Written by Daniel Callaghan.
Directed by duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, Captain Marvel is the 21st film in the long-standing Marvel Cinematic Universe, now running for over ten years. It still impresses me to say that even after all this time, there hasn’t been a single bad film in their lineup, where the worst is merely average. Fortunately, the Brie Larson-led Captain Marvel continues this trend of being well above the average action thriller in terms of quality. With that said, however, I have to admit that the film has a few trip-ups to be addressed.
Taking place long before the events of 2008’s Iron Man (1995 to be exact), Brie Larson takes the lead role as Carol Denvers, a US Air Force pilot who is bestowed incredible powers from an alien race known as the Kree. Once she returns home, personal questions are raised about Denver’s place in the world and the overall universe, but she must come into her own if she is to succeed in preventing a gargantuan war between the Kree and the shape-shifting Skrulls, a war that has Earth in the very centre.
From a plot standpoint, Captain Marvel tries to cover a wide range of different film genres within its story, all revolving around the titular character. It has elements of a buddy cop film with Carol Denvers and Nick Fury, a film about identity crisis with her trying to recover her past, and hints of war-espionage, thriller and war. While that certainly sounds like it would make for a completely engaging viewing experience, the execution is admittedly so-so. The storyline revolving around Denver and Fury is the strongest aspect of the film, providing most of the action and entertainment that is to be expected. As well as that, it allows both characters to showcase more depth and intrigue as they learn about one another while on the run from forces both terrestrial and extraterrestrial.
On the other hand, the aforementioned identity crisis aspect is the other centrepiece of the film and most of what is learnt about Denvers is explained by other characters to her rather than shown, e.g. her connection to her Air Force friend, how she joined the Air Force, her childhood life and so on. What should otherwise be wonderful character-building moments are undermined by the fact that the audience is not given the chance to take in the emotional impact that these moments are clearly trying to elicit. The side plot revolving around the Skrulls also feels very mediocre in the long run. At first, the idea of the main characters not knowing who to trust since these aliens have the ability to transform into anyone sets up so much potential to add some intensity and drama. By the last third of the film, however, their entire story changes completely and while what it’s replaced with is not necessarily bad, it becomes too drawn out and not as interesting as what could have been.
Speaking of Carol Denvers, Brie Larson unfortunately is also middling in her attempts to bring her character to life. On one hand, Larson is able to display her acting range when she finally learns about how she came to be, and showcases her comic talents when she banters with Fury. When it comes to her meaning to be intimidating and learning about how Earth operates, she unfortunately doesn’t quite bring that same A game, as she doesn’t give the impression that there is any vulnerability to her, or even any real personality. I have to say that this is a real shame because Larson is such a talented actress and seeing her like this is unfortunate. The comparison is inevitable, but this is why Diana Prince in 2017’s Wonder Woman is so identifiable. She has a very black-and-white understanding of how life works, not fully realising the complexities of life in the human world. As a result, she experiences confusion and lets her vulnerability come into fruition, making it more satisfying when she does step into the role of hero.
I never thought that I’d say this, but the DCEU did something better than the MCU.
When it comes to the supporting cast, here is where the movie shines the most consistently. Samuel L. Jackson delivers a compelling and incredibly endearing performance as a younger Nick Fury, and as mentioned before, the scenes between him and Denvers serve as the highlights of the film. Ben Mendelsohn also showcases his incredible talents in his role of the Skrull leader, Talos, providing this respective character with surprising depth while also being a wonderfully entertaining presence in the film. Jude Law and Annette Benning, while not provided with the most unique of characters as being the Kree mentors to Denver, bring their own charm and likability to their respective roles. Clark Gregg, Lee Pace, Djimon Hounsou and Gemma Chan, while serving their purpose in their respective roles, don’t add a whole lot to the story besides just being supporting roles.
As for the production values, there’s not much negativity to be had. With that said, there’s not a whole lot special either. The action scenes are mostly average without much that stands out, despite there being a train sequence and a one-against-twenty style fight towards the beginning that are incredibly entertaining. The de-aging CGI on Jackson is top-notch, while the other uses of CGI do not hold much of a candle to what’s been previously done, particularly with Doctor Strange and the Guardians of the Galaxy films, with the same clean-looking planet and average-looking spaceships that have been seen in many other science fiction films. Ben Davis’ cinematography is once again fine, without anything to really differentiate itself from other Marvel movies. For the most part, everything is in focus and framed fine, and there’s not much else to address here. The best element of the production values is Pinar Toprak’s euphoric and varied score, mixing orchestral music with synthesisers in a similar fashion to Mark Mothersbaugh’s efforts in Thor: Ragnarok, while still being able to be its own animal.
While entertainment can be found through the supporting cast, action scenes and character moments, Captain Marvel is overall fine and not much to praise or rant over either. Both the story and Larson’s performance can be hit-and-miss, and there’s not much to differentiate the film’s visual style from other Marvel films released in the last few years. I will say that while it certainly is watchable, I don’t know how often I will return to it.
(P.S. The Marvel logos are beautiful.)