It’s become quite difficult to approach or review Captain Marvel without suffering the influence of all the bullshit, propaganda and counter-propaganda nonsense that’s been surrounding the release of this film.
But my intention is to try. To try to look at this movie purely as a movie and a piece of the MCU – and to expel all the extraneous baggage that has unfortunately infected this film’s release.
I have been looking forward to this movie for a long time.
I was anticipating it more than Black Panther, probably even more than Infinity War. I’m a huge Carol Danvers fan and Captain Marvel enthusiast. Ever since the fantastic Kelly Sue DeConnick era of Captain Marvel stories, this has been one of my favorite characters – and, as it happens, one of the handful of key ‘senior’ superheroes in the contemporary Marvel tapestry.
Furthermore, the after-credits scene at the end of Infinity War – where Nick Fury sends out an apparent distress signal on a device bearing Captain Marvel’s insignia – whetted my fan-boy appetite even more.
However, upon seeing the first trailer – and the accompanying anti-feminist diatribes on the Internet – my enthusiasm started to take a hit: and I worried this wasn’t going to be the movie I was hoping for.
In the end, Captain Marvel isn’t quite the movie I was hoping for. It’s not some big disappointment either. It’s a decidedly mixed entity: with some marvelous things about it and some weaknesses to it too.
On the balance, I had to then simply ask myself whether I enjoyed this film: and the answer was yes. This is a fun movie, with great energy and spirit about it, a lot of visual treats, and plenty of the MCU humour and wit we’re usually looking for.
There are also a few things I didn’t like: and several things I think were misjudged or poorly executed. Which I will get to.
Firstly, for all the controversy and trolling that preceded this movie’s release, Brie Larson gives us a solid performance. She’s fun to watch, does the deadpan humour well, carries herself throughout the film, and her chemistry with Samuel L. Jackson is fine.
On the negative side, I feel like she doesn’t emote enough necessarily, except for one or two scenes.
Maybe her performance needed more emotion and nuance in places; but it’s difficult to tell whether this is to do with her acting or whether it the director’s choice or even the writers’ choice for how Captain Marvel should come across.
In fairness, with hindsight, I think the point in the story at which she does start to show more feeling and reaction is when she learns of her true origin and connections. So I feel like this is a deliberate sequence of events – while she’s still ‘in character’ as a Kree warrior, she seems to have no emotion and feels like a blank slate: then, discovering her true nature, we see her human side start to show itself more and more.
That makes sense: implying that her emotional self is within her repressed human self, and so she needed to unearth her true identity.
In the key scene where she does need to show emotion, Larson performs that moment really well. I will say – and this is only speaking as someone who loves the Captain Marvel of the comic-books – I was a little disappointed that we didn’t quite get the comic-book level of Carol Danvers wit: but, presumably, this is something that needs to be developed over time.
In terms of all the chatter about her being a ‘Mary Sue’, I can kind of see why that perception is there. I can see why some would see this is a flat performance of a character that’s written to be perfect and invincible from beginning to end. That isn’t necessarily an issue with Brie Larson as an actress, but with how the character was written in this story.
It’s also not a problem limited to this film – as trolls would have us believe – but common to a number of recent movies.
For example, Wonder Woman arguably had the same problem. Even the MCU’s Steve Rogers could be said to have been something of a Gary Stew. But I admit that Captain Marvel, as written here, does have some of those problems of being under-developed and too perfect at the same time.
But you could say that about plenty of male protagonists in various popular movies – it seems to be that people only get upset about it when it’s a woman.
I wasn’t bored of watching her on screen. I think a lot depends on how she’s written in the future: from End Game onwards. But – ‘Mary Sue’ or not – Brie Larson coasts through this movie with on-screen charisma, a sparkle in her eye, and like someone really enjoying her role.
The single moment, in fact, that encapsulates all of this is the (poignant) Stan Lee cameo early on – the way Larson plays that moment is absolutely perfect: and, for me, epitomises the way she takes on this whole film.
At any rate, what actually prevents any of those above-mentioned issues from sinking the movie is the fact that she spends most of her time on-screen playing off of Sam Jackson, which was a smart move on the writers’ part. The Brie/Jackson or Danvers/Fury thing is actually, I think, what provides most of the fun in this movie: it turns something that could’ve been stale into something more dynamic. It basically becomes a buddy/cop movie. And the two of them have good chemistry on screen.
In fact, I don’t think Fury has this kind of on-screen chemistry with any other character we’ve seen so far: so I’m looking forward to seeing more Fury/Danvers interplay in future films.
Some people have a problem with how insanely powerful Captain Marvel is, especially at the end. Deus-ex-Machina, perhaps. Or contrived ‘Girl Power’ on steroids? I don’t know.
The fact is that Captain Marvel IS that powerful in the source-material. So, how do you get around that?
Make her less powerful for the films? That wouldn’t work.
And it just looks so good, damn it! It’s one of those visceral moments that just looks and feels so satisfying that you end up suspending your critical faculties, because it just bowls you over.
In terms of the broader storytelling, this film is a mixed bag.
