The latest chapter in the Marvel Studios series of films is here and it’s possibly one of the most ambitious. Take a character with practically limitless power, set the movie prior to all the rest, and somehow hook it into the massive Avengers blockbuster dropping in just a few weeks. Oh, and introduce a brand new hero for fans to idolize and love. Piece of cake, right? Considering the track record of the Marvel films the answer is, probably! Captain Marvel has everything you’d want in a movie, but misses the mark in some aspects. I liked the film but had a few issues with it. Let’s start with the good.
Good: Captain Marvel’s powers work so well
This film builds towards the powers you’ve come to expect from the character in the comics. Early on they’re effectively tempered to show how Carol is kept down and put in her place. Like many hero stories, Carol is more than she is led to believe and it’s with great effort and triumph she discovers what she’s capable of. Once that is let loose it’s impressive, to say the least, and I don’t think there has been a Marvel hero in the films this powerful. Her power set is very different too, and it’ll be highly enjoyable to see how the powers riff off the Avengers in Endgame.
Good: They get the Skrulls right
I won’t spoil a thing, because the Skrulls hold a special place in the narrative, but I will say they look fantastic and fit into the war against the Kree very well. At this point, it has already been revealed Ben Mendelsohn plays a Skrull and he does a great job with it. One of the great villains of today (See: Star Wars: Rogue One, Robin Hood, etc.), Mendelsohn plays a Skrull with the domineering strength one would expect from him. But he’s also hilarious — some of the biggest laughs are thanks to his performance. The Skrulls in general also serve as great fodder for Captain Marvel to punch in the first half of the film.
Good: Nick Fury and that damn cat
Fury is such a staple of these films I was very nervous they’d screw up a prequel appearance by him. For the most part, it works quite well even if the film drops you into a past where he not only has a sense of humor but seems a bit foolish. The character is still tough and he’s young so you can’t fault him too much. It’s in his relationship with the cat that things really start to work. I won’t spoil that either, but we’ve all seen the first trailer with Fury petting the cat. They have a special bond.
Good: Carol Danvers comes into her own
This film navigates a tricky amnesia storyline that leaves Carol in a weak place for much of the film. She doesn’t know who she is or who to believe. We get a taste of who she was prior to the opening and she seems sure-headed and confident. She’s still in this place in the opening but under different rules. As the story unfolds, she learns things and leans into her confidence and heroism. There’s an excellent scene where Carol is tied down and forced to submit but doesn’t. It’s one of the best scenes thanks to fantastic acting by Annette Bening and Brie Larson, but also great special effects. In a key scene she is asked to prove herself and triumphantly she says she doesn’t have to. Nuff said.
Good: Stan Lee appearances
The Stan Lee appearance in this film is one of my favorites yet thanks to a nod to a film he appeared in prior (thanks Kevin Smith!). To add to this the Marvel signature mixes it up by featuring only Stan Lee in a great tribute. Bravo!
All that said, it wasn’t a perfect film by any means. The special effects and action were great and what we’ve come to expect, but here’s what didn’t work.
Bad: The ’90s
We all laughed when we saw a Blockbuster store in the trailer, but its appearance in the film is sort of just there. The movie never really explores ’90s America, nor does it celebrate pop culture like we’ve come to expect. Maybe Guardians of the Galaxy spoiled us with its references and great choice in music, but this film comes off as trying too hard to integrate the ’90s elements rather then them working fluidly. The music choices are good, but they don’t pop in until late in the film, making them stick out like a sore thumb. Similarly, a lunch box from a famous TV show is worth a giggle, but again, doesn’t seem to fit. What hampers this is how Carol never really cares to know a thing about Earth in part because she doubts her memories of the place. The ’90s don’t really matter to the narrative even though the trailers seemed to suggest it would.
Bad: The first act is clunky
It takes a while for the film to get going. More than once I thought the film could have started later, though a lot of groundwork is required to get up later plot threads. That said, you see who the bad guys are right quick. The film navigates some tricky ground with the amnesia storyline, which forces Carol to be confused and yet confident in her role as a Kree soldier. The problem is the film has to keep information from the viewer for it to work meanwhile we’re never really shown how Carol was duped lest we learn too early all the twists later we’ve of course guessed way too early. To tack onto this, the humor falls flat until midway through the film.
Overall, I liked this film, but didn’t love it. It doesn’t come into its own until it’s almost too late, and that makes for moments that don’t feel earned. This also hurts our ability to connect with the character. Since she spends so much time trying to understand who she was we never get to, which unfortunately leaves much of the discovery in the character up to the sequel. I’m all for that though, since Marvel has proven Brie Larson and this character are well worth sticking around for.
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