Captain Marvel (2019) by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck
Review by Courtney Anderson
Captain Marvel was always going to be groundbreaking, and Marvel knew that.
Captain Marvel is Marvel’s female-led movie. It stars Brie Larson as Carol Danvers, a member of the Air Force who became entangled in an ongoing intergalactic conflict when she flew a test plane too close to a space fight. Carol ends up with a new name, new (and extremely fearsome) powers, and no recollection of her previous life. What unfolds is a journey of self-discovery and self-empowerment, as Carol must work to discover her past and fully control and embrace her own power.
Marvel’s been pretty big on the “Girl Power” marketing for the movie and for good reason. I think it’s important to have an entire Marvel movie dedicated to watching a woman become her own type of superhero. Carol Danvers is given room to be as funny, cocky and stubborn as the male heroes before her. Carol is definitely a character that young girls will watch, admire and have a lot of fun with.
I had fun watching the movie. I feel like it’s one of the Marvel’s stronger entries. But as much as much fun as Captain Marvel, I couldn’t help but feel like there is something missing. The movie feels a bit too loosely constructed — underdeveloped in some parts and over expository in others — and that loose construction hindered my ability to truly connect with the movie.
There’s a scene in Captain Marvel that simultaneously illustrates the strengths and the weaknesses of the movie. It’s toward the end of the second act; Carol has just learned that her mentor Yong-Rogg (Jude Law) has been keeping a huge, terrible secret from her for as long as they’ve known each other. Carol is understandably upset and reeling as she’s just realized that she doesn’t truly know who she is.
Carol’s best friend and Air Force buddy Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) comes out to comfort her friend. Maria reminds Carol of who she is: she’s Maria’s partner, she’s a fighter, she’s a pain in the ass sometimes, and Maria loves that about her. It’s Maria’s words that give Carol the self-confidence and strength she needs.
A couple of this movie’s biggest strengths are present in the scene. We’ve got cast chemistry--Brie Larson has great chemistry with pretty much everyone in this movie. She and Lashana seem to have a strong friendship outside of this film, and that affection for one another shows up in their characters. And Samuel L. Jackson and Brie Larson are so good together that I’m ready for them to find other projects together.
Another huge strength that this scene showcases is the implicit feminist messaging in it. This is a movie about a woman empowering herself and eventually empowering others. It’s the story of a woman who is encouraged to step into her power on her own terms and to fully embrace every part of herself.
I feel as though this scene’s strengths — and the whole movie’s strengths — further illuminate the weaknesses. Because as strong as the performances are, as great as the chemistry is and as wonderful as the messaging is, I didn’t connect to any of it. And I think my lack of an emotional connection has to do with the fact that we don’t actually very much time any of the characters in this movie.
Take Maria Rambeau, for example. She only shows up for a few scenes. We see her in a flashback or two, and then she joins Carol in the mandatory Big Third Act that all Marvel movies have. The movie repeatedly tells us that she loves Carol and that they were close before Carol “disappeared.” But I still felt like I didn’t know anything about Maria. Who is she? What are her motivations? How did she and Carol become so close? The movie never shows us any of that. I feel like the movie would’ve benefited from giving us more Maria before the last two acts. At the very least, it would’ve kept her from feeling like she was only there to be Carol’s cheerleader.
Yon-Rogg is supposed to be a major figure in Carol’s life, but he, too, only shows up a few times to verbally explain their relationship. We know even less about him, what he wants and why he wants it. He feels like a sketch of a character that they forgot to feel in.
And pretty much all of the other Kree are just there for background decoration. There’s no reason that you should have Djimon Hounsou and Gemma Chan in your movie, and then not do anything at all with them.
Oddly enough, the movie also has the exact opposite problem in that it sometimes goes into exposition overload. The first act is just exposition upon exposition. Some of the exposition is executed in a creative way (there’s a flashback/back story sequence for Carol that I found really cool) but a lot of it just involves one character explaining everything to another. There’s a scene where we (finally) get to learn a bit more about Nick Fury’s backstory, and the majority of the scene is Carol and Nick sitting at a table essentially playing a game of trivia.
I know it sounds like I’m trying to rain on the Captain Marvel parade, but I’m really not. I feel like this movie really just needed tighter writing. This movie doesn’t have any super glaring issues. And it’s certainly not the first Marvel movie to have problems with exposition and character development nor is it the worst of the offenders. It’s a good movie and a solid origin story for character that I want to see more of. I think most everyone will enjoy it.
Except for the super whiny, “iT’s tOo SjW!!” dudebros. They’ll always be mad.