Aside from Iron Man, has Marvel ever told a great origin story? Introducing the heroes of the MCU always feels like such a chore, a formulaic setup that acts as an extended commercial for the character’s next appearance, which is usually a great deal more exciting.
Captain Marvel halfheartedly attempts to break Marvel’s overused formula, but ends up meandering, telling an unnecessarily cluttered story that fails to tell us who Carol Danvers really is.
The film, like its titular character, is trapped between two worlds, the mundane plane of Earth, and the planet Hala, never fully investing in either. While this story expands the Marvel universe, introducing the warring Kree and Skrulls, it’s a far cry from the saturated, playful world of Guardians of the Galaxy.
Dull, washed-out colors and shadowy spaceship corridors suck the fun out of the space opera, while the scenes set on Earth tend to drag, uplifted by cutesy, nostalgic references to the nineties.
Carol Danvers has three important relationships in this story; her mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), new friend Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and old friend Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch).
Out of the three, Nick Fury is the only companion that feels like a solid relationship, the chemistry between the two characters sparking the second they meet. Rambeau isn’t fleshed out in the slightest, and the amnesia element doesn’t help, as Danvers doesn’t really remember why she likes Rambeau – she just does.
We don’t spend nearly enough time with Yon-Rogg, and his connection to Danvers feels distant; it’s difficult to care when their relationship sours, as it was never really established in the first place. He repeatedly tells Danvers that she is “too emotional,” but oddly, we never see any evidence of this whatsoever.
In fact, Danvers comes across as level-headed and confident – the criticism from her mentor feels like a clumsy commentary on misogyny, irrelevant to this particular story. This is Marvel’s first female-led film, and that heavy weight of expectation isn’t carried well; the story can’t decide to focus on systematic sexism, the fog of war, the fish out of water element, or the character’s struggle to remember who she is.
Who is Captain Marvel? I’m not really sure. But Brie Larson manages to give a strong performance with very little to work with, portraying Danvers as a bold warrior caught up in a confusing quagmire, never entirely sure if she’s doing the right thing; a nice balance of super-strength and human vulnerability.
Danvers’ abilities are visually spectacular, and enjoyably overpowered, but her origin feels a bit muddy. Traditionally, superheroes have a smooth transfer from zero to hero; a radioactive spider-bite, an injection, etc. Danvers’ origin is intentionally shrouded in mystery, and comes across as slightly confusing, even underwhelming. It’s not complicated, exactly; it’s just not as simple as it should be.
But the story really suffers from a lack of an intimidating villain; the final showdown happens after Danvers unlocks her full potential, and the fight is written off as a weak joke. (There’s another weak joke involving Nick Fury that fans will either love or absolutely despise).
While Danvers is established as an exceedingly powerful warrior, she doesn’t face a real physical challenge. Her main problem is that she’s in a murky situation, and once it’s straightened out, there’s nothing left to do but watch her microwave her enemies into stardust. There’s little satisfaction watching the comeuppance, however, because we never hated, nor feared her antagonists in the first place.
It’s a mediocre mess, a story that is never quite sure what point it is trying to make. Tonally, it feels strangely similar to one of those unnecessary Star War prequels, filled with deflated fan service that acknowledges the MCU mythos without expanding it in a meaningful way.
On the plus side, the film has the most adorable Stan Lee cameo in Marvel history, a sweet send-off to the man who birthed this universe.
I’m looking forward to seeing Larson in Avengers: Endgame, but this film felt like sitting through a preview before the movie; forgettably entertaining, a way to pass the time before the main event.