Like the titular character who suffers from amnesia and gets vivid flashes of old memories throughout the film, I got the feeling that I’ve seen all this before as I watched Captain Marvel unfold. This isn’t to say that the movie is frightfully dull, just somewhat pedestrian in its execution. It’s still an entertaining time at the cinema but not quite the bold trailblazer I expected of an Avengers prequel that sets out to introduce Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
For the uninformed, Captain Marvel is a new addition to the MCU who’s been built up as a pivotal character of great power who may be the key to Thanos’ ultimate defeat in Avengers: Endgame (coming out next month) and the studio’s first female superhero to headline a standalone movie (DC beat them to with Wonder Woman). We dive into the story at the midpoint of Carol’s journey towards becoming the all-powerful intergalactic soldier we’ve seen posing majestically in numerous posters and trailers.
Now an amnesiac woman with preternatural physical strength and the ability to shoot photon blasts out of her fists, she is known as Vers and has been taken in by an alien race known as the Kree (first introduced in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) Under the mentorship of Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), Vers is trained and recruited into an elite Kree military unit, Starforce, whose primary objective is to thwart and possibly kill the Kree’s long-time enemy, a race of shape-shifting aliens known as the Skrulls.
In a mission gone awry, Vers and a few Skrulls led by one Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) crash-lands on planet C-53 a.k.a. Earth. It’s the mid 1990s, some twenty years before the formation of the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D is still in its infancy. The tussle with the Skrulls and being back on her home planet seem to jog Vers’ memories as she gets more and more flashbacks of her life on Earth – from the time she was a little girl and a go-cart speed demon with an oppressive father to the gruelling training she endured at the academy while being mocked by her mostly male peers, to her career as a USAF test pilot involved in its space programme.
As she continues to investigate the Kree/ Skrulls conflict and her place in the grand scheme of things, Carol finds a band of allies which includes two young(er) S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, Nicholas J. Fury and Phil Coulson (played by digitally de-aged Samuel L. Jackson and Clark Gregg respectively), Carol’s best friend Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) and a cute ginger cat named Goose (how good is this Top Gun reference!).
And just as one gets a handle on the relatively convoluted world building, Captain Marvel has a few clever twists up its sleeve. Can’t divulge them, of course, because Thanos hasn’t been vanquished yet and I’m sure he still demands my silence. But seriously, these narrative surprises salvage what feels like a generic sci-fi blockbuster with unimaginative action and flimsy villains. And considering there’s quite a lot of ground to cover in just two hours, the pacing is mechanical and even rushed at some points, which robs the movie’s important moments of the heft they truly deserve.
But the twists form the emotional core of Captain Marvel, which had been strangely missing up till that point. They also serve to drive home the overarching theme of standing up against oppression in both the anti-imperialist and feminist contexts.
It’s well-known that Larson underwent brutal physical training to get in shape to play a superhero and it shows in how confidently she moves while engaging in combat choreography. But purely in terms of acting chops, Carol Danvers is not her most virtuosic performance. It simply isn’t nuanced enough to allow for the kind of range we know this Oscar-winning actress is capable of, which she has shown in the likes of The Glass Castle (see our review).
But Carol’s girl-next-door charms and her irrepressible bravura make it hard for viewers not to like her. Also lovely to watch is the easy chemistry between co-stars, particularly Larson, Jackson and Lynch who demonstrate what great movie friendships are made of. Watch out, Steve and Bucky!
If you’re a ‘90s kid, be prepared to be bombarded by a host of retro icons like AltaVista search engines, Blockbuster video stores and pagers, as well as a soundtrack filled with ‘90s anthems by groups like Nirvana, No Doubt and TLC.
,All in all, there are seeds of a potentially great and game-changing film here but Captain Marvel doesn’t quite hit the mark because it hasn’t found a distinctive voice that sets it apart from the rest. It feels more like a small cog servicing the larger MCU machine than a strong standalone movie.
To be fair, there are a few other Marvel Studios franchises which only found their footing in the sequels so here’s hoping that there is a stronger, more original direction for Carol Danvers in the next round!
Captain Marvel is out in cinemas now. Watch it and let us know what you think in the comments section below!
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