Note: This review is spoiler-free.
Expectations were high for Marvel’s first solo female-lead superhero outing. Released on International Woman’s Day, Captain Marvel represents a changing dynamic among the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As the upcoming Avengers: Endgame promises to tie up loose ends and give resolution to some of the original Avengers- Captain Marvel differs. It’s not the end of anything, it’s the start of a new direction for the MCU as a whole.
It should also be said that CM was expected to rival Patty Jenkins “Wonder Woman” (2017). Whilst I’d argue the DCEU film is stronger, CM is a fascinating study in how female superheroes are perceived and written. The characters who challenge Carol the most- whether it’s her trainer and mentor played by Jude Law, or Skrull Ben Mendelsohn (who is fantastic and is the highlight of this movie) are male. Are men holding back females from realizing their true power? It’s a statement the film suggests, and is guaranteed to divide fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Alongside Carol Danvers is Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury- who brings optimism and brightness to the character. Other allies include a returning Coulson, the cat Goose, and newcomers Maria and Monica Rambeau. The supporting cast are fantastic and bring life to a mediocre screenplay- special mention to Annette Bening, who can steal a scene with mere facial expression. I’d argue that the supporting cast of CM are the film’s saving grace. The audience are given a wide range of performances to enjoy.
Captain Marvel rests heavily on 90’s nostalgia- whether it’s Carol rocking a Nine Inch Nails’ t-shirt, a shout-out to the Smashing Pumpkins, soundtrack featuring Nirvana, Garbage and Hole, the use of pagers, slow internet or the imagery of Blockbuster. 90’s nostalgia is interesting: America had emerged out of the Cold War, and issues such as the Gulf War and terrorism were becoming more apparent. Despite a vague mention by Fury, the 90’s are depicted as a cool and almost quirky time that lacks angst. Like how the Netflix series Stranger Things cheery-picks the 80s and shows a singular side of a certain time, Captain Marvel sticks to a singular interpretation of the 1990’s. This limits both Carol and the screenplay.
There was an opportunity for the film to explore what a world before superheroes looked like, or why society needs ‘avengers’. This is passed for a shallow interpretation- superheroes are needed because of ‘threats that are out there.’ I can’t stop thinking how much of an opportunity CM passed up that would have added much needed depth and complexity.
What also lacks those traits is Carol herself. She has no inner turmoil, complexity or angst. Whereas the MCU has the courage to portray Tony Stark in Iron Man / The Avengers / Civil War, as an almost tragic Greek protagonist- the writers don’t do anything particularly interesting with Carol. She’s no where near as fleshed out as she should be, and is given uninteresting motives. The film suffers. Good protagonists are challenged and forced to grow- one of the reasons why T’Challa was well received in 2018’s Academy-Award nominated Black Panther is due to the ideological battle that played out within the film. Carol deserved better writing.
Captain Marvel has the typical MCU trademarks: quips and banter, action sequences, soft fantasy worldbuilding and heroic moments. None of them are done in a bad way, but they aren’t done in a groundbreaking way either. This film may lead to viewers getting tired with the MCU formula and wanting something else.
The screenplay leaves alot to be desired- trying to fit in one of the Infinity Stones and Ronan (Lee Pace) worked out for the worse. This is a film that is more interested in justifying its place in the MCU than having its own identity. That’s a shame, because the audience should be here for Carol- not for a post-credit scene or cameo. The MCU formula reads more like a gimmick than unique storytelling. It seems the problems that plague Captain Marvel existed in the development stages, and it’s a damn shame that the script went through multiple production stages.
With all that said- Captain Marvel gets a passing grade, because it isn’t a bad film. It’s production values are excellent, the locations are exciting, Carol’s costume is pretty cool, side characters endear rather than annoy, and there are genuine moments of comedy. Still- this film should be alot better than it actually turned out to be.