“Captain Marvel” is the first movie in Marvel’s decade-long franchise to feature a leading lady and, despite what online discourse would have you believe, it doesn’t put the entire weight of the world on its shoulders. This movie isn’t the Marvel equivalent of Citizen Kane, nor is it some kind of assault on the sanctity of 45-year-old men who need to grow up. It’s the franchise’s realization, a decade too late, that superhero flicks should star women.
Opening with a long series of exposition scenes that take place in CGI mush, “Captain Marvel” truly soars when the titular character finally hits the ground. The second act, which mostly consists of Brie Larson (“Room”) playing off of Samuel L. Jackson (“Kong: Skull Island”), is superb, and one of the most entertaining I’ve ever seen in a Marvel movie. If the entire film had taken place on Earth, and expunged most of the needlessly complicated alien backstory, it would be easy to proclaim “Captain Marvel” as a top tier superhero movie. As it is, the muddled first act and overwrought climax drags the entire enterprise down a few pegs. When the movie is working, though, its firing on all cylinders.
Brie Larson brings a powerful persona to her role as “Captain Marvel.” The most important thing in any of these origin films is getting the main character right. Thankfully, Larson was perfectly cast for the role, adding a serious breath of fresh air to the legions of extremely similar characters audiences have been faced with over the years. Carol Danvers has a tragic back story, like everyone else, but her attitude feels different than the usual “super smart genius” or “ultimate good guy” personas that have graced our screens two dozen times. Her arc mostly works, and the moment in the third act when she finally breaks free of the forces that have been holding her back is wonderful. It’s a shame that there’s still thirty minutes of CGI fighting afterwards.
If ever there was a time for Marvel to scale it back a bit and realize that all of these CGI blow-by-blows have become grating, it’s now. The smaller scale story of Carol Danvers and Nick Fury and the origin of the Avengers Initiative would have been more than enough. The action scenes in “Captain Marvel” leave much to be desired. In one climactic sequence, Larson’s character is in a different part of the room every time the film cuts back to her. It’s extremely disorienting and frankly pretty shocking to see such bad editing in a film that is this high profile.
Ben Mendelssohn must be mentioned — apart from Larson and Jackson, he steals every scene he is in. As the leader of the warlike shape-shifting Skrulls, Mendelssohn provides a comedic presence and a sympathetic villain that has to rank among the best in the marvel universe. Besides Captain Marvel herself, he’s the one character from this film that audiences will no doubt be looking forward to seeing again.
“Captain Marvel” is one of the best Marvel origin movies, but it still could have been more. Like “Doctor Strange” and “Ant-Man” before it, “Captain Marvel” does a good enough job setting up its hero that it’s likely she will be better utilized in future movies, although the film feels a little bit empty on its own.