Captain Marvel: formulaic, but solidly entertaining

Garrett Cook

Heartfelt, empowering and fun, but also sloppily paced and shot, “Captain Marvel” is a solid example of what I would call ‘good enough.’ The film is predictable and lacks the typical blockbuster spectacle that Marvel fans have come to expect, but a handful of comedic 90s references and a compelling villain make Captain Marvel worth your time, and money.

The newest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is set in the 1990s, and follows air force pilot, Carol Danvers, as she acquires superpowers and learns how to come to terms with herself and her newfound abilities. Her confrontations with a race of shape-shifting aliens result in some of the more exciting scenes in the film. Carol, also known as Captain Marvel, is played by Oscar-winning actress Brie Larson who brings a strong, albeit two-dimensional performance to the roll. She never seems to give carol a personality making her unrelatable to audiences. The film also stars Samuel L. Jackson who reprises his acclaimed role as Shield agent, Nick Fury, before he started wearing his famous dark black eyepatch. Yet, even with fan-favorite characters and storylines, “Captain Marvel” seems to fall short.

The 3rd poster for the film displays other lead characters such as Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, and Jude Law’s Yon-Rogg.

Marvel fans and casual moviegoers alike have become accustomed to the signature Marvel movie formula: a strong-willed character is given unexpected abilities and must now face off against villains, all while spewing out quips and one liners every few minutes. This film is no exception to this formula, and even seems to follow it more strictly than some of the more inventive Marvel movies in recent memory, such as “Black Panther” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.”  It feels stiff at times, as if the directors had a list of typical superhero tropes that they needed to check off. This is especially seen with Captain Marvel herself. The directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck don’t give her a meaningful character arc, or even a personality. There is no growth that Carol experiences, which is why one of the film’s biggest flaws is the main character herself.

Captain Marvel starts off the film as a hardened and fierce warrior, and ends the film in the exact same position, except now she glows and can shoot fire from her fists. In most superhero origin stories, the character experiences a period of trial and error, where they learn to use their new abilities. These moments often ground the character and make them more relatable to the audience. They help put the “human” in “superhuman.” Carol, however, never goes through a period of trial and error, and therefore the audience is robbed of that easy connection to the character. Brie Larson obviously tries her hardest to bring life to her character, and truly shines in the silent and more dramatic scenes by using her indie film roots to her advantage. But even with her best efforts, the character still seems very two dimensional and almost distant. In comparison, in 2017, Gal Gadot gave her character, Wonder Woman, a wonderfully relatable, and captivating performance that made the audience members able to connect strongly with her character. Brie Larson’s sometimes stale performance coupled with a lackluster script—which constantly breaks of the famous filmmaking rule of showing and not telling—Carol seems dim compared to her bright and flashy superpowers.

Although the main character is a weak point, the film is still able to shine in many other areas. A killer soundtrack, a hilarious alien cat and an effective performance from Ben Mendelsohn provide most of the entertaining aspects of the film. Mendelsohn, in particular, playing the leader of the shape-shifting aliens called Skrulls, allows the film to rise above complete mediocrity. Mendelsohn provides an enticing and emotionally resonant performance in a film otherwise devoid of emotion. The actor’s face is converted to an ugly alien’s through terrific makeup, and he, along with the other Skrulls, provides many of the thrills, comedy and emotional weight of the film. Although used sparingly, when the Skrulls shapeshift into main characters and other persons, a new element of mystery and surprise is added to the film that it desperately needs. The 90’s soundtrack and references also heighten the film through comedy and nostalgia, one fight scene in particular is perfectly matched with the song “Just a Girl” by No Doubt.

Courtesy of Marvel Studios
Ben Mendelsohn as Talos, the leader of the shape shifting alien race invading Earth in the film.

Even in its best moments like the “Just a Girl” fight scene, former indie film directors Boden and Fleck seem to bog the film down instead of elevating it. Unlike what so many Marvel directors have done before them, their visual style is dull and devoid of color. Compared to James Gunn’s vibrant and visually pleasing work on the “Guardians of the Galaxy” films, Marvel’s newest entry looks as if someone is holding dark sunglasses over the lens of the projector. The film looks more like a made-for-television movie rather than one produced by the highest grossing film franchise in the world. The visual effects work on the film even seems sloppy at times; Captain Marvel’s flying sequences, in particular, look like they were never finished. Flashbacks in the film providing more backstory for Carol are rushed and confusing, leaving audience members wondering what the heck just happened. The film would have been much better in the hands of more experienced directors. Boden and Fleck’s sometimes abrupt storytelling, more often than not, takes the audience out of the story instead of drawing them further into it.

Even with major missteps, “Captain Marvel” is still a fun and entertaining film that is guaranteed to win over even the most casual of moviegoers. Although the film never seems to stray away from Marvel’s formula, it’s a heartfelt and empowering ride. Captain Marvels set of powers are jaw-dropping to see on the big screen, and even with a sometimes mundane lead, many unexpected characters are able to steal the show through inventive comedy. The film is one for the ages and is the first Marvel film to star a female lead. Captain Marvel herself may not be the most compelling character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but her film is well worth the price of admission.