Set in the Earth year of 1995, Brie Larson plays Carol Danvers, a human on an alien planet with no memory of her past beyond six years ago. She’s part of an intergalactic military whose people, the Kree, are at war with another alien race, the Skrull. When a military operation goes awry, Carol finds herself captured and interrogated by the Skrull, who pick through visions in Carol’s mind of another life. After a daring escape, Carol ends up hurtling down through space and crashing in metropolitan United States where she meets Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and a less robust stage SHIELD. Together, they trace back through Carol’s history to find out who she is and why the Skrull are interested in what she knows.
As far as origin stories go, the method of starting in the middle of a character’s journey – when they already have their powers – is my least favorite. That’s because part of the enjoyment in watching an origin story is being part of the discovery of new abilities and seeing how the character struggles, adapts, and triumphs over their new condition. In Captain Marvel, all of that journey is erased, so audiences will only know her as a badass.
There are flashbacks of her former life sans-powers, but they’re very brief snippets and shown mostly to establish that men have held her back and ridiculed her for her entire life. Whether it’s go-kart racing, enduring basic training in the military, or becoming an Airforce pilot, it’s always men scolding and jeering. One man, whose line gets repeated for effect, says, “That’s why they call it a cockpit.” There are no women who talk behind her back or criticize her tomboy ways, which is strange, because one would assume that Carol attended high school in the United States. Alas, Carol only knows supportive women.
All of this is to say that Carol’s character arc feels mostly flat. She goes from self-assured badass to self-assured badass with a lot of power, which is probably more appropriate for a second film in a series. Having a character stay this flat in an origin story just isn’t engrossing.
There’s also something too familiar about Captain Marvel. Whether it’s the deadpan comedic delivery from Djimon Hounsou that reminds of Dave Bautista’s Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy, or action set pieces like a fight on a moving subway train, too many moments don’t feel fresh. In fact, a lot of them feel perfunctory.
At just over two hours, Captain Marvel drags, and that is due to fundamental storytelling issues. The film doesn’t flesh out relationships or give enough screen time to where it’s needed, so it’s hard to stay engaged when nothing seems important. So, when there are deaths, betrayals, sacrifices, and achievements, it’s all just happening intellectually for audiences instead of emotionally.
Casting Brie Larson as the titular character did the film no favors. She doesn’t break the movie and is serviceable in many regards, but she doesn’t elevate the film to a superhero movie in the way Gal Godot did for Wonder Woman. Larson doesn’t exhibit peak physical conditioning and doesn’t have a larger-than-life personality. It’s also a shame they couldn’t do something about getting Larson’s hair out of her face.
If this movie were not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, then it’s doubtful it would be successful. But that’s immaterial, since it is part of the MCU. So, people are going to watch it regardless of how mediocre it is. We all tolerated Thor to get to The Avengers, so audiences will tolerate this to get to what MCU 2.0 looks like after Endgame. We can only hope that the best Marvel films aren’t behind us, but Captain Marvel isn’t promising.