I have nothing to prove to you.
There are a lot of intriguing ideas on display in Captain Marvel. It has its heart in the right place in every way, but it’s also flawed in a couple of important ways. But I respect that the filmmakers aren’t content to just make a “safe” MCU movie; they could have done so and had a movie that was maybe more successful in some key ways, but I think I appreciate a film that’s trying to do something different even when it doesn’t completely succeed.
I like that the movie commits to Carol Danvers herself being a very different kind of character from a lot of the typical Marvel heroes. She has a sense of humor, but it’s different from the typical Marvel style in some ways. She’s a character that, in an interesting way, doesn’t really rely on charm at all, which is kind of the main currency in play with MCU characters. Brie Larson, who is quite good in the film, if not quite up to her usual excellent level, is definitely playing Carol as a stand-offish character and she’s genuinely a bit difficult to connect with at the beginning of the film. I think she’s going to work better in ensemble films going forward where her character can bounce off of others. You get a taste of this here in her chemistry with Samuel L. Jackson who gives what is possibly his very best performance as a younger, more naïve Nick Fury; the two of them are great together and the movie wisely realizes this and leans into building that relationship. Ben Mendelssohn, per usual, steals every scene he’s in as the Skrull Talos. The movie has a lot on its mind in terms of the villains and Mendelssohn’s performance is pitch perfect at any given moment, no matter where in his own personal character arc he is. Jude Law is also very good in a pivotal role. Carol’s relationships with Law’s character is a fraught one and the movie gets at a lot of really psychologically complex things with it. This movie isn’t particularly interested in the way women are kept down in society; there are a few moments where this is referenced and these are some of the clunkiest moments in the movie. What it’s interested in is how women are oppressed on the level of the interpersonal relationship and you can tell “gaslighting” was heavy on the minds of the writers here. The way that plot is set up here and the way her relationship with Law’s character is contrasted with her relationship with Fury is smart and unique. In short (lol), this film really shines in its characters and its performances. Speaking of other performances, Lashana Lynch particularly shines as an old friend of Carol’s. And it’s fun to see Clark Gregg and Lee Pace showing up to really prequelize things.
But the film has some serious flaws. Chief among is the fact that there’s not a single really good action scene in the entire film. And look, I’m really glad that Marvel is giving these movies to outside the box choices who are able to really get into character and story. And action isn’t enough by itself to sell me on a comic book movie, but these are still comic book movies, so sue me if I think they should have good action. There’s a reason the shot of Carol rolling onto the top of the train was in every trailer; it’s the one genuinely good action shot in the entire film. But this is also a problem I had with Spider-Man: Homecoming (though it did have one cracker-jack action scene, the edge-of-your-seat, vertigo inducing Washington Monument sequence). Maybe some of these directors don’t really have a facility for great action; we kind of lucked out that the Russos did, honestly. Maybe it’s time for these directors to start leaning more heavily on second-unit directors or choreographers or something because much of the action here is downright bad. The big fight scene where Carol takes on the crew she used to roll with is a great example; it should feel like a huge culmination and we should feel like she’s using her knowledge of these people to her advantage and it’s just a dull misfire, not helped by a horrible song choice. Which does bring up another big flaw with the movie which is all the nostalgia baiting. I love the movie being a prequel and all the fun stuff that allows them to do with the characters, but the NIN t-shirt, the nineties music, which is perpetually just not quite the right song choice, and some of that stuff just really felt forced to me. You get the feeling the movie wants to kind of have the success Guardians did with their music and it just doesn’t happen, unfortunately. That’s, I suppose, a pretty minor complaint.
Honestly, I liked the character & psychological stuff in this movie so much that I’m leaning toward being really generous given that the action doesn’t work. I suppose it’s testament to just how right Marvel is getting everything that they managed to make this movie work really well without getting any action scenes right. At the end of the day, I suppose better that way than the other, but really, let’s get some ADs in there or something. 3 ½ stars.
tl;dr – with well-written characters and a lot of ideas and ambitions, Captain Marvel manages to rise above its flaws in an impressive way; still, did the action have to be this bad? 3 ½ stars.
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