Review: Captain Marvel (2019)

Captain Marvel has been put in an unfortunate position – it is the penultimate piece to an arc that was put into motion several years ago. Despite this fact, it has an odd relationship with the franchise at large. It serves as a prequel by exploring Nick Fury’s early days, but being set in an earlier decade gives it this feeling of distance. Unfortunately, Captain Marvel feels like an afterthought, something that should have been established a bit earlier.

Let’s ignore these overarching hang-ups and focus on Captain Marvel as a single, standalone film. For certain reasons, Brie Larson has garnered a lot of attention for this role. She gave two of the best performances this decade in Short Term 12 and Room – but these are two very different films that required an entirely different type of performance. Larson has mastered this quiet grace, able to play coy which allows her to pull off a certain type of wry hero – yet something feels off.

This doesn’t fall on Larson as much as it does on the position Captain Marvel is in during the course of this movie. She is cast against too many concepts at once, a stylistic clash that doesn’t quite work.

The issue with Captain Marvel is largely structural. It wants to be a space film, a 90s nostalgia piece, while also spending a large portion on the American military. The Kree-Skrull War isn’t particularly compelling here, and we’re quickly stuck on Earth. There are a few 90s references, but most sequences are in generic enough locations that the decade doesn’t seem to matter besides the fact that they have to establish this film as taking place in the past. Most of what we get is music, though the choices are admittedly rather strong (if a bit too on-the-nose at certain moments).

This is the most basic kind of Marvel movie. It starts with a lot of promise, especially a sequence as Carol is forced through her forgotten memories in a rapid, surreal fashion. But any visual inventiveness falls to the side as we reach the second act. The presentation is all rather standard Hollywood fare, not putting much effort into standard shot composition. And, as always with a Marvel film and especially predictable with a spacefaring protagonist, the finale naturally calls for the inclusion of a sky battle.

Captain Marvel simply feels stale at this point. It got hype for being the first film in the franchise to have a woman in the lead role, but that’s all that really feels new about it. Other recent Marvel debuts do something to set themselves apart. In addition to being the first MCU film with a predominantly black cast, Black Panther had a stunning dedication to visual design. Even the third attempt at the Spider-Man franchise felt fresher due to the way it mixed in high school comedy tropes. Captain Marvel lacks stylistic focus in comparison.

The film feels like a lot of potentially great elements working against themselves. Marvel’s space storylines are always a bit harder to digest than their more traditional superhero tales – Guardians of the Galaxy succeeded by finding humor. Captain Marvel, comparatively, takes itself seriously. The Kree-Skrull War takes a few interesting turns over the course of the film, but it feels like a backdrop to Danvers discovering herself. Ultimately, I didn’t feel invested in this battle – which I feel is also due to this film being cushioned between a two-part film with higher stakes. The military base segment is straight-up bland, and Brie’s mumblecore-esque style feels out of place in this larger than life picture.

There are a few highlights – Samuel L. Jackson is strong as always, and it’s fun to see him play a central role after largely being a background figure. And there’s the cat – best animal in a 2019 movie for sure, even with several months remaining. Being a formulaic Marvel movie isn’t that bad of a position to be in – the formula works, just the better films in the franchise modify it in just the right ways. It’s pleasant in its mixing of humor and action but never exceptional.

Captain Marvel simply lacks the extra oomph found in more recent Marvel films – in many ways, it feels like one of their earlier works where they were still figuring out how to make each hero have their unique feel. Larson is new to this type of role, and hopefully this character will fall into her quieter style and drop the unnecessary attempts at bravado. It doesn’t quite land any of its stylistic goals, but the parts on their own are good enough that the film is worth a watch for those invested in the franchise.

3 Stars Out of 5

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