Captain Marvel is many things. As Marvel Studios’ first female-led film, it serves as an inspiration to a majority of the world’s population. To comic book fans, it’s the inclusion of another long time character into the menagerie of heroes that have graced the silver screen in the last 11 years. To fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, it’s a puzzle piece that connects so many things and answers a great many questions; questions like how did Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) lose his eye, when and how did S.H.I.E.L.D. go from a spy organization to an army of soldiers with hi-tech weapons and ships, and where was this ultra-powerful character when aliens invaded New York in 2012’s The Avengers. The problem is, while Captain Marvel does these many things, it doesn’t do any of them particularly well. At least not at the level we have become accustomed to in the last decade of Marvel films.
Captain Marvel stars Brie Larson and Vers/Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel, a uniquely powered woman who has no memory of her past and can make her fists glow with immeasurable power. The film opens on the Kree homeworld of Hala, as Vers is plagued by nightmares that show a mysterious woman (Annette Bening) and a dangerous enemy who is shrouded by the smoke of a crashed vessel. Vers is a member of Starforce, a Kree special missions unit led by Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). Starforce gets called to do the most dangerous jobs, and after meeting with the Kree Supreme Intelligence, an A.I. that leads the Kree people, Vers and the Starforce team set out to retrieve a spy caught behind Skrull lines. The Kree and Skrulls have been at war for generations, with the Kree defending the universe from the shapeshifting threat of the green, pointy-eared Skrulls.
The mission goes sideways and Vers is captured by Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), the Skrull commander, who probes her memories looking for a key piece of information. Vers is able to retrieve a device that has her storied memories and escape Talos and the Skrulls, jumping into space and crashing into a Blockbuster Video in 1995. She quickly meets Fury (Jackson) and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg, both de-aged for the roles), agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Fury is dragged into the conflict with Vers as the Skrulls land on Earth to get the memories back.
Vers eventually learns that her name is Carol Danvers, and she learns how she got her powers, the identity of the mysterious woman in her dreams, and the truth about the war she’s been tasked to fight by the Kree. Oh, and there’s a cat that is more than meets the eye. All of this steamrolls into a late second and full third act that is thrilling and fun and full of revelations, which helps make up for the sluggish first act and the insipid, disjointed storytelling that doesn’t seem to know where it’s going until it gets there.
The performances are adequate in Captain Marvel, with Jackson and Mendelsohn leading the charge. Brie Larson is fine as Carol Danvers, but she’s better when she’s kicking ass and not trying to crack one-liners. Carol is not and will never be Tony Stark, and with Robert Downey, Jr. leaving the film series after Avengers: Endgame, Brie Larson is not the replacement. Carol is a military woman, both before and after the event that gives her powers. She should act that way, with the cocksure attitude and the knowledge that she has the power to crush nearly anyone that defies her.
Captain Marvel is directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, based off a script they wrote along with Geneva Robinson-Dworet. Five people are credited with the story, and this many cooks in the kitchen is evident by the different tones that the film presents. At times, it tries to be funny, like the Guardians films, and at other times, it tries to take itself too seriously, like Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Instead of just telling an origin story, the creators try to get a little cute with misdirections, confusing exposition, and altered memories that detract from the greater story.
Where Captain Marvel exceeds most of all is in presenting the Skrulls and Kree and their long-time war. Fans have seen the Kree in the first Guardians of the Galaxy film and in ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but the Skrulls have never been shown, or even mentioned, and they are near perfect for fans of the comic books. Both of these races and their war is an integral part of Marvel history, and it’s shocking that it has taken Marvel Studios this long to address it.
Captain Marvel plays loose with the time period, using music and other markers to show this is the mid-’90s. The Stan Lee cameo, filmed before his passing in December of 2018, is a huge nod to the times, even if it is an anachronism to eagle-eyed history and film buffs.
My biggest issue with Captain Marvel comes in how these connections to the films that came before don’t exactly fit, and therefore are hard to swallow. The best example is the origin of the pager that Nick Fury used in the mid-credits scene in Avengers: Infinity War. This part of the story tries to work two fold, both in explaining what it is and where Carol was during those epic world-ending events with Thanos.
My issue is that Fury suddenly whips it out after watching two people disintegrate, yet kept it in his pocket when the sky opened up above Manhattan and flying metal dragons and hordes of alien warriors poured out, or when a sentient AI/robot pulled an eastern European city from the Earth and tried to drop it, destroying all life on the planet. One of these things is no way like the other, and Fury had no idea the scope of the Decimation, making his using the pager a poor storytelling device and a way for Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios to shoe-horn in this new character into the already crowded field of heroes. This beef has nothing to do with the character of Captain Marvel, or Carol Danvers, but it is a major reason the movie stumbled for me.
Captain Marvel is Marvel Studios’ attempt to broaden their audience by including a female protagonist in a field lousy with male heroes. The film also serves as a missing puzzle piece that is intended to connect some dots, yet the piece doesn’t exactly fit and is just jammed in with no regard to the storytelling that came before it. Captain Marvel is a decent film, but sits low on the spectrum of Marvel Studios films. It gets better as it goes on, and maybe a sequel will be better. But for now, this is what we have, and like it or not, it’s a pill that we all have to swallow, no matter how jagged it is.
Captain Marvel is rated PG-13 and is in theaters now. There are two post-credits scenes, one mid-credits, one after. Be sure to stay for both.
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