Like Black Panther before it, the representational bona-fides of Captain Marvel, the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe, entry have been at the forefront of its marketing and will assuredly be a prominent feature of future discussion. That this is the first female-fronted installment, after 11 years and 20+ films, is certainly noteworthy. Unfortunately, the film isn’t particularly distinctive beyond that. Brie Larson is Vers (pronounced Veers), a literally blue-blooded soldier for an alien race called the Kree, who are locked in a long-running conflict with another bunch of aliens (scary green goblin-looking shapeshifters called Skulls). Pursuit of these alleged bad guys leads Vers to Earth (in the mid 1990s, a fact endlessly hammered home with obnoxious references and needle-drops), where it turns out she once led a normal human life as Carol Danvers, an Air Force fighter pilot, until an accident with alien technology wiped her memory and gave her superhuman powers. And that’s…it? Danvers figures this out about an hour into the movie, after we’ve watched her play catch-up to a plot that we know can’t go anywhere else. The rest is stock scenes of her flying around shooting laser beams out of her hands.
Where Black Panther was steeped in blackness, not just in its cast but in its production design and thematic concerns, Captain Marvel‘s allusions to feminism are mostly platitudinous.
As directed by Half Nelson and Sugar team Ryan Fleck and Anna Bowden (and scripted by at least five credited writers), Captain Marvel has a serious personality problem. It bounces amiably from scene to scene (aided greatly by some decent buddy cop shtick between Vers and a pre-eyepatch Nick Fury, played as usual by Samuel L. Jackson but here de-aged about 30 years via some impressive digital work), but the infrequent action is mostly of the pre-vized second unit variety, indifferently covered and riddled with cuts. Narratively, nothing here stands out as wildly as Thor Ragnarok’s dizzying, colorfully bizarre Hope and Crosby routine in space, nor Ant-Man and the Wasp’s frantic heist comedy (or its female co-leads, for that matter). And where Black Panther was steeped in blackness, not just in its cast but in its production design and thematic concerns, Captain Marvel‘s allusions to feminism are mostly platitudinous. Her fellow Air Force jocks don’t think a girl can handle the job. A jerk on a motorcycle tells her to smile more. Only a handful of scenes featuring Danvers’s old friend and colleague, fellow pilot Maria Rameau (Lashana Lynch), manage to cut through the monotony and return Carol’s story to her, instead of pandering to an audience. So even though this at long last becomes a story about Danvers making her own decisions as to when, where, and how to exercise her formidable powers, it’s not enough to transcend what feels like a perfunctory slog, with almost no narrative or visual idiosyncrasy. For whatever these movies are worth anymore, this one feels like a step back after more recent, relatively quirky risk-taking.