Right up to its release Captain Marvel garnered lots of media attention. Some of it focused on the negative anticipation as trolls flooded the Rotten Tomatoes site with defamatory comments about Brie Larsen’s statements on the lack of diversity in film journalism. This of course blew up in the media which, whilst denouncing it, just had the inevitable effect of drawing even more attention to it. Captain Marvel isn’t of course the first superhero movie of the recent superhero movie craze that features a woman as the main protagonist (which was Wonder Woman) but it is the first Marvel movie. This, of course, will be a cause of celebration for some.
Vera (Brie Larson) is a Kree warrior fighting a bitter war against the Skrull race. After a mission to rescue a spy from the hands of the Skrulls goes horribly wrong, Vera finds herself on planet Earth where she must find a Dr Wendy Lawson (Annette Bening) before the Skrulls do. However, she finds out more about herself then she had expected and what she finds out changes everything.
Captain Marvel is first and foremost a Marvel movie. It’s part of a machine that produces these movies with an impressive efficiency that gets critical acclaim as well as box office success almost 100% of the time. The Marvel movies have a formula and Captain Marvel doesn’t deviate from that formula enough to make it particularly noteworthy or memorable. It’s peppered with humour throughout and Brie Larson has a good comedic timing, but like every Marvel movie it ends in a CGI extravaganza that falls flat because there is no tension. We know the end result and I’ve personally never cared enough about the characters or the films to feel more than mindlessly entertained. Captain Marvel does not buck that trend.
Captain Marvel is set in the mid-90s therefore it can work as a stand-alone film. A relative newcomer can watch this film without feeling hopelessly lost. However, like many Marvel movies there is that element of fan service. This comes in the form of Lee Pace making an utterly pointless appearance as Ronan (who was in Guardians of the Galaxy). This leads me on to another type of “fan service” that feels somewhat on the nose. There are a couple of moments in the film that hint towards common sexist tropes (like telling a woman to smile or the belief they are emotional beings). It feels somewhat unsubtle because anyone who needs to be told that a woman doesn’t have to smile at a man’s demand probably won’t watch Captain Marvel but I guess that isn't the point as its more solidarity thing.
Where the film’s feminist credentials are more appealing is in the story arc of Carol Danvers. The desire to do what she wants to do in the face of failure and others who attempt to bring her down is much more interesting and inspiring. The fact that the best, and most moving, relationship she has in the film is with another woman is also worthy of praise. Unlike Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel isn’t bogged down by a pointless romantic subplot and the movie is better for it. For me, Carol Danvers’ relationship with Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) is the most engaging part of the film.
Yet for all the drawbacks it has that plagues every Marvel movie, it has the positives. The performances are uniformly excellent with both Samuel L. Jackson (looking convincingly de-aged) and Ben Mendelsohn giving scene stealing performances. However, Brie Larson is able to hold her ground against her impressive co-stars and ensures the film remains her own. The comic timing is spot on and her physicality during the film’s hand to hand combat sequences is also impressive even if Captain Marvel is one of Marvel’s weakest film in terms of its action (lots of the action takes place in space or dark corridors).
It’s a fun watch and it even takes a surprising turn, shifting the narrative structure just enough to keep Captain Marvel a fun watch.