Here be spoilers…
I went into my 10:30a showing of Captain Marvel not really knowing anything about Carol Danvers / Captain Marvel. At a time when the entire media market is glutted with superhero films and television, being able to experience a character and a story with new eyes is refreshing and rare. Brie Larson is also not someone I really know outside of Kong: Skull Island, and I was excited about the idea of all the new. I was also excited for another superhero who was a woman. Of course, it was her gender that led to the totally predictable and unsurprising toxic male response in the ramp up to the movie’s release, on International Women’s Day no less. It was the standard response: women are ruining comics, women who are fans aren’t “true” fans, and they don’t “really” read comics. At this point you could set your watch by it.
Because I did not know anything other than what previews and the Internet said about Captain Marvel, but because I am a fan of the MCU, I spent the first part of the movie really confused that I was supposed to see the Kree as the good guys. Especially with the last season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D which provided more Kree information and background than we’ve gotten before. The Kree are the ultimate bad guys, and they’re all supposed to be blue, so Jude Law’s Yon-Rogg added to the confusion. When we first meet the Kree, Carol Danvers is going by her Kree name, Vers (taken from the fragment of her dog tag that remains; yeah, lazy, like a lot of the plot), and she is part of a mostly Kree Star Force, a type of intergalactic police force.
As the movie moves on, and Danvers travels to Earth in pursuit of Talos (who set up as the Skrull big bad), the plot moves onto more stable and familiar ground, Earth in the 1990s.
In many ways, Captain Marvel is a nostalgia film for Gen X, the generation that the world so often erases, or just forgets exists, more than it’s a woman empowerment film. The movie would have you believe these are the same thing, from the “Top Gun but for women!” flashbacks, and the heavy-handed soundtrack.
I love my gurl-power ‘90s rock as much as anyone, but while having Garbage, Hole, No Doubt, and TLC all on the soundtrack does signal a very specific time and stance, it’s also not subtle. It’s obvious sign-posting in case you didn’t notice Captain Marvel was a WOMAN who is POWERFUL, “one of the universe’s most powerful heroes.” I would have been more impressed if they’d put Sleater-Kinney on the soundtrack. At least it would have looked like they tried to do their homework
The heavy-handedness is not the only issue with the movie. As others have pointed out, the switch from jeans and a t-shirt to Star Force suit is confusing. Layers in Louisiana? Please. Never happen. The flashbacks as Carol recovers her identity are also confusing, especially to people who know the MCU but not this specific character. The de-aging of Samuel Jackson’s Nick Fury is barely noticeable (honestly it just looks like they dyed his hair dark), but the same effect on Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson is creepy in its cartoonishness. Lashana Lynch as Maria Lambeau, Carol’s best friend, and her daughter, Monica, played by Akira Akbar, are both great, and Monica’s got some great one-liners. Maria and Carol’s relationship is one of the best things about the movie, but also feels like queer-baiting, and not fully fleshed out.
There are odd story inconsistencies like Danvers and the ridiculous flamey-head costume. Superhero media still hasn’t figured out that (1) you don’t have to replicate everything from the comics, and (2) there is such a thing as too much even when you’re writing a superhero. (And yes The Flash, I’m looking at you with your ridiculous King Shark crap.) Sometimes in space, Danvers needs the flaming head of rubbish for protection, or to breathe, and sometimes not. So it’s a distraction, ridiculous, and, apparently, unnecessary.
The images of Brie Larson sneaking into showtimes in a Captain Marvel tracksuit were cute, but she’s wooden in the film. Is she supposed to be cold? Is this supposed to be evidence of the Kree reprogramming? The movie suggests the latter, as in the big fight scene at the end, once Danvers has embraced her true power, she’s a more liberated figure. Almost cartoonishly so, as evident by her giggles during the fight. But if the movie was meant to show a transformation from cold Kree killer to human superhero, it falls flat.
The whole Annette Bening / Mar-Vell plot didn’t seem like it was thought out, and the “satisfied with its own cleverness” was some Steven-Moffat-level lazy storytelling. The same could be said of the “let’s tidy up the Tesseract” plotline. The Pegasus Project introduction as the base in Avengers is a nice touch, as is how Fury gets the Avengers Initiative name, although like much of the movie, there’s a fine line between cute Easter eggs and heavy-handed nonsense.
Despite all these issues there are some real bright spots. A younger, not-yet-cynical Nick Fury is a lot of fun to watch. Goose, and the story behind Fury’s eye is hysterical, as is Coulson’s version of how he lost the eye already building Fury’s epic reputation. Ben Mendelsohn as Talos is really funny. I think he’s some of the best parts of the movie. I laughed out loud when Fury says “it’s just a scratch” and then the camera pans to the Skrulls shaking their head no. The homage to Stan Lee at the beginning as well as his cameo within the film are cute, and the end credits scene provides a good bridge from Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, but it also brings up more questions than answers. It seems lazy and way too convenient that just as Danvers comes into her powers, a huge event for her, Earth, and S.H.I.E.L.D (although their surprise at aliens given S.H.I.E.L.D’s history seems off), she leaves? Sure, go find a home world for the Skrulls, but that takes 30 years? Again it seems like a lazy answer to make Captain Marvel fit into the larger MCU timeline without too much work or thought. The movie has some great small moments, like Goose’s last scene – anyone who has ever been owned by a cat laughed their ass off at that. The foley guy definitely has a cat. But that’s the movie, a patchwork of some cool moments, a lot of not great ones, all stitched together and not quite making a complete picture.
Captain Marvel was a fun couple of hours on a Saturday morning. But it was someone else’s comment that made me realize what my real issues with the movie were. They said, “If you thought Wonder Woman was empowering, wait til you see this!” I had a knee-jerk reaction to this for a few reasons, and these reasons form the foundation of my issues with the movie. Having a woman lead of a film, even a superhero film, is not enough. She has to be a good actor, with a good script, under good direction, saying and doing things worth watching. You have to do more than just stick random, obvious, signposts in your movie that you think will appease a demographic. The story needs to be complete, fully fleshed out, and detailed. It has to matter. It has to be authentic and real. A lot of Captain Marvel felt like what someone told the studio had to be in a “girl” film. And while a lot of boxes are checked, the movie doesn’t move past those initial check boxes. We should be able in 2019 to move past surface nods to representation.