Between Marvelous and Mediocre: A review of Captain Marvel

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Image owned by Disney/Marvel Studios and from FilmBook

This is a frustrating film to review.

I’m going to start by stating that I liked and in certain parts, loved Captain Marvel, the MCU’s 21st film as well as precursor to Avengers Endgame. But I get the feeling that no matter how many good or bad things I can say about this picture, my perspective will leave some feeling cold to me.

Of course, I’m a barely if-at-all known quantity in an ocean of internet blogs that involve reviewing anything you can imagine. How much can my honest if unavoidably biased opinion really trigger someone? Am I afraid of reviewing counter to one narrative that I have some sympathy to? Seeing people I enjoy watching on YouTube or at the very least, have made solid points on certain subjects come away dismayed before and after this film’s launch makes me wonder if I did not see some great error that makes this film a lesser product than I perceived. In this day and age, everything is a heated trigger in a culture war without end, one which makes the act of casually enjoying a product much more difficult. Enjoying something that I know has fault is blasphemy. It’s no longer a matter of taste, it’s a matter of your opinion reflecting if you will in time, be on the right side of history.

Will me largely approving Captain Marvel’s empowerment message put me in the right side? Will me falling in line with the rhetoric against such a message, however well intended, put me in the wrong? Can I just say that this was a fun even creative origin story for the newest member of the Avengers, a member who audiences will be, in theory, rooting for next month alongside the veterans? Is this the beginning of the end of the MCU if the backlash was warranted? Like a popular 90s Smashing Pumpkins song, the MCU is meeting its beginning meeting its end meeting its beginning.

Captain Marvel tells the story of a half human/half Kree warrior called Vers who in time learns her real name is Carol Danvers. She fights in Starforce, a Kree special ops unit for the alien empire in the protection of its people and more importantly, its borders. The enemy are the Skrulls, shape-shifting aliens who are one of the most enduring and earliest foes in the Marvel Universe. Carol’s mission takes her to Earth, where due to the Skrulls messing with her head, starts recalling memories from this mysterious alien planet that is our own. In time, her hunt for the Skrulls becomes a hunt for herself.

Captain Marvel, like the first Captain America, is a period piece. Instead of the optimistic WW2 1940s, we have the grunge and rebellious 1990s and Los Angeles is as good a place as any to digest the world of two decades past. Carol’s fish out of water tale,either intentional or not, makes visual and narrative references to 90s cinema in ways that are among the most charming for my liking. The LA setting with the shape sifting enemies invokes 1991’s Terminator 2 with its T-1000. Also the main character stealing clothes, boots and a motorcycle.  Carol’s memories mystery recalls,well, Total Recall from 1990. A dogfight in a canyon like in 1996’s Independence Day.

On the one hand, I actually didn’t mind the sort-of excessive use of 90s’ iconography. Even though I was barely conscious of it due to me being one year old when Captain Marvel is set, I feel some appreciation for a loving stab at the 90s and how it does connect with a burgeoning female empowerment message that was in the air. For all the symbolic intent, it’s not out of character for the era. I did appreciate not shoehorning in an OJ Simpson reference, as his trial occurs the year this takes place, 1995.

Let’s get to the one area of agreement I had wholeheartedly with the naysayers past and present: despite Brie Larson’s best efforts, the handling of Captain Marvel herself is problematic. She is a stiff, angry yet powerful hero who does remind me of Henry Cavill’s Superman, minus the element of gloom. I wouldn’t call Ms. Danvers gloomy and mopey, rather unfailingly determined and stern to the point of near parody. It’s hard to get a bead on what exactly they were going for, aside from a “never give up” attitude that was already handled better with Chris Evan’s Captain America. Both characters can indeed “do this all day.” If this ends up paying off in the interaction between the two in Endgame, well that’s something.

I want to be kind in saying that perhaps her amnesiac past is keeping her from being more expressive and colorful and dare I say, interesting. Some of her flashbacks do suggest something was there. And of course the fourth Avengers and films involving her afterward can build her up as something more compelling. First impressions are almost everything and her first impression for me is not the best.

The movie almost fails because of how purposefully yet oddly flat Larson plays the Captain but it is saved by everyone else in the film. How she interacts with friends and foes, whether it be the younger and greener Nick Fury, her old copilot, Maria Rambeau, and her Starforce commander, played by Jude Law. There is something to how her actions impact them and in turn give her something that does linger in my memory. Even if I cannot connect to Carol (yet), I do believe she connected with others that were more animated than she was. Speaking of animation, that deaging magic they put on Samuel L. Jackson is unbelievable. That you stop noticing is when it has succeeded.

Some have already complained about the out of sync structure of the film, in relation to Danvers’ shattered memories. I was never really lost and did actually found myself impressed with some of the twists they managed to pull off. Some of these are less twists than subversions of what was expected and I can appreciate that something clever was implemented in the film that I can look back and say confidently like Garfield, “Nice touch.” The same can’t be said for the lighting.

In what has become an infuriating trend in this decade and a little before it, modern films often employ an intentionally darker lit look to the film which while it might be more reflective of the actual lack of light in the scenario, does make it harder to appreciate the ass kicking that is in store. This is most evident in a third act brawl with Carol and several enemies in a spoilerific setting for spoilerific reasons. My parents, who naturally saw it with me, thought it was a problem with our somewhat new theater’s screen, though I believe it was intentional based on reports from other screenings. The choice was made to have one of the realistic aspects of this movie be how dark the location should be rather than convenience for our naked eyes.

I would ask people to watch this film honestly and openly. If you’re only seeing it because of a huge film coming very soon afterwards, that’s a good reason. If you’re seeing it because you like the comic character, that’s a good reason. If you just trust Marvel knows what it’s doing, that is still a good reason.  If you want a loving tribute or two to the late Stan the Man, what are you waiting for? If you don’t want to watch for reasons that have everything to do with a stringent political bias or the opposite of that, I can’t say no because I don’t have that authority, nor shall I ever. I will say that what you watch may not be what was really intended by the directors, the producers, the writers and the cast. Yes, this is a political Marvel film, they ‘ve done so in the past and will keep on doing so. Whether they executed their political message is a subjective question that is now an unholy nightmare to unravel these days.

In the end, I had fun and I am not hesitant at all to see Carol appear in Avengers Endgame. Perhaps the Russo Bros. have something special in mind to make the mightiest Avenger work for the future where she has failed in the past.

 

 

Oh, the cat, Goose. He’s the one thing that will exceed your expectations, so nothing to fear there.

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