Captain Marvel is a good film for kids, with positive messages for them about not giving up, and plenty of action to keep them entertained. For adults? It’s fun, and it’s not awful. But it’s not especially good, either. Captain Marvel hits and misses with the comedy, and doesn’t have much meat to its story, so it really just ends up as a passable actioner that sorta coasts on inertia.
Captain Marvel is a comic book character with a fairly complicated background. In the 1940s, Fawcett Comics introduced the character, and he was basically a copycat Superman. Enough so that DC comics, who published Superman, sued Fawcett Comics, and they had to cease publishing the title in 1953. DC would eventually come to own the rights to the character, and would rename him Shazam (who, coincidentally, has his own movie coming out soon). Marvel Comics would take over the name, however, with the stipulation that to keep the trademark, they would have to occasionally publish a Captain Marvel title every few years to keep it. He started off as Mar Vell, an alien soldier. The title never sold well, publication was spotty, and eventually he was killed off in the early 1980s.
The next character with the name marked Captain Marvel’s first tenure as a woman, and even was briefly the leader of The Avengers. She would retire the Captain Marvel name in the mid 1990s, because Mar Vell’s genetically engineered son would take over the Captain Marvel name. He died, and his younger sister became Captain Marvel. Briefly. Then Captain Marvel is a man a couple more times, before finally settling on the Carol Danvers character, who had occasionally appeared in publication since the late 60s with a few different superhero names, and as Ms. Marvel, had lost all her powers to Rogue from the X-Men for a while.
Why does any of this matter? I guess it doesn’t. Just sets up where this movie is coming from. We’ve arrived at the stage of the MCU now that they’ve expended all their big name characters. The Captain Marvel film is a hodge podge back story that, as far as I can tell, has been assembled taking bits and pieces of the Mar Vell and Carol Danvers versions of the characters, and just making them one person (played by Brie Larson), but still having another character named Mar Vell in the film, who doesn’t have any powers, just you know, because.
The first act of the first act of the film is pretty rough. We’re introduced to Vers (pronounced veers) who has amnesia, and is suffering from bad dreams with a mysterious woman (Annette Benning) fighting an alien. She already has super powers, and after sparring with Jude Law, he constantly berates her for not being able to control them. Confused? Well, it’s not any better explained in the film. Anyway, that’s the first two minutes. We then tag along for space politics and fighting between two space alien enemies, the Kree (Team Jude Law and Friends) and the Skrull, who are shapeshifters and are infiltrating the universe doing Bad Stuff. Eventually we end up on Earth, where Vers has been cut off from Jude Law and Friends, and in a race to find the Mystery Woman from her dreams. She runs into Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) and the pair team up to find the scientist before the Skrull do, and discover the technology that will “end wars.” Oh, and they’re in the 1990s, and you’ll know because of the music playing on the radio and jokes about grunge music and flannel and a Blockbuster Video store.
At that point, the movie starts to pick up a bit, and the middle act is mostly fun, with Vers slowly but surely recovers her memories and discovering the identity of the Mystery Woman. Unfortunately, by the end, it deflates, with the movie’s main plot point being somewhat clumsily crafted and ending up feeling like a fairly cheap twist. By the time Captain Marvel unleashes her full powers, she is so much stronger than anyone else in the movie, there’s not much tension and instead Captain Marvel spends the last minutes of the movie flying around and beating everyone up. Sorry, is that a spoiler? Is this your first super hero movie? Because that’s what they do.
The real shortcoming here is that nothing in the film quite works. The action is decent, the effects are good (aside from a scene where debris falls on the hood of Nick Fury’s car and does no damage to it because they forgot to dent it for subsequent camera shots), but nothing you haven’t seen before. Vers/Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel feels pretty “canned.” The script doesn’t give Brie Larson much to do. She’s asked to smirk, and shrug, and make sarcastic quips, like a Discount Tony Stark but without any really memorable lines, or any of Robert Downey Junior’s charisma. Larson isn’t a bad actress, but she never seems to really capture the comedic part of the role. She and Jackson’s Nick Fury have very little chemistry, much of it just in the weak script so their banter just feels like filler. There’s also very little emotional weight in the movie, for a film that is *pretending* to be weighty. We have strong anti-war themes, and a protagonist who has forgotten her past and lost her identity and everyone she holds dear. But we, as the audience, never get to feel anything for, or about, Carol Danvers, and for the most part, neither does she. She finds her old friend (named Monica Rambeau, after one of the other Captain Marvels, but unrelated to that character) and the friend’s daughter, and they talk about how sad they were when she disappeared, and they look at photos, and that’s the character development for remembering her past as Carol Danvers.
So, take your kids to this one. Especially young girls. They’ll enjoy it, and you won’t hate it. It’s fun, and light, and at just over two hours run time, it’s not especially long. The end has some kid-friendly messages about not giving up (though adults may recognize she just overcomes her obstacles by deciding that she can, and having incredible super powers), where we see young Carol Danvers at different stages of her childhood and young adult years literally standing back up after various falls and other setbacks. One caveat here: For a movie that is so obviously geared at younger audiences, there’s some crude humor here. Double entendres about cockpits, etc. Younger kids may not get the jokes, but then again, maybe they will.
3 Stars out of 5.
Captain Marvel is rated PG-13 and opens March 8th.