This is a more than decent outing in the Marvel Studios conveyor belt of superhero films and it scores points in plenty of areas. But somehow, it didn’t quite make the mark I was hoping it would. And, after mulling this over for a few days, I’d say the reason for that is little to do with the film itself. Two other points come to mind: first, that superhero fatigue is setting in, and second, Marvel may have boxed itself into a corner with how they tried to fit this film into the big story (years in the making) of the threat of Thanos and the Infinity Stones.
I’ll come back to that, but let’s deal with Captain Marvel as a stand alone film first. All in all, it’s pretty good. It is (finally) a Marvel movie with a female character in the central role, and what’s more it gives us an Oscar winner to fill those boots. Brie Larson carries off the role of Marvel/Carol Danvers with ease, blending the required amount of grit, heart and humour. And with Annette Bening as the mysterious Supreme Intelligence character, Lashana Lynch as Danvers’ best friend Marie, and Akira Akbar as Marie’s daughter Monica, there is plenty of female focus to the storytelling. After so many male oriented stories, this is a welcome addition to the canon.
The film also gives us a much more enjoyable performance from Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. Because the film is set in the 1990’s, we see a digitally enhanced Jackson as a young Fury. He is a looser, funnier Fury, not yet the hard bitten, war weary soldier we’ve seen in the previous Marvel films as the leader of Earth’s defence agency Shield. Jackson’s banter with Larson is one of the highlights of the film, in fact, maybe it is the highlight. The pair spark off each other rather well.
Captain Marvel presents the film makers with yet another challenge, in trying to come up with a fresh way of telling an origin story. By fitting this into a storyline of Carol Danvers/Marvel being mind-probed by the alien shape-shifting race called Skrulls, the writers achieve their goal, and with some inventiveness. And for long time readers of Marvel Comics, this film brings the Skrulls and their ages long battle with the alien Kree to the screen. So far so good.
Yet I found the way Marvel acquires her powers, and the powers themselves, rather unengaging. Carol Danvers is caught in an explosion from a mysterious Kree energy source, and this gives her Superman-like invulnerability. She can fly, she can shoot bolts from her hands and her body is seemingly as strong as the Hulk’s on steroids. Well I always thought Superman was the most boring of superheroes, cause you really couldn’t beat him, and he was a saccharinely sweet goody-goody to boot. In this case, once you get your head around how powerful Captain Marvel is, the action sequences lose a little interest. And by now we’ve seen enough superhero fistfights we can count them to go to sleep.
But the biggest issue here is where this film fits in the decade long Marvel Studios storyline of the threat from Thanos. This alien debuted in the first Avengers film, but the Infinity Stones he covets have been around in the films for even longer. So we have ten years of a carefully crafted story which reached a climax last year in Avengers Infinity War. That film brought together just about every superhero we’ve met over this time in a head on confrontation with said Thanos. It ended with our heroes either dