Captain Marvel review: Room for Improvement

It might just be a symptom of an oversaturated market, but this is probably one of the least distinct Marvel movies I’ve seen yet. But hey, you know what they say: “if you can’t bother being original, might as well be an origin, y’all.”

 

Premise

 

Ever wonder how the Tesseract made it down to earth? Or how the Avengers got their name? Or why Nick Fury wears an eye patch?

 

No?

 

Well fuck you, you’re gonna learn anyway.

 

Plot

 

On some planet that’s not earth, inhabited by residents that look basically human, we’re introduced to our main character… Vers? I’ll call her “Kree Larson” for now. Kree meets with Jude Law, and they punch either in a room. The two set out with their team of soldier guys for a mission against their mortal enemies, a race of shape-shifting aliens called the Skrull. Kree gets distracted and wanders off, leading to an ambush— the Skrull take her back to their base and put her in that thing Syndrome used in The Incredibles.

 

They scan her memories, prompting a poorly-edited montage of five-second clips from Kree’s past. Kree breaks out of the ship, ejecting into space. After crash-landing on Earth, she decides to track down a runway model named Lawson. SHIELD agents “Nick” and “guy from that Marvel show… no, not one of the Netflix ones, the other one” arrive to detain her, but a Skrull guy shoots at them. A chase ensues, with Kree breaking into moving trains and throwing hands. Nick finds Kree in a bar, and the two travel to a government facility in search for answers.

 

They find files revealing that Lawson was a scientist, working on developing high-tech plane engines. Kree finds one of her old instagram photos, tagged with a woman named Marie Rambeau. Meanwhile, the Skrulls infiltrate SHIELD, and arrive at the facility with a fleet of agents. Rather than explain literally anything, Kree and Nick steal a plane and head for Louisiana.

 

One “heartfelt” reunion later, the Skrull arrive at Marie’s house, offering peace in exchange for information. Kree’s past is explained: her real name is Carol Danvers; she was a human pilot working alongside Marie in the Air Force under Lawson, who had the two testing out experimental aircraft. Lawson herself was actually a Kree agent (Kree the race, not Kree the Brie), who decided to hide her inventions after realizing her bosses would’ve probably used them for murder and other morally ambiguous dealings. One day, when flying to her secret space-lab, Carol and Lawson were intercepted by Kree soldiers attempting to steal the engine. In order to stop them, Carol ‘sploded the plane, which then infused her with magic powers (note: this didn’t happen to Jude Law, despite him being roughly the same distance away from the explosion).

 

They First Man it up to Lawson’s secret lab, currently in use as a hideaway for Skrull refugees. They discover that the powersource of Lawson’s inventions was the Tesseract, which had just been… sitting there. Wouldn’t there be ways of detecting something that powerful in sp- you know what, nevermind. Carol’s former squad rolls up and tries to take the magic box. Following a long fight, Nick, Marion, and the Skrull make it back to earth with the thingy. Carol manages to defeat the other soldiers and ward off reinforcements.

 

On earth, Carol promises to find the Skrull a new homeland (a promised land, if you will)— they set off together into space. She leaves the Tesseract with Nick, telling him to hide it somewhere. The end.

 

End credits scene: following the events of Infinity War, Carol comes down to meet with the remaining Avengers, signalling that she’ll probably be in the next one. Text appears on the screen confirming that she will, in fact, be in the next one.

 

Social Commentary

 

So I probably wouldn’t have bothered seeing this movie if there hadn’t been a spicy social media circus surrounding it. A circus which, probably worth mentioning, had about the following level of discourse:

Then there was that one speech Brie Larson gave, which really hurt my feelings. Telling me I’m not allowed to have an opinion on A Wrinkle in Time because I’m “white” and “male” and “haven’t actually seen A Wrinkle in Time.” Ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous.

 

So you might be wondering what happened to my fragile, semi-toxically masculine soyboy brain,faced with these conflicting messages. Would Captain Marvel finally redpill me, turning me into the second* Jewish spokesman for the alt-right, dog whistling my way across college campuses? Would it reinforce my liberal beliefs, leading me to defend this movie on the basis of its #importance, irrespective of my actual enjoyment watching it? Or would the two cancel each other out, leaving my brain in a centrist wasteland, doomed to write lukewarm New York Times op-eds for the rest of eternity? Well…

 

Bod Mansplains Intersectional Feminism

 

Ah, intersectional feminism, because I’m a snowflake who took one gender studies class and likes to flex on all you non-woke betas. (Although these hack frauds seem to have caught on, so I don’t know how much longer I can maintain my sense of superiority).

