Film review: Captain Marvel

A weaker entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe still delivers its key points

Captain Marvel
Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck
With Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan, Annette Bening, Clark Gregg, Jude Law

The long wait is over, with the Marvel Cinematic Universe finally letting a female superhero headline her own film. Captain Marvel stars Brie Larson as the title character, and expectations have been high ever since Avengers: Infinity War ended with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) sending a paging signal to the thus-far unknown Captain Marvel.

But people hoping to find out out more about how the problems left at the end of Avengers: Infinity War will be resolved will have to wait. Captain Marvel is an origin story that mostly takes place in the 1990s, with just a few hints for what will happen in Avengers: Endgame in the credits.

Marvel dropped the ball of female superheroes, letting rival franchise DC launch Wonder Woman in 2017, to great critical acclaim. Marvel had been introducing characters like Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor and Captain America with their own films, but for some reason skipped the chance to give Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) or Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) their own origin films.

Captain Marvel suffers a bit from being second, with the struggles of the character to gain acceptance in a male world not being as fresh as they might have been.

The plot is rather convoluted. Captain Marvel, known initially as Vers, starts out in the film in the middle of a distant conflict between two high-tech races deep in outer space.

Vers is part of an elite fighting force for the Kree, and has lost most of her memory. The Kree are fighting a race of shapeshifters called the Skrulls.

This conflict plays out much like a TV episode of Star Trek. The design of the alien worlds is a bit uninspired when compared to the recent accomplishments like the hidden African civilization in Black Panther.

The action soon moves to 1990s earth, and again falls just a bit flat. There are attempts at humor, but simply showing a Windows 95 screen, an error message from a dial-up modem or an Alta Vista search engine page are not that funny on their own.

Video stores and cheap electronics shops are also supposed to automatically generate laughter.

Nick Fury, who has popped in and out of films throughout the Marvel series, has a large role and manages to prop up some of the dialogue. Actor Samuel L. Jackson has a skill for wrestling humor out of dry lines. Fury also gets much of his origin story told in the background, including an important detail about his appearance. Jackson was digitally de-aged for his role, and the effect worked pretty well. Some previous attempts at de-aging resulted in an uncanny artificial look.

Brie Larson as Vers / Captain Marvel plays her role pretty straight. She rises to the occasion when a strong and fearless character is called for, but doesn’t really go on a charm offensive to win the audience.

Jude Law, as Kree leader Yon-Rogg, and Annette Bening, as a vision of the Kree supreme intelligence and related characters, stand out among the support characters.

But the direction by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck makes this just an average entry in the series, never flying as high as it might. The directing team has made a number of low-budget, character-centered films together, which got good reviews but limited box office returns. They didn’t get the feel of the material and mishandled the more human elements of the story.

A montage late in the film showing Vers overcoming childhood setbacks is a strong visual moment, but it doesn’t make up for the plodding almost two hours that came before it.

Captain Marvel isn’t bad, but it doesn’t reach the same levels as many of the other Marvel films, which took the audience to places they had never imagined. Ant Man and Guardians of the Galaxy had more humor, Dr Strange had better acting, Black Panther and the Thor films had more highly achieved visions.

But Marvel fans will need to see it, especially if they want to be ready for the soon-to-be released Avengers: Engame.

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