The MCU’s latest origin story is also its first solo film for a female character. They put their absolute best effort into touting the movie as such, and after seeing it, I understand why all the emphasis was on pre-hype. One of Marvel’s safest and least-daring films, Carol Danvers’ introduction to the universe doesn’t do much that’s spectacularly irritating — mostly because it doesn’t do anything spectacular at all.
The Skrulls are shape-shifting aliens and shape-shifting is an easy harbinger of fun. And the movie touches on its potential. It’s the mid-90’s which means grunge and kind of wonderfully cheesy music; and the movie touches on that, too. Carol wears band tees and ripped jeans, and the computers are super slow. Otherwise it could be set anytime. Style only seems to cross the movie’s mind is when there’s cool CGI effects to show off. Even the worst of the past MCU films have had tonal style and the dampener of the Marvel Brand isn’t excuse for the blandness we get here. I wish they had fully embraced the grungy 90’s and low-key cheesy spy thriller aspect it was all crying for.
It could’ve been amazing with relatively little tweaking to the core story.We start out with a brief glimpse of the Kree world where Carol (Brie Larson) is serving in the Kree/Skrull war under Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). There’s one shot of the Kree city outside her widow that looks like a magnificent scifi scape leaning towards noir-ish, cyberpunk-ish vibes, but we never see it up close. She does some training, she goes on mission, and eventually winds up stranded on Earth circa 1995 where she meets a younger, two-eyed Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Coulson (Clark Gregg) and goes on a hunt for some people of her forgotten memories (Annette Bening) and (Lashana Lynch), all the while the Skrull Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) and his crew are on her tail.
There were moments she made me laugh with her delivery and times she made me smile just by being happy and laughing with Fury. On the other side, I think she was miscast. She does look the part and all MCU actors give better performances elsewhere, but ultimately her inexpressive style only adds to the bland feeling that brings the movie down. The only person who seems committed to having fun here is Ben Mendelsohn. Samuel L. Jackson’s natural charisma works so well for him that I can’t tell if he was phoning in or not. He’s also better elsewhere with better scripts. This script actively attacks him, making one very significant thing happen that does its level best to ruin his character with its abject stupidity. (Hint: it’s to do with his eye.) Just another day at the old MCU!
The central heart of the story — getting up when you’re knocked down — had a solid foundation, but I hesitate to call it a theme because the movie’s attempts to present it as theme were grasping. Visually it had impact and you can practically feel them scrambling for a verbal iteration to match in the moment. The set-up for Carol’s development is weak, and the part about her needing to control her emotions was left hanging. That didn’t make sense to begin with as Larson’s acting style is so reserved that her being overly emotional as the script says doesn’t fly. And I’ll will readily defend Larson’s acting abilities. She can work wonders in indie films where everything’s understated. But as a blockbuster-action superhero, her internalizing emotions gets lost in the total lack of nuance.
Despite all this, I did somewhat enjoy myself for the most part. Perhaps simply because I expected a dumpster fire, and instead it was like watching the garbage truck come by your house; something vaguely loud to look at that isn’t impactful in any significant way. They did manage to lose me eventually though, with a later twist. To “subvert expectations” is required in every movie now, and appropriately this subversion throws a wrench in the plotting. It flounders for a while before it settles into a new groove, no better than the original. Overall the whole thing feels like the result of cutting corners and skimping on budget — but if anyone can take a slight risk and make a decent film for girl protagonist, it’s Marvel! … Right?
Fan-favorite Goose the cat was great — when he was being played by a real cat. The disgracefully rendered CGI cat that he was half the time seems to have been animated by a person who has never seen a cat before. It moved like boneless dog. Other random things that bothered me was how Carol’s hair was always curled. I felt like her stylist was sitting behind me with a hot iron, waiting for the camera to cut so she could run in and fix the falling waves. There are the expected Marvel Brand jokes to make me die inside. And they only play three era songs for a decent amount of time. One is horribly matched to a fight scene. The fighting overall was shot lazily to negate the need for good choreography. The good action beats came from special effects and infused drama instead.
The temptation to pander and squeak by on as little effort as possible was simply too strong. And why not when you can trust the brand and the hype to sell the resulting painfully average product regardless of quality? A handful of genuinely enjoyable moments and splashes of shiny CGI among long stretches of middling boredom is all we are rewarded with for our loyal patronage.
Captain Marvel isn’t a terrible movie; nor is it good, or a waste, or a success, or hardly anything resembling a movie at all. It has more in common with an extremely competent exercise in running down a checklist. The soulless Marvel assembly machine grinds on.