Starring: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn
Directed by: Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck (“Half Nelson,” “It’s Kind of a Funny Story”)
Written by: Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck (“Half Nelson,” “It’s Kind of a Funny Story”) & Geneva Robertson-Dworet (“Tomb Raider”)
The 21st film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a milestone that’s been a long time coming—the first movie in the decade-old series with a female lead character. The idea that it’s taken nearly two dozen Marvel movies for that to happen—especially when struggling rival DC turned out the wonderful “Wonder Woman” two summers ago—is, seemingly, a point of embarrassment for the company, and they’ve worked to make it right with the lead up to “Captain Marvel.” The campaigns prominently feature the word “her” dissolving into the work “hero,” for example. The importance for representation in these films, especially as these comic-book movies have taken over the world and the audience becomes everyone alive, can’t be overstated. Alas, despite the best (yet belated) intentions of overlord Kevin Feige, the final product that is “Captain Marvel,” from the script to the pacing, do a disservice to what should have been a triumphant moment for the franchise.
Following in the footsteps of other cosmic adventures like “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Thor: Ragnarok,” the film opens with Vers (Brie Larson) combat training with Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) on the Kree home planet of Hala Yon-Rogg is attempting to teach Vers discipline in order to control the mysterious power she possesses to shoot beams of energy from her hands. Yes, the movie drops you right in to that. Anyway, both Vers and Yon-Rogg are part of Starforce, a group of elite warriors who battle the Skrull, shape-shifting goblin-looking creatures the Kree see as terrorists. When a mission to rescue a spy goes awry, Vers finds herself in the clutches of Skrull leader Talos (Ben Mendelsohn, who is great) who reactivates lost memories of a past life in her head. Vers manages to escape, and ends up crash landing in a Blockbuster Video on Earth, circa 1995. Her arrival is greeted by Agent of SHIELD Nick Fury (a digitally de-aged Samuel L. Jackson, having a blast), who Vers—a.k.a. Carol Danvers–teams up with to find a scientist who developed a light speed engine (Annette Benning) and discover who she really is.
Despite being Marvel’s most powerful superhero—and being portrayed by Oscar winner Larson—the screenplay never fully develops Carol as a character. We’re told she’s a badass fighter pilot, for example, but that part of her story cobbled together from mind-bending flashbacks that don’t offer a clear picture of her skill. Instead they just show she climbed into a plane and sometimes flew one. Also, as a member of Starforce, she’s apparently the only one with the power to fire energy beams—but how does this affect her relationship with, well, anyone?
The screenplay, credited in part to directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, seems to envision Carol as a female version of Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord, only it doesn’t offer half of the characterization “GOTG” gave its lead. Instead, Carol is sort of an empty vessel, and the heavy lifting of the emotional beats—like her finally throwing off the oppression of strong men in her life—is left to female-driven ‘90s pop songs. Needle drops from No Doubt, Garbage and Elastica aren’t anything to complain about, but when that’s all the female empowerment you’re lending to your first female superhero star, then you’re letting your audience down.