It was always an interesting choice to make the Captain Marvel movie a prequel: and to introduce Carol Danvers retroactively.
In essence, it changes a lot of what we know about the MCU timeline. It resets things a little, so that we can now argue that Captain Marvel is why the Avengers Initiative came into being in the first place. But I don’t have a problem with that. It was never said in any of those earlier films that Tony Stark or Steve Rogers were the first superheroes to come across Nick Fury’s radar. So the idea of Fury’s initiative having been prompted by his encounter with Captain Marvel is fine.
I’m okay with this non-linear storytelling: and actually some more MCU movies set earlier in the timeline is not a bad idea. From this one example, we get a different timeline for the Cosmic Cube (oh, I’m sorry – the ‘tesseract’) too, which is interesting.
Funny enough, two days after I saw Captain Marvel, Captain America: The First Avenger happened to be showing on one of the channels here in the UK, so I watched that film again with a new perspective.
I have to question the choice to begin the narrative on Hala, with Carol (or “Virs”) as a Kree. This story kind of feels like it’s the wrong way around: like we actually should’ve started with Carol Danvers (actually named as Carol Danvers) on Earth, with perhaps a short sequence of her growing up as a young girl; and then build up to the accident with the ‘lightspeed engine’ (i.e: the Tesseract or the Cosmic Cube), have her suddenly wake up on Hala in her new life… and then having to work her way back to understanding who she really is.
I get why we didn’t have it that way: they went for more of an unfolding mystery approach, with more intrigue and suspense. But I’m not sure how well that worked here.
I went to see this film with my two younger sisters, and they both struggled with that aspect of it. One of them, coming out of the cinema, didn’t even register that the character’s name is Carol Danvers – because it wasn’t effectively enough established in the film. She didn’t really know if the character is ultimately human or Kree.
For an audience member grounded in the comic books, most of this isn’t a problem: we can kind of figure stuff out. But for an average cinema-goer, it can be a little confusing.
The fact that this is Carol Danvers isn’t effectively enough established at the end of the film. I don’t think the name ‘Captain Marvel’ is even ever used in the film either.
While this way of telling the story – starting on Hala, with ‘Virs’ as a Kree and then slowly unfolding the truth about her origins – has its merits and is perhaps more clever, I just feel a simpler, more obvious origin-story-style approach might’ve made for a more accessible narrative.
That being said, maybe it wouldn’t have. I don’t know. I just feel there’s a narrative problem here in the structure.
There are other story decisions that are either questionable or interesting, depending on your point of view. The decision to make the Skrulls a more sympathetic group of people than we’re used to in the comics, for example. I actually liked it.
I think, in terms of this self-contained story, it made for a good twist. This story is all about playing around with perceptions: what you think you know or think you are seeing turns out not to be true. So you think ‘Virs’ or Carol is a Kree, but you find out she’s actually human and has been manipulated into accepting a false life and identity. Likewise, you think the Skrulls are the Bad Guys (they certainly look like archetypal bad guys), but you discover these particular Skrulls are just refugees trying to track down their missing loved ones.
It works. You spend the first half of the movie seeing these Skrulls shape-shifting and acting villainous, with the Kree as seemingly the good guys hunting down ‘terrorists’: and then everything shifts and it’s the Kree who are the ‘Bad Guys’.
While this is clearly a commentary of sorts on the real-life refugee crisis and the anti-refugee propaganda, it also just works as perception-subversion in storytelling terms.
I also don’t think it undermines the Skrulls are a villainous power for future stories: because all we’re really saying is that this particular group of Skrulls had a more sympathetic reason for doing what they were doing. It doesn’t negate future circumstances in which other Skrulls could become the villains we’re more used to.
The MCU has done this kind of switch before: take how arch-villainy Loki was at first, and then how he basically became comic-relief in later films.
It’s also fun watching the early shape-shifting antics, which had a definite Secret Invasion feel to it (it also has a very Deep Space Nine ‘changeling’ feel to it too).
All in all, I think the Skrulls were well used here. The Kree, I’m less sure about.
Jude Law puts in a solid performance, but his character – as written – doesn’t do much for me. And, crucially, my biggest problem is with the depiction of the Supreme Intelligence. I wish they’d just done the classic version of the Kree Supreme Intelligence.
This way they do it here, while trying to be more clever about it, just doesn’t work for me. Visually, just the classic big green face floating in a tube would’ve looked and felt a lot more interesting. That’s one thing I really didn’t like here. You might argue it would’ve been too absurd-looking: but come on, we’re passed that now – look at some of the stuff we’ve already had in the Guardians of the Galaxy films.
If you’re going to do these things, then really do them – don’t be ’embarrassed’ by the source material, just go for it.
Also, while it was cool to bring in Ronan the Accuser, I’m not a fan of having him panic at the sight of Captain Marvel doing all bad-assery and then decide to flee. I think this finale would’ve worked better if we’d had some level of real confrontation between Captain Marvel and Ronan and the Kree – even if it means having Ronan and his people take a battering and then decide to flee.
This was, after all, a guy who wasn’t afraid to take on Thanos, for god’s sake.
