Review: Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel is a solid entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it doesn’t do much to rise above the middle of the pack. Captain Marvel plays it safe and, if history has taught us anything, it’s that the Marvel movies that shine are the ones that fully embrace every weird and wonderful nuance of their worlds and characters.

The story follows Vers (Brie Larson), a warrior with no memories of her life before waking up on the Kree planet Hala six years prior. The Kree are at war with the shapeshifting Skrulls and, following a rescue mission gone sideways, Vers is captured and breaks loose, crash landing on Earth circa 1995. As she evades the Skrulls and tries to determine what they’re looking for on Earth, Vers discovers links to her missing past as fighter pilot Carol Danvers and how she came to be involved with the Kree.

As super-hero origin stories go, the amnesiac angle is a fresh take. It skips around the transformation and honing of powers that audiences are used to waiting through by presenting it instead as a mystery the hero is investigating, hitting the important parts but not making us wait to see Carol come into her own—she’s very nearly there from the start of the film. Setting it in 1995 allows it to skip around the baggage Avengers: Infinity War left behind and stand by itself, an important thing for the character’s first entry, but it also allows for some fun nostalgia that gives the film a little more unique personality.

What this film is lacking is any emotional punch. The cast is certainly up to the challenge, because they deliver when given the material—Brie Larson’s face as Vers recognizes herself in an Air Force file photo or Jude Law’s delivery of the line “It was my blood” come to mind—but the script is more preoccupied with revealing mystery or getting to the action than really grounding the characters and letting us feel the emotional stakes.

For example, Carol and her friend Maria (Lashana Lynch) have a similar dynamic to Bucky Barnes and Steve Rogers in the Captain America films—best friend thought dead, comes back with no memory—but their reunion felt nearly flat to me. It was more about “You’re telling me aliens are real and you need my help to fight them?” than “I can’t believe you’re alive, I will fight to help you remember who you are because I’ve missed my friend so much.” Right before the start of the third act, Maria does give Carol a pep talk that basically boils down to “this is who you are,” but it feels unearned since so little of the groundwork had been laid prior.

Another relationship that could have been mined far deeper was the dynamic between Vers and Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), her Kree mentor. Law and Larson play the strength of that bond as much as the script allows them but given the arc their relationship follows, without giving any spoilers away, where it ends up should be a bigger moment with bigger emotional fallout for the audience to absorb.

I will say, the buddy-cop dyanmic between Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Carol works well. The comedy isn’t as strong as say Thor: Ragnarok or Guardians of the Galaxy, but what we’re given is good, and Jackson and Larson have a strong rapport. I prefer this funnier, low-level S.H.I.E.L.D. agent version of Fury much more than his shadowy, tough-guy, basically a plot device S.H.I.E.L.D. Director persona in the other Marvel movies. He feels more like a real person in Captain Marvel and I hope we see more of that coming through in future sightings of the character.

All in all, I give Captain Marvel 3 out of 5 stars. It’s a good story, and with better execution it could have landed higher on the Marvel ranking list among Captain America: The First Avenger or Black Panther, but as is it’s more on par with Thor.

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