Captain Marvel: The MCU’s first female-led movie barely manages to take flight

Released on March 8, international women’s day, the trailers and promotional material for Captain Marvel promised a high-flying, female-empowering superhero flick that would serve as both a stand-alone and a tie into April’s Avengers: Endgame. What they delivered, was a serviceable but lackluster superhero story that seemed unsure of how to characterize its protagonist, and confused about its own message. Starring Brie Larson as the titular Captain Marvel, the movie follows the story of a human pilot turned alien warrior who crash lands on earth after a mission gone wrong. With 1990s Los Angeles as a backdrop and a supporting cast that includes Samuel L Jackson, Jude Law, and Annette Bening, Captain Marvel had all the right ingredients to be the bombastic, grungy romp that the trailers promised. Sadly, the movie seems to squander most of its true potential at every opportunity. Though it was by no means a terrible film, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed that after 10 years of blockbuster hits, this was the best that Marvel could come up with when introducing its first major female lead.

Speaking of female leads, one of my largest gripes with the movie was the casting of Brie Larson. With credits that range from an Oscar-winning turn in Room to a comedic role in the cult classic Scott Pilgrim vs the World, Larson, on paper, seems like an actress with enough talent and range to fill such massive shoes and follow in the footsteps of the likes of Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, and Chadwick Boseman. However, Larson is just serviceable in the role. At some points, she seems to make an effort to give the character a little snark and personality, but for the majority of the film, Danvers just comes off as a standoffish soldier. Hardly a compelling lead, and especially unfortunate considering that she is the next in line to take the place of Iron Man as the leader of the MCU. The writers of the movie seem to believe that in order to make a female character strong, she has to be a tough, stoic, battle-hardened hero a la Ellen Ripley in Alien. Unfortunately, just because Captain Marvel has physical strength that lets her fight aliens and crippled spaceships, it doesn’t mean that she’s a strong character, and the movie suffers for it.

Such a lackluster lead leaves the door open for the supporting cast, however, to do the heavy lifting. Samuel L Jackson and Ben Mendelsohn in particular shine, and the latter’s character is a scene stealer that completely comes out of left field. Though it was interesting to get a look at a younger Nick Fury, and Jackson played the role, as always, to a ‘T’, it was unfortunate that he seemed to shine more than the actual protagonist of the film. In the more “buddy-cop”-esque scenes where Jackson and Larson share scenes, he is clearly the more charismatic and entertaining of the two. However, not every member of the supporting cast was as stellar as Jackson and Mendelsohn – the Kree characters (played by Jude Law, Annette Bening, and Gemma Chan) are all as inconsequential to the plot as they are one dimensional. They all seem to suffer from the same problem as Captain Marvel does – they’re just not developed enough to be an interesting presence on screen. Rounding out the cast are the civilian characters- Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) and her daughter Monica (Akira Akbar). The two are supposed to be the emotional core of the film, and their interactions with Carol Danvers seem like they’re supposed to be the humanizing elements to the otherwise stoic lead. Unfortunately, however, these scenes fall flat as well, and come off as shallow, cliche, and at this point obligatory  “female empowering” moments as opposed to actual, character-driven tension.

In terms of visual effects, as always, this is one area where Marvel knocks it out of the park. Captain Marvel has surprisingly colorful visuals for an MCU movie, thanks in most part to Carol Danvers’ hastily-explained but ever-so-spectacular powers. I do give the movie props for its third act – the finale is visually dazzling and very gratifying in terms of what’s been built up until that point. It would’ve been much more gratifying, however, had the trailers not given it all away. The trailers gave away so much, in fact, that I found myself very uninterested in the plot itself, which somehow managed to be contrived and oversimplified at the same time. The movie gives far too much explanation in some aspects, and not nearly enough in others, and given the fact that Captain Marvel is supposed to be an origin story, it’s an issue that really hurts the end product.

In the end, I found myself walking out of the theatre unenthused for the future of the MCU. Captain Marvel is so focused on setting up future Marvel movies, it seems to forget that it’s telling an origin story of its own. Filled to the brim with in-jokes and unnecessary callbacks ten years in the making, Captain Marvel feels more like the lowest common denominator of Marvel hallmarks than anything new or interesting.