 

If you want a good introduction to Intersectionality, I’ll link a few articles at the end of this section. Just to briefly summarize what makes IF #betterthanyourideology, here’s a very hasty explanation of why it exists:

 

Feminism, as a social/critical theory, seeks to identify, analyze, and (ideally) dismantle systems of oppression. To that end, “traditional” feminism can fail at capturing certain economic, cultural, and historical nuances that complicate people’s experiences. Basically, all people belong to overlapping groups; aside from sex, you’ve got gender, race, religion, ethnicity, socio-economic status, etc. Intersectionality seeks to highlight cross-group membership, reminding everyone that their situations are products of all their backgrounds, not just one. You’ll sometimes see intersectional feminism called “women-of-color feminism,” referencing the original emphasis on racial identity.

 

Oh and also none of that matters cause this movie isn’t really related to any of the things mentioned.

 

Here’s my fan theory: people saw a movie with a female lead, played by an actress who’s spoken about feminism in the past, and assumed that the movie must have something to do with the topic. This shifted the Captain Marvel overton window, making the discussion online entirely focused about the movie’s feminist merits, and how good/bad it was to use this type of film as a platform to promote such views. Of course, the people having these conversations hadn’t actually seen the movie, and were just using it as a proxy to assert their general feelings on a topic they were passionate about.

 

See, I think they were going for something else entirely. Remember the Skrull? They’re a persecuted minority race that a more powerful group brands as terrorists and corners into a desolate planet which gets periodically invaded by said group. My assumption is that the writers were not-so-subtly trying to craft an Israel-Palestine analogy, since, while this dynamic applies to many situations throughout history, that one specifically features most prominently in the current Western consciousnesses. I’m not saying I necessarily agree with their take, but to me it seemed pretty blatant that that was the film’s core focus.

 

And sure, movies can be about multiple things, but think back: did Captain Marvel really have that strong of an “SJW” agenda? It’s definitely not hostile: Bechdel test , multiple strong female characters, avoids pulling out any particularly disconcerting stereotypes, etc, etc. But other than that and a montage of Carol standing up a bunch of times, I don’t think this movie was too concerned with feminist praxis. Compared to like, Black Panther, which had an entire cast, script, design, and soundtrack laden with references to African and African-American culture, this movie’s pretty weak sauce.

 

In short, everyone got ready to square up over an idea that wasn’t really there to begin with. Unless… Disney knew that people cared way more about gender politics than international rights issues, and this was all a ploy to get people talking about their new movie. Wait a minute, wasn’t A Wrinkle in Time also made by-

A Wrinkle in time

God damn it.

 

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/10572435/Intersectional-feminism.-What-the-hell-is-it-And-why-you-should-care.html

https://medium.com/awaken-blog/intersectionality-101-why-were-focusing-on-women-doesn-t-work-for-diversity-inclusion-8f591d196789

https://www.forbes.com/sites/emiliearies/2017/08/30/the-imperative-of-intersectional-feminism/#6157b4631914

(Articles about intersectionality)

 

Characters

 

Carol:

 

It’s definitely not new for Marvel heros to be a little shaky in their introductory films. The first Captain America movie was pretty meh. Thor 1 was an absolute abomination compared to the cinematic masterpiece that was Thor 2: The Dark World. So the fact that they didn’t really knock it out of the baseball diamond (or go-kart track, or military obstacle course, or airbase runway) with Carol Danvers isn’t necessarily a death knell for Captain Marvel. But we talking ‘bout this movie. And this movie wasn’t very good.

 

A lot of the time, it seemed like the writers chose to play her however they thought would go best for that particular scene, at the general expense of her not having a defined personality. She cares, then doesn’t. She’s mad, then cool. She’s snarky, then serious. She’s detached, then emotionally invested. There’s nothing wrong with development. But usually, barring additional circumstances, development is progressive; characters gradually go from being [thing] to being [other thing], not back and forth, and not spontaneously.

 

Then there’s the fact that having a superhero who’s kinda mean only works for certain types of  characters. For the sake of sounding like a video-essay making douche (as opposed to a regular douche), I’ll call it the “Batman/Superman” dichotomy. If you have a grounded, realistic vigilante whose main powers are being edgy and beating the shit out of people, give them all the flaws you want. Alcoholic? Sure. Apathetic? Why not. Angsty? Definitely. But when you have this all-powerful Christ figure as your protagonist (which Captain Marvel basically is), you don’t want to make them too difficult. There’s a reason Superman is classically depicted as a beacon of hope, integrity, and strong protestant values; if you’re giving a character all that power, you gotta balance it out with “responsibility.” Otherwise, they become terrifying. And it’s not like Carol was an anti-hero or anything— they clearly wanted a likable MC. At the end of the movie they demonstrated she has restraint, which I’m guessing will be her thing in Endgame. Which is fine, but also (I think) furthers the point that this movie didn’t really add anything substantial to the MCU. The character that was “introduced” in this film probably won’t be the same character we see in the next one.

