Movie Musings: Captain Marvel

Updated: Jul 7



It’s an exciting time to be a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

While there’s very much a sense of things coming to an end, what with the next Marvel movie literally being called Avengers: Endgame and all, there’s also a lot of new centerpieces being created that will provide us with entertainment for the next phase of MCU and beyond.

Captain Marvel is one of those centerpieces, and the movie checks all of the boxes it needed to in order to ring in the next era of superhero films with a titular character to define it.

However, Captain Marvel gets in its own way too often, and for parts of the movie this is all that I could focus on. Its tendency to interrupt action with quips and to cut to easy comedy rather than let emotional scenes play out made this film feel a lot less fully-formed than the high-caliber MCU movies we’ve been getting lately (last year’s Infinity War and Black Panther the best examples.)

That said, this movie was about introducing the world to a new female character (Marvel’s first female-fronted standalone!) who will go on to be the biggest tool of the franchise going forward. You can tell by how much money they spent marketing this movie that they are trying to make Captain Marvel as iconic as Captain America.

To do that, you kind of have to appeal to the lowest common denominator. As such, this film takes the easy road a bit too often. It’s overstuffed with corny jokes in order to get people laughing, and it doesn’t want them to leave the theater somber from too much emotion so it largely avoids it altogether.

I’ve stopped letting those things ruin a whole movie for me, since that’s what the big Hollywood machine does. But, not for nothing, Marvel has been the studio that consistently shows how to do it right lately, so maybe that’s what really ended up making Captain Marvel so disappointing for me.

I hesitate to call it a bad movie, but it’s not a particularly good one either.

Below is a list of what I liked and didn’t like about the movie, in no particular order. As always, spoilers ahead:

LIKES

1) Meet Carol Danvers: Cosmic caretaker, boundary-pusher

The biggest thing this film had to provide to audiences is a clear understanding of who Captain Marvel is and what she is capable of. Therefore, making the movie about her discovering her own origin story and realizing the depth of her powers is the simplest way to go about it.

They didn’t try to reinvent the wheel here and it works. We learn about Carol’s life as she does and they deliver tight packages of memory flashbacks throughout the movie that give us a sense of who she is, was, and is becoming.

Add to all that a payoff of her unlocking the sheer magnitude of her powers by the end of the film and we have a fully realized superhero story that introduces the world to this character effectively.

It similarly paid off to delve into her background as a female fighter pilot who was waiting for her shot to do something that matters. It’s a touch of backstory that explains why she’s so headstrong (and at times stubborn) but also reflects an important reality that women in the armed forces face. Plus, there's the overall arc of her memories having been tampered with by the Kree on Hala that makes a larger point about how soldiers are lied to in order to maintain their loyalty.

2) Nice duds

Since there’s already been so many Captain Marvel iterations throughout the years, the biggest question for this movie was which one we were going to get and what she would look like.

The mohawked Captain Marvel is my personal favorite, so it made me happy that they added that look in while still having plenty of her maskless badassery, too.

With her costume essentially being a redesign of her Kree battle suit, hers is a simple-yet-compelling outfit with an understandable origin.

Not for nothing, the costume doesn't try to needlessly sexualize Carol, either.

3) The new anti-aging cream from Disney

I’m talking, of course, about a younger-looking Samuel L. Jackson.

In other movies, the de-aging software looked cartoonish and wonky, so it’s interesting to see how much that’s come along in a few short years.

I wonder how much of that success here is just due to the fact that Jackson has aged exquisitely, and doesn’t look at all like he’s 70 (Seventy!) years old.

Then again, young Kurt Russell in Guardians of the Galaxy 2 is another good example and Russell is a bit more gruff these days, so hey, I’ll give props to the effects artists where they’re due.

DISLIKES

1) Buddy Cop Doesn’t Pay Off

This movie tried so hard to be Thor: Ragnarok and it fell short in just about every measure in terms of plot. It picked up the buddy cop plotline and ran with it, despite having characters here that don’t allow it pay off. The fatal flaw: Nick Fury simply doesn’t work in this movie. For ten years, he’s been the stoic and badass director of SHIELD. In this movie, they seem to start him off as that same guy, but the second a cat comes onto the screen he devolves into a goo-gooing comic relief character who contributes almost nothing to the story.

The payoff is supposed to be that, in comparison to this badass woman, he isn’t nearly as imposing as he usually is. Instead, they play him off like a nuisance. He’s constantly cracking jokes and seems more interested in raiding the fridge for sandwiches and sweet tea than solving the actual case.

It could have been an interesting arc, too. If it came across as a way to show how he used to be a more easy-going dude before assuming the responsibility of running SHIELD and preparing the world for further global threats.

Instead, it comes across as a running gag that this tough-acting guy is really a softy at heart. You can make that joke with the cat once. Then, you know, do something else, please.

2) Female Power Doesn’t Have to be Sappy

While I enjoy seeing a woman do impressive things on the big screen -- and they did get it right at times -- this film makes such a point of its own feminism that it feels at times fake and forced. It was the same complaint some had about Wonder Woman (2017, Warner Bros.)

This movie is so aware of its selling point as a female vehicle that it ends up beating us over the head with that point instead of just, you know, making a superhero movie that stars a woman.

An example in this film is the montage that shows Carol getting up from the ground after all her falls and crashes. They had already shown us all of those moments. We already got a sense of how determined and tough she was, getting back up no matter how many times she fell down. But the film didn’t seem to trust us enough to pick up on that without repeating all those moments side-by-side with a sweeping score and saying, “See, we made a strong female character.”

We don’t need to pander to the point in order to make it.

Even if that scene isn’t about being feminist, it’s still just cheapens the character development of the story’s otherwise good protagonist.

3) Corny

As much as I like the writing of Carol as a character here, I think the film tried waaay too hard to make her charismatic instead of just making her likeable and tough.

She smirks at every moment in a way that makes many of them feel fake. Both her and Fury seem incapable of letting a serious moment play out without turning it into a gag.

I honestly don’t blame the actors here, either, because both Jackson and Larson are talented and really sell other moments. When we see Carol empathizing with the plight of the Skrull people, it feels real and earnest. Fury, despite weirdly being cast as comic relief in this film, isn’t worth hating thanks to Jackson’s comedic timing and entertaining facial cues. Instead, I think the actors were kind of backed into a corner with dialogue in some scenes that felt easy rather than earned. So, it’s a plus for character writing and performing, but mostly a negative for scene building and dialogue.

As for the endless cat jokes and references to 90's technology and now-defunct businesses (shout out to the world’s last Blockbuster in Bend, OR), those got old fast. I got to a point of the movie where I thought we were finally done with them and then realized that they were going to push those same buttons until the very end.

If those things were really enjoyable for you then, I'm happy for you. I don’t care how pretentious it sounds to say, it takes a lot more than a furry cat and nostalgic references to slow internet to entertain me.

4) Peeking Under the Covers

Can anyone tell me why they had to go and add a dick joke in the middle of that alien autopsy scene? Seriously asking…

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