“Captain Marvel” impresses and disappoints as a superhero film

Marvel’s latest is rough around the edges, but ultimately another win for the studio.


Rain Richards

Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) stands tall against the growing Skrull threat.

If there are a few things that viewers have readily come to expect from every new Marvel Studios film that makes its way into theaters, they are consistent entertainment value, boundless mesmerizing thrills and cogent main characters to lead and possibly pave the way for more films in their wake. The first and second phases admittingly had their misses with several lackluster early entries, but ever since Marvel launched their third phase of films, they have remained at a steadfast, high-quality level. My anticipation was thus sky-high going into their latest, “Captain Marvel,” released on Friday, March 8.

Set before the Avengers or the Guardians of the Galaxy ever came into existence, the film follows Carol Danvers (Brie Larson), a powerful human who serves amongst the Starforce, an elite group of warriors working to protect an alien race named the Kree. She lives without any memory of her life on Earth and has trouble keeping her emotions straight. After getting kidnapped in an ambush by the Kree’s enemy, the shape-shifting Skrulls, Danvers escapes and crash-lands in a mid-90s Earth. Determined to find her true identity and end the Kree-Skrull war, she harnesses her powers and enlists the help of the young SHIELD agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).

“Captain Marvel” ~ Marvel Studios

“Captain Marvel” finds itself in a balancing act juggling the varying settings in which it is taking place. On one side of the spectrum, there’s the intergalactic antics taking place in the outer depths of space. The imaginative pieces from the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies and “Thor: Ragnarok” are mirrored in this slice of the film, from the colorfully vibrant dashes of cosmic trinkets surrounding the scene to the diverse deluge of fanciful alien species, all the way to the electrifying visual thrills of the action set pieces. The other main landscape to behold is a 1990s centric Los Angeles. The time period is never explicitly stated, using the existence of commodities like a Blockbuster shop or old-style technology to clue you in. The majority of the pic takes place Earthbound, and I think this is one area where it suffers. After seeing how creative and fun the film gets set in the cosmos, the scenes on Earth feel bland by comparison. This is a type of movie that is better fit in such a setting, much like the first two “Thor” films, which lingered far too long in the latter landscape.

Similarly, the tone varies from being humorous and entertaining to more raw and emotional. Marvel once again handles these conflict moods deftly. Some parts the film can be bursting with jokes, or viewers can be having a blast from the action, and then in other scenes it can be more grounded and personalized. The mood swings feel natural and not abrupt. If anything, the tone feels like it is replicating the comic book counterparts, and if you’ve ever read anything from Marvel’s comic run then you would know how multifaceted these superhero stories can be.

One thing Marvel has been doing in their latest films is allowing the directors to have a larger part in the film, thereby letting the movies be distinctive and their own. For example, in “Ragnarok,” Taika Waititi’s sense for offbeat humor shines in an ample quantity. The same cannot be said for “Captain Marvel.” There is nothing that feels distinguishing in the directing; it seems flavorless. This problem is made worse by the fact that the directors, Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, are a talented pair who have made proficient films like the indie drama films “Mississippi Grind” and “Half Nelson.”

Her vulnerability, but will to succeed, is what makes her an effective heroine.

Danvers is a powerful main character. She has a headstrong, tough-as-nails personality, while at the same time faces many internalized conflicts and dilemmas. That’s why her character is such a blast to watch: she is strong but imperfect. She has a behemoth of power that allows her to shoot photon blasts, not to mention a strong physique from training by the Kree; however, these elements fail to be as substantial as they could, because Danvers initially faces a lack of inner control to keep them steady. And yes, her story arc is more or less a rudimentary Marvel origin story, starting from her origins when she is at her weakest and ending when she comes to terms with her identity, along with the added twist of her lack of memory, but it functions effectively all the same. Her vulnerability, but will to succeed, is what makes her an effective heroine.

It only helps that Brie Larson gives an adequate performance as Danvers. She slips into the role effortlessly and exudes true confidence in the role. I was skeptical of her casting when it was initially announced because she doesn’t give off the exact feel of the comic book counterpart, but that’s all right. She adds her own charisma and pieces to the role to make it feel unique from the comics, while keeping the foundation from the original counterpart so that Danvers is the same fundamental character. It’s not the best work that Larson has done, and sometimes she feels a bit wooden in a couple key scenes, but as a whole Larson is adept as the main star.

Larson is joined by Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury who is returning from his role in “The Avengers,” only this time he is over a decade younger and inexperienced in his job as a SHIELD agent. With the cutting edge de-aging CGI and Jackson’s infectious buddy-cop chemistry with Danvers, Fury is one of the core shining spots of the film.

Danvers is trained by Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) ~ Marvel Studios

I was disappointed by one key character, however, and that character is Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), a mentor for Danvers and her leader on Starforce. Without getting into spoilers, there is a sizeable twist with the character towards the climax, and it was predictable from the get-go where his personage was heading. Making things worse, he is motivated by a certain object in the film that has been regurgitated multiple times in the Marvel universe. Again, no spoilers, but Yon-Rogg and his incentives feel very ham-fisted.

Perhaps the biggest shortcoming for the film is that it doesn’t come off as something to sprout out of the Marvel’s third phase of films, rather coming off as a flick that would have been part of the very first phase. This isn’t exactly a bad thing on surface level, but once you realize how far Marvel has gone and how many risks they have taken to get to this point, it feels like a downgrade that they are shrinking it down to their utmost basic level when all of their latest films have been so avant-garde.

In the end, “Captain Marvel” is troubled as a film, with problems being the directing, choice of setting and a general lack of risk-taking. As a whole, though, it is well worth watching if you have immersed yourself into the cinematic universe Marvel has been building. Furthermore, the film helps bridge an unnecessary gender divide in these types of superhero films, what with it being the first major solo female-led film produced by the studio. So while it may not shoot for the stars, it is yet another win for Marvel. Grade: B