FULL SPOILERS FOR CAPTAIN MARVEL! READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!
To say that there are a lot of expectations that Captain Marvel needs to live up to is putting it mildly. Since the film’s announcement in 2014 fans have been eagerly awaiting Carol’s entry into the MCU. There are many that will be completely satisfied with the film, but there will also be many people who are not. Both opinions are valid and should be evaluated with an open mind as long as both parties remain respectful of what the other has to say. Like Carol herself, Captain Marvel is not perfect. It has flaws. But it also has moments of triumph and things that it does really well. And most importantly, the flaws don’t diminish the enjoyment that many people will undoubtedly get from watching the film.
As a die-hard Marvel fan, it can be very difficult to look beyond the pure joy of seeing these characters realized on screen. The Carol we see in Captain Marvel is heavily inspired by the Kelly Sue DeConnick run which established the current iteration of the character. Throughout the film, we see Carol’s snark and confidence in equal measure which is straight from the comics and Brie Larson seems to embody this confidence and carefree attitude. They even pulled off her iconic uniform and made the mohawk not look silly. As we’ve come to expect from Marvel, they continue to breathe life into some of our favorite comic book characters. Just the fact that a Captain Marvel movie exists at all is a testament to the incredible feat that Marvel has been able to accomplish!
The film opens by introducing us to Vers and Yon-Rogg as they train for a mission which enables the writers to deliver a lot of exposition. Within the first fifteen minutes, we’re already being introduced to the Kree, the Skrulls, Vers’ abilities, her relationship to Yon-Rogg, their special-ops team, the Supreme Intelligence, and Carol’s mysterious past. That’s a lot of exposition and we haven’t even gotten to Earth and met Fury yet. Captain Marvel is packed full of plot and not in a good way. There is so much going on that it feels like certain relationships and character building gets lost.
Perhaps the most emotionally intense scene when Carol reunites with her friend Maria is undercut by the fact that we never really saw the two of them have a relationship. We see flashes of them having fun in a bar, but we don’t really know who these people were before the accident. The only reason why that scene works is because of Lashana Lynch’s incredible performance. In a single scene, she makes us feel the pain of losing her best friend. But since we only ever get to know Carol after the accident we have to imagine what that relationship was like. It could have been so much more powerful. The same issue arises again during the confrontation between Carol and Yon-Rogg at the end of the film. We get a sense of Carol’s relationship with him in the beginning, but once she gets to Earth it’s almost completely abandoned. His presence isn’t felt at all until the final climax of the film. So when they end up confronting each other his betrayal ultimately doesn’t mean that much because we haven’t seen them truly trust each other. Other than some snarky back and forth in the first few minutes, the film doesn’t really establish how these two characters feel about one another.
However, that’s in stark contrast to one of the strongest aspects of the film which is the relationship between Carol and Fury. But that’s because it was given enough time to breath; their relationship has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It’s also present and felt throughout the majority of the film. Some of the best moments are when it takes a breather and allows Carol and Fury to have a chat and decompress from everything that’s been going on. The conversation between the two of them in the bar when they evaluate if the other is a Skrull was one of the highlights of the movie. It also introduced us to a very different Fury than we’re used to seeing and this younger interpretation was beautifully portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson. He’s much more open and trusting than the Fury we’ve come to know. This makes me think that there must be something in Fury’s past that made him lose this happier and more carefree attitude. Perhaps he hasn’t yet become burdened by the weight of carrying all of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s secrets.
The twist with the Skrulls being freedom fighting refugees was a really unique interpretation. Those familiar with the comics will know that the Kree-Skrull war is a conflict that never seems to end with both sides committing terrible atrocities for reasons that have been lost to history. However, the war in Captain Marvel is very different from what we find in the comics. In the film, the Kree appear to be the oppressors who are waging a war of conquest and the Skrulls are merely fighting for their own survival. This was a great twist because not only was Ben Mendelsohn able to play a sympathetic character in Talos, but it also forced Carol to confront her own prejudice. It’s a great way to keep the comic fans guessing at what will happen next.
We also need to talk about the full scope of Carol’s powers. Feige didn’t lie when he said the film would highlight the full scale of her abilities. From what we’ve seen it’s pretty clear that she’s at the very least one of the most powerful beings in the MCU. This makes adding tension to the film a huge challenge. It’s difficult to feel worried for our hero when we know she can just blast and fly her way out of everything. This problem was addressed a bit in the beginning when Carol’s hands are contained thus limiting her powers, but it means that the later action sequences rely much more on the spectacle and scope of her abilities to be entertaining rather than narrative tension. The sequences are fun and enjoyable, but there isn’t much substance to them.
And speaking of substance, the cinematography and direction of the film did feel somewhat uninspired. Compared with other Phase 3 films like Black Panther, Guardians 2and Thor: Ragnarok which all have incredibly distinct styles and tones, Captain Marvel doesn’t really hold up. Thor: Ragnarok is a quintessential Taika Waititi film, his fingerprints are all over it. And I didn’t feel that same authorship of Captain Marvel that we’ve grown accustomed to in the MCU. However, there were some really great moments both big and small that shouldn’t be overlooked. The dogfight at the end with Maria was a great sequence and very reminiscent of the trench run in Star Wars. Also after Carol defeats Yon-Rogg and goes to confront him he’s literally laying in her shadow which I thought was a nice touch. But again, it would have been so much more powerful if that relationship had been more prominent.
Just like with the rest of the film, there are great moments that shouldn’t be overlooked, but there are also many aspects of the film that could have been better. Just like her saying goes, “Higher, Further, Faster” we should always shoot for the stars and aim for the best. Captain Marvel certainly aims to do a lot, it’s an incredibly ambitious film that attempts to do so much. But sometimes it falters under its own weight. Carol Danvers is a great character that has a lot of potential going forward, but it would have been nice if the film was more focused on who she is and her relationship with the other characters, rather than spend so much time world building. But the growing pains that Captain Marvel suffers from are present in most of the other Marvel origin films. And that alone makes me incredibly excited for where the character will go next. This film did a lot of the heavy lifting so hopefully going forward we’ll see Carol flourish into the Captain of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that I know she can be.