 

Having said that, I have nothing against Brie Larson’s performance. I don’t think she did a bad job at all— the script just did her dirty. I do genuinely feel bad for how much hate she’s gotten over this movie, #Briedidnothingwrong (except for maybe make Unicorn Store).

 

Not Carol: Jude Law was boring. Samuel L. Jackson was cool (and looked surprisingly good for how much CGI they used). Lashana Lynch (Marie) gave easily the best, most emotional performance. Ben Mendelsohn was pretty good as the Skrull guy, and Marie’s daughter was fine. I don’t really remember any other character.

 

Dialogue

 

I know “quips” is kind of a meme at this point, but Marvel isn’t doing a good job of making it go away. And look, I get it: you only have 152 million dollars to make your movie, the action budget’s running low after your eighth VFX guy quit and deleted all those spaceship mock-ups, and now you have a whole hour to fill with your characters just talking. The fuck are they supposed to do? Act? That’s not why they’re there. So you call up your five writers and ask them to come up with something, anything, that can pad time between the fight scenes you got corporate approval for. And they give you…

 

Toast. Fucking toast. “I can’t eat toast if it’s cut diagonally.” Huh?

 

I feel like with every new Marvel movie, the “witty banter” is just progressively degrading into nonsense. Right now we’re in the bad zone where everything’s just “random” and “quirky.” All I can hope for is that they’ll keep trend until every dialogue-heavy scene is just a series of non-sequiturs. I want full-on absurdism, damn it.

 

Also, “My… Name… Is… CAROL.” Is one of the funniest “badass one-liners” I’ve heard in an action movie.

 

Visuals

 

Why does the first half hour of this movie look like Justice League? Everything’s all dark and gray. Did the power go out? Why is there smoke everywhere? Were they trying to give the crew mesothelioma? I guess the idea was to make the Skrull planet look more barren, and I guess they succeeded, since it was not very pleasing to watch.

 

In the later fights, this movie did the same a lot of other Superhero movies do. The fights all look fine, they clearly had a solid budget, and a decent VFX team (the ones that weren’t abused by Disney, that is). The issue is more that those kinds of scenes just aren’t all that interesting. Every movie since Avatar has had the capacity to make a cool lights show, and most insist on doing it. But some of the best fight scenes in recent memory have been more practical, as opposed to giant space CGI clusterfucks. I recognize that they wanted to show off how strong Captain Marvel is to set up for the next movie. But there does come a point where smashing through buildings, blowing up spaceships, and beating up legions of miscellaneous goons gets old. The only kind of unique thing that happened in the big fight was her flying through ships to destroy them, and even that was basically just a worse version of the Holdo scene from the last Star Wars movie.

 

Sound

 

This movie’s soundtrack had two major parts: an OST, written by composer Pinar Toprak, and a collection of existing tracks that were used throughout the film. The former was, for all intents and purposes, pretty good. I wouldn’t necessarily call it distinct— I think at this point Marvel just has an orchestra on retainer that they like to use whenever possible— but it went fine with the movie. Very epic, very cool, very 90 instruments playing on top of each other. Good job Pinar.

 

Then there’s the sampling, which, if you look at it… hoo boy that’s a lot of 90’s music. I guess they tried to pull the Guardians of the Galaxy bit with nostalgic pop tracks? Except for the fact that, y’know, GotG actually had a reason for why the songs were in the movie. And a way to diegetically work them in. And good choreography to complement them.

 

And this movie had a bunch of coked-up studio execs who wrote “put that Nirvono band here” over the script in big red sharpie.

 

Conclusion

 

I’m probably being too harsh. And I’ll admit, this movie wasn’t that bad. It’s fine, it’s serviceable, if you want a movie, this is one. But there’s just so little that sets it apart from anything else— I just see it as “Marvel thing #21.” The most notable things about Captain Marvel are details which relate to other movies in the series, and even those are pretty inconsequential. If I had to rank MCU movies by “importance to overarching story,” this one would go in the bottom third. +1 for completionists, I guess.

 

Good for: 90’s kids

 

Bad for: <90’s & >2000’s kids

 

4.1/8

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s