I don’t know. Maybe I’m just thinking fondly of the episodes of the Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes animated series, where Ronan comes to Earth and has his big showdown with Carol and the others.
Visually, this film is stunning. All the Hala stuff is a feast for the eyes. The CGI is generally outstanding throughout. And, crucially, Captain Marvel’s ‘look’ is pretty perfect: the final, iconic outfit is spot-on, Brie Larson just totally looks the part and wears the image powerfully, and the scenes where the fully-realised Captain Marvel really lets rip and goes into full-power mode is just visually a feast that really feels like you’re reading the comics.
There are details all over the place I love. The Coulson cameo, having Minerva being included in this, some of the Skrull humour, including Ronan the Accuser in the story, the Monica Rambeau insertion, the Stan Lee cameo, the Mallrats reference (Stan Lee’s first cameo, long before the MCU), etc.
The inclusion of the cat (Flerken, I mean) was also a genius move that provides the film’s best comedy (though, yeah, I wish they’d stuck with ‘Chewie’ as his name and not ‘Goose’). I think everyone is now waiting to see ‘Goose’ encounter Rocket from the Guardians.
However, there are other details that maybe don’t work. For example, a big feature in this film is the GOTG style gag of having lots of 90s music in the film, to reflect that this is 1995. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t. Where it works is where it is subtle and in the background.
Where it doesn’t is where it’s just too distracting and overpowering.
Examples of the former: the Garbage track or the Elastica track, which just feel like standard background movie music, albeit noticeable enough to make you smile in recognition of why those specific songs are there.
Examples of the latter: No Doubt‘s ‘I’m Just a Girl’ and Nirvana‘s ‘Come As You Are’. Hey, I’m the biggest Nirvana fan there is; but the way ‘Come As You Are’ was inserted into its particular scene just didn’t work – it’s so prominent and unexpected that you actually stop being in the moment and stop paying attention to what’s happening in the scene, because you’re more focused on the song.
Likewise, ‘I’m Just a Girl’ playing (way too loudly in the mix) while Carol lets rip and kicks bad-guy ass is just too obvious and too cheesy. It both detracts and distracts from the action and pulls you out of the movie.
While I love all of the music in itself (these are my jams), it’s use in the film is a very hit-or-miss affair, quite badly judged in some cases. Even ‘Celebrity Skin’ as the main end song doesn’t work for me. I love Hole and I love that song, but if you’re gonna do a Hole song, why not go for something more punchy and kick-ass?
And hey, while you’re at it, why not go for Babes in Toyland, L7, Bikini Kill, Sleater Kinney, or PJ Harvey?
But, look, I’m probably nitpicking now – I take my 90s music very seriously.
Overall, where does this film stand?
Is it a good enough entry-point for Captain Marvel into the MCU? Yes, I think so.
Is it an entertaining movie in its own right? Yes, definitely.
Is it one of the best or better MCU movies to date? Mmmm, not sure. I’d put it on a par with the first Captain America movie. I’d put it above things like Spiderman: Homecoming, Ant-Man or any of the Thor films. But below Black Panther.
I also think it’s a better film than Wonder Woman (and I liked Wonder Woman).
As for the weird people saying Aqua Man was a better movie than Captain Marvel – I don’t know what planet they’re on.
Does it make me look forward to seeing this character take her broader place in the MCU on-screen pantheon? Yes, definitely. I’m really looking forward to seeing Captain Marvel’s incorporation into the broader franchise, beginning with Avengers: End Game.
Actually, the shame of it is – assuming Robert Downey Jr doesn’t continue beyond End Game – that we may not get to see the Carol/Tony relationship really developed for the MCU. I love the Cap-Marvel/Iron-Man relationship in the comics, but we may not get to see what happen here. I just know also that Brie Larson and Robert Downey Jr would have great on-screen dynamics.
All in all, Captain Marvel had a lot to do. And it does it mostly well. It’s a fun, thoroughly entertaining movie.
It has flaws, imbalances and questionable decisions, and it misfires in places: but it’s balanced out by its positives. And those positives are positive enough to shift this to a win.
If anything, I think this movie should’ve been made/released a lot earlier. I’ve been thinking that for a while. It should’ve appeared before Black Panther, before Doctor Strange or Ant Man, before even Guardians of the Galaxy.
Carol Danvers or Captain Marvel should’ve been brought into the MCU earlier, to really establish her as an important figure. That way, it wouldn’t have to feel like retooling or rewriting the timeline, as it kind of feels like here: and it’d cause less problems with those people who feel like MCU lore is being reset to accommodate this character as all-important.
And the fact is she’s a more important character; and needed to come in probably some time after the first Avengers movie.
That’s just my opinion: had that happened, we probably would’ve avoided all of this toxicity and nonsense too that has interfered with the film’s arrival on the scene.
But, in conclusion, Captain Marvel is a winner – but not a perfect home-run. It neither quite lives up to all the positive hype nor does it live down to all the trolling and hate.
It’s somewhere in the middle – but, I’ll be honest, all the excessive hate and trolling actually made me inclined to embrace it even more.