While it’s impossible to escape the hype for any new Marvel movie, the marketing for Captain Marvel is at a fever pitch. As the first female-led Marvel film, it comes with high expectations, a built-in fan base … and a small but loud group of pathetic online trolls hoping for it to fail. As you may have heard, Rotten Tomatoes had to change how it handles both its pre-release Audience Score and its user comments as a result of misogynistic messages and a concerted effort by some to lower the film’s score before its release. I have three words for anyone trying to doom a movie they haven’t even seen just because it stars a woman: get a life.
I tried my best to ignore all of that drama and go into this movie like I do any other: as objectively as possible. As a woman, a female critic and a mother of a young boy and girl, of course I want more movies with strong female leads. It’s desperately sad to me that in 2019 we even need to care about this stuff or mention it in the first place.
So with Marvel’s impressive track record and all of this build-up, the movie had better be good. And Captain Marvel is. It’s good — but not great. Those hoping for a Wonder Woman-like powerhouse will probably be disappointed. Let’s be real: everyone I grew up with watched the Wonder Woman TV show and had Wonder Woman underoos and lunchboxes and all that. We can’t exactly say the same for Captain Marvel. These two movies might both be the only ones from their rival studios to revolve around female superheroes, but Captain Marvel was never going to be able to match the Wonder Woman level of audience devotion. That fact aside, I was hoping that it might still elicit the same range of emotions and reactions as Wonder Woman (and Iron Man, Thor, Spider-Man, Ant-Man, etc.). It didn’t.
Instead, it functions as a fairly convoluted origin story for a character the masses are not familiar with. Air Force fighter pilot Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) is Captain Marvel’s other persona, and her history isn’t exactly straightforward. Co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck struggle to bring the needed clarity to the first half of the film, choosing to take the audience on a confusing, brief-flashback-filled journey similar to Carol’s as she pieces together who she is — while also introducing two completely different alien species, on top of human characters we don’t know (Annette Bening as Dr. Wendy Lawson; Lashana Lynch as Carol’s best friend and fellow fighter pilot Maria) and a few that we do (Nick Fury, played by a digitally younger Samuel L. Jackson; Agent Colson, played by an equally youthful Clark Gregg). There’s also a pretty cool cat.
Back to the alien species. There’s the Kree, led by some sort of AI called the “Supreme Intelligence.” Jude Law is among their ranks as Yon-Rogg, a mentor or boss of sorts to Carol. Then there’s the Skrulls, who can shapeshift, but otherwise look more like your typical alien, complete with green skin and pointy ears. Ben Mendelsohn plays Talos, a Skrull leader. These two groups do not like each other, and after Carol crash lands on Earth while trying to escape the Skrulls, she needs to figure out why she’s in the middle of their mess and why she keeps having all these flashbacks.
I found all of that pretty boring and unrelatable. So much of the marketing around this film is Top Gun-ish — and the cool cat’s name is even “Goose”— yet there was woefully little of Carol’s Earth-based past in the film. I wish there had been more moments like my favorite scene, which almost moved me to tears: a montage of Carol throughout her life standing back up after falling or having been knocked down. Everyone can relate to that, and in that scene I saw a glimpse of what this movie could’ve been. In the Earth-centric scenes we also were treated to Lynch, a standout who brought some much-needed humanity. And Jackson is always great. (We finally learn how he lost his eye, even though I could see it coming from a mile away.) Really, the entire cast gives great performances, but it’s hard to overcome the film’s structure and uninteresting alien-skirmish subplot.
The ‘90s-set story was fun — complete with a soundtrack heavy on female-led alt-rock groups — but I wish they’d done more with that time period than just having Carol crash-land at a Blockbuster in addition to a few other nods to the decade. In general, that last sentence sums up how I felt about the movie: I just wanted more. After a two-hour-long origin story, I still don’t feel like I know Carol/Captain Marvel’s personality, and I’m disappointed that a studio known for deftly mixing comic-book nerdiness, action and humor gave us something this bland for its first-female-superhero debut.
I will say, however, that I am now convinced Captain Marvel might be the one being who can take down Thanos in the upcoming Avengers: Endgame. I just wish I felt more excited about that notion after seeing this movie.