‘Captain Marvel’ comes a little late to the superhero party
The superhero origin story has become so familiar that it’s almost a genre unto itself. Especially in this time of universe-building, franchise-hopeful moviemaking, it’s a format that can become parody if not handled correctly.
For those entering the Marvel brand of films, it can be even easier to fall into the familiar format that is just a page away from being a Mad Lib: A mild-mannered (person) gets (action verb) by a strange (object) and realizes he/she has (adjective) powers that he/she must learn to control to help save the (country/world/universe) . When we first meet Vers, the protagonist of “Captain Marvel,” she has already acquired her abilities and is going through hero training with her sage mentor (played by Jude Law). Throughout, she is plagued with flashbacks of another life that she seems to have lived, and which may hold the key to her powers.
Her space squadron is preparing for a battle with the Skrulls, a Nosferatu-looking band of shape-shifting warriors with whom her group, the Kree, has an embedded spy they hope to safely extract. While their plan flops, Vers (played by Brie Larson) has her memory jostled, and it leads her to Earth circa 1995. As fate (or narrative convenience) would have it, she lands in the exact same town where agents Nick Fury and Phil Coulson (played by Samuel L. Jackson and Clark Gregg, respectively) are attached to a new governmental task force designed to delve into the world’s wider-ranging threats. Vers and Fury are soon searching for answers together and discover that she is actually Carol Danvers, a former Air Force pilot who was thought to have disappeared along with her commander (played by Annette Bening), who was involved with far more than flying planes.
Had “Captain Marvel” been released a decade (and 20 MCU movies) ago, the remixed beats of its straightforward origin story might have felt the slightest bit more fresh. And while it’s by no means stale or boring, “Marvel” never seems to reach the same heights as did previous creative tales covering similar ground (such as “Wonder Woman,” “Black Panther” or “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse”). Co-writers/directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck never truly establish a steady rhythm for their film, and it feels as though they are unsure of its proper tone, so they attempt them all. Featuring rather sub-standard effects (aside from the de-aging of Jackson’s Fury, which is fairly amazing), the film is stocked with an incredibly talented cast (Djimon Hounsou, Gemma Chan, Bening) who play throwaway characters relegated to the background.
All that said, “Marvel” does have the good fortune of Larson as the lead, for she provides a built-in charisma that is tough enough to shine through even an effects-driven picture such as this, so she triumphs over the technical thunder. It’s a shame she’s undercut by a script that never allows any of her emotional beats to sink in. The film skips from one scene to the next without giving us time to spend with Larson during her life as human Carol Danvers, or galactic warrior Vers, or ultimately Captain Marvel; they are too busy getting to the next spectacle. Watching her and Jackson verbally spar is perhaps the highlight of the film, for this is as much Fury’s origin story as it is Marvel’s. But their time together is cut short, leaving us with little emotional impact and feeling of risk. Ultimately, “Captain Marvel” is nowhere near the disaster the whiner fanboy trolls would have you believe, but it’s not the triumph that made “Black Panther” so resonant. It’s a solid superhero entry that is enough to satiate us until “Avengers: Endgame,” and hopefully, will clear the deck for Larson to truly soar in a future installment of the “Captain Marvel” saga.