While the Avengers are off dealing with an apocalyptic situation, the suits at the MCU needed a way to keep things going, now that its major stars have fulfilled their contractual obligations or, in some cases, aged out of their roles.
Captain Marvel is meant to be a mighty force for justice, but under the care of directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the movie only gets halfway to authority, with much of the endeavor playing too flat.
Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios
Captain Marvel features a cat in a supporting role and a few gender-related bits that seem a little on-the-nose.
Carol (Brie Larson) is a warrior on the planet Hala, inhabited by the Kree, working as a member of the Starforce, a military team headed by Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), that works diligently to head off threats organized by the Skrull, shape-shifting aliens who want to control Hala, led by Talos (Ben Mendelsohn).
When Carol is captured, her thoughts are probed by Talos, who discovers the pilot’s connection to a special military scientist (Annette Bening) who’s working on a power source to facilitate light-speed travel.
When disaster strikes, Carol is returned to Earth in the mid-1990s, reunited with a world she was once part of but doesn’t recall, with Talos in pursuit, joined by Skrull enforcers to help find her.
Greeting Carol’s arrival is Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), a S.H.I.E.L.D. operative getting his first sampling of the universe’s mysteries. Hoping to get in touch with the life that was taken from her, Carol reunites with co-pilot Maria (Lashana Lynch), also getting acclimated to the super powers she’s absorbed.
Marvel largely sticks to being Marvel. The screenplay (by Boden, Fleck, and Geneva Robertson-Dworet) picks up Carol during her time as a Kree soldier on Hala, trying to sharpen powers that aren’t clearly defined, working closely with Yon-Rogg.
Captain Marvel makes an early promise of wall-to-wall action, delivering a first act that finds Carol battling Skrulls, returning to Earth, and battling more Skrulls on a train tearing through Los Angeles.
The exposition is chewy (especially for those without a comic book education), but Boden and Fleck keep up the pace, creating a diverting swirl of CGI-laden hellraising and 1990s nostalgia. Carol crashes into a Blockbuster, dresses grunge for cover, and sleuths to the tunes of Elastica and Garbage.
Captain Marvel doesn’t overdo the cutes, but it does enjoy the rewind, using de-aging technology to bring back Nick Fury, while Jackson appears to enjoy the fountain of youth, adding humor to a largely serious tale (the Skrulls are cringe-inducing, making Jackson’s turn the most appealing in the feature).
Emergency matters disappear during the midsection, which is tasked with reveals concerning Carol’s power and her connection to a unique scientist. A few familiar faces from the MCU pop up, but the picture as a whole gives up on trying to provide a thrill ride, which only exposes the mildness of the central conflict.
The writing aims for modern concerns about misinformation and border control, which is perhaps too ambitious for a feature that contains a supporting role for a cat (known as “Goose”), and a few gender-related bits that seem too on-the-nose. Carol is belittled by a piggish man on a motorcycle, while a climatic fight scene is scored to No Doubt’s “Just a Girl.”
The directors of Half Nelson, Mississippi Grind, and It’s Kind of a Funny Story just aren’t built to blend explosions with dramatic events. Captain Marvel gets pedestrian quickly, and Larson’s casting is not inspired, while her line-readings are curiously zombified. Larson’s a capable actress, but she seems bizarrely uncomfortable here.
Captain Marvel was teased at the end of Infinity War and now has the honor of leading into April’s Avengers: Endgame, providing an introduction for a photon beam-shooting, galaxy-hopping challenger to Thanos rule. Sadly, the movie isn’t quite the tantalizing amuse-bouche for the big MCU showdown, but it does provide a look at what the character is capable of.