It’s both laudable and puzzling that this should be Marvel’s first female led film. With a host of characters who have proven to be fan favourites throughout the comic book years, it’s curios that Kevin Feige et al should have waited this long before introducing a – gasp – woman as the protagonist. Better late than never as they say, but Captain Marvel is long overdue. It’s time for women to take their place in the pantheon of superhuman cinema.
Part fish out of water story, part amnesiac mystery, Captain Marvel tells the story of Carol Danvers coming to terms with her powers and struggling to acquiesce he identity. This is all in the shadow of a great war raging between the Kree – the protagonist’s adoptive home race – and the Skrulls, a shape-shifting species known for their ruthless deception.
Formally the tale is relatively standard fare for Marvel. It is an origin story for a new hero that follows the same story beats one has come to expect from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There’s mystery and intrigue, a prototypical good vs evil dichotomy and action packed spectacular set pieces. The method of storytelling is something relatively new for Marvel, small fragments are revealed in key plot moments to help piece together a larger puzzle and shift the story’s paradigm. It’s not a tremendously bold innovation but does speak to the MCU’s ability to weave a coherent narrative.
The performances are all competent enough. Brie Larson does her best to inject some personality into the titular character; her understated cheeky asides are charming and blatantly telegraph a rebellious nature to the audience. Ben Mendelsohn portrays Talos, a high ranking Skrull militant with a sister verve, though it is hard to tell how much of his performance is down to the excellent prosthetics as opposed to his own skill. The supporting cast are unremarkable though no one stands out as particularly wooden, despite an uninspired script to work with.
The film’s soundtrack appears to be aiming to ape the 80s retro vibe of fellow MCU export, Guardians of the Galaxy, with plenty of grungy 90s tunes shoehorned in. The issue is that tonally the film doesn’t gel with the musical choices, it’s far too clean cut and polished for its own good and missing any punk ethos. Combine this with patchy CGI and the visual style is more reminiscent of Ang Lee’s Hulk than a contemporary Marvel flick.
One thing perhaps lacking in the film was a sense of empowerment. While physically Captain Marvel grows in strength as she learns to cope with and utilise her powers, there is a lacking sense of fanfare that this is the MCU’s first female led film. Themes of feminine power could have been a little more on the nose and this film would have been all the better for it. Plus it would upset incels and neckbeards to no end, which would of course be glorious. The film should stand as important for its female leading role, but instead, perhaps rightly, understates her gender and doesn’t bask in the glory of womanhood.
Captain Marvel is a flawed film, but an admirable one. What it lacks in ideological strength it makes up for in visual spectacle, for the most part. The performances are just elevated above perfunctory, the visual effects are divided between the glory of practical and the unconvincing computer generated, and the story is the usual standard fare for a superhero origin tale. However there is something captivating about Captain Marvel beyond Brie Larson’s performance, but only as a set up for something far bigger. This feels like the appetiser to Avengers: Endgame’s main course.