny is in this whole Kree versus Skrulls war.  Predictably, there are power plays on multiple sides, not to mention multiple would-be surprising twists involving motive shifting characters, and far too often the overall scripting here seems kind of messy as it meanders from one plot beat to the next.  One of the bigger problems with the narrative is that Carol "Captain Marvel" Danvers herself seems like a supporting player in her own movie; the story has to cover the Skrull/Kree conflict, Yon-Rogg and his team, Nick Fury and his Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and so forth.  Then there are characters from Carol's past on Earth before she ascended up the ranks of the Kree.  There's frankly enough material here for two movies.   

It also pains me to say that Captain Marvel herself is not a particularly inspired or compellingly written character when all is said and done, and her overall origin story doesn't seem as fleshed out and enthralling as it should have been.  There are times when CAPTAIN MARVEL seems less like a thoroughly absorbing solo entry with ties to the MCU (like the great BLACK PANTHER, which stood proudly on its own two feet) and more like another placeholder MCU entry for more important franchise sequels to come.  And it really pains me to say that - despite my own hero worshiping appreciation of her as an actress - I found Larson to be a bit flat footed and wooden in her role.  It rarely came across that a beyond capable and empowered performer like Larson ever fully inhabited this role like she should have, and with a radiating confidence.  Comparisons to, say, Gal Godot's Wonder Woman, seem inevitable, but Gadot's Amazonian warrior had a striking presence, a larger than life heroic charisma, and a relatable emotional vulnerability that made her character so disarming and winning.  I sensed very little of that with Larson as Captain Marvel; she simply lacks an assured poise. 

CAPTAIN MARVEL is also, visually speaking, a very mixed and inconsistent bag, which, no doubt, may or may not have something to do with Boden and Fleck having complete inexperience with something this size and scope.  There's an opening action sequence that's so dark, dreary, and dimly lit that it looks like the camera lens was caked with smog beforehand, making overall spatial geography between characters appear pretty messy (this is not assisted at all by the murky palette of a 3D presentation).  The rest of the film is aesthetically pretty stale and journeyman-like, although the final act offers up the film's more thrilling set pieces.  Still, CAPTAIN MARVEL sorely lacked any ethereal WOW! moments like, again, WONDER WOMAN (sorry, not trying to make this a DC vs. Marvel thing).  I remember the stunning sequence mid-way through WONDER WOMAN where its hero defied all of her male colleague's warnings and bravely ran through No Man's Land to take on the entirety of the WWI German army by herself.  That moment was exhilarating and dramatically potent for both super hero and feminist cinema.  By comparison, CAPTAIN MARVEL has a somewhat similar scene featuring her clobber her way through multiple enemies with No Doubt's "I'm Just a Girl" hollowly blaring on the soundtrack with a bit too much obtrusive winking at the audience.  It's an energetic and lively sequence, but not particularly very moving and rousing.

On a positive, the 90s nostalgia is a real funny trip throughout CAPTAIN MARVEL, and on top of the No Doubt tune we get plenty of other era specific jingles peppered in throughout the film in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY jukebox fashion (I remember Nirvana, Garbage, and TLC the most).  Then we get cute throwbacks to 90's pop culture, like pagers, dial-up Internet, and grunge fashion (which Nick Fury thinks is a good look for the incognito Carol while on Earth).  Speaking of Nick Fury, and because this film is set decades earlier than the other MCU films, the digital de-aging VFX - usually so poor and shoddy in other films - are jaw droppingly astounding here as technological marvels.  It's both mightily impressive and kind of frightening what the effects artisans are capable of here, and considering how authentically and seamlessly it comes across in the film it leaves the possibility of, for example, any elderly actor returning to their most iconic film role of their youth with CGI facelifts. . 

If one wanted to point a finger wag of shame, though, towards CAPTAIN MARVEL then it would be that it's indicative of the increasingly stale "Marvel house brand style."  Considering the epic nature of the best offerings of the MCU (like the CAPTAIN AMERICA trilogy), CAPTAIN MARVEL feels pretty low stakes and light weight, not to mention that when one considers the visual richness on display in entries like GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY or a THOR: RAGNAROK, then Boden and Fleck's efforts, rather shallowly, lack an inspired sense of production design and art direction.  To be clear, one thing must be said in closing: I definitely want to see to see more of the Carol Danvers character, and her unavoidable inclusion in the soon-to-be-released AVENGERS: END GAME is pretty juicy, to be sure.  But I really, really wanted to like her solo film more.  CAPTAIN MARVEL is indeed a very important film.  We desperately need more films of its ilk that fully supports and champions gender inclusion on all fronts, especially in genres that are usually sausage fests.  But we also need better films than CAPTAIN MARVEL to lead the charge of such crucial industry pursuits of equality and fair representation.  

No doubt. 




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