‘Captain Marvel’ review: one small step…

‘Captain Marvel’ review: one small step…

March 15, 2019

After 20(!) feature films, it’s fair to say that the Marvel movies have a certain rhythm. These things tend to find their footing around the second act, as the action, characters and humor all coalesce into a kinetic, sensory experience. The jokes land because they’re coming out of the mouths of people we care about. The fight sequences aren’t very exciting on their own, but you’re having such a good time watching these personalities interact that the issues don’t matter in the moment. Even a flawed and bloated beast like “Avengers: Infinity War” was able to trigger this child-like enjoyment for millions (myself included, for the most part).

Unfortunately, “Captain Marvel” never quite gets there—there’s a major structural problem in the way. We meet our protagonist (played by Oscar-winner Brie Larson) while she’s living under the name “Vers” on the home planet of aliens called “The Kree.” She’s missing parts of her memory, an amnesiac soldier drawn into an intergalactic conflict between the Kree and the shape-shifting “Skrulls.” And buckle up, because there’s a whole lot of exposition during the film’s especially bumpy beginning.

Filmmakers Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck make the bold choice to start this origin story in the middle: When we meet her, Larson’s character already has her powers. It’s just that the screenplay fails to introduce us to her abilities and personality in a clear and compelling way. These essential “details” only reveal themselves once Vers crash-lands on Earth (in the mid-nineties, so we can get fed a large dose of that sweet, sweet nostalgia), where she meets a young Nick Fury (a digitally de-aged Samuel L. Jackson).

Jackson, and the supporting cast in general, are some of the strongest aspects of “Captain Marvel.” They include Ben Mendelsohn as the perfectly-charming Skrull general Talos, Lashana Lynch as Vers’ best friend Maria and Annette Benning as a former mentor. Vers’ connections with the latter two make up the core of “Captain Marvel,” and you can see the outline of strong storytelling instincts here: The film posits that our hero is powerful because of her relationships with other women. That’s superb, as is the omission of an unnecessary romantic subplot. But because of where we enter Vers’ story, we end up being told about her relationships instead of the movie actually showing them. Yes, Larson has chemistry to spare with everyone around her—but this just draws attention to unfulfilled potential here.

At least it doesn’t overstay its welcome—unlike literally all the other Marvel movies, “Captain Marvel” isn’t fifteen minutes too long (clocking in just over two hours, including the obligatory end-credits sequences). I’m excited to see more of Larson’s Carol Danvers when she shows up in April’s “Avengers: Endgame.” But I have a lot of questions. Were Boden and Fleck the right people for this material? Last year’s “Black Panther” was helmed by a visionary—“Captain Marvel” is not. Why structure the film so that it neglects its emotional backbone? And what’s up with that (incredible) cat?

I’m reminded of how I felt leaving “A Star is Born”—there’s an underlying quality here, but that bugs me almost as much. Gallons of ink have been spilled over the fact that this is the first Marvel Movie with a female lead—something that’s taken far too long. And yet, this entry in the MCU doesn’t fire on all cylinders, failing to find that “rhythm.” In other words, for a flick about an intergalactic fighter pilot, it’s a shame “Captain Marvel” never fully achieves lift-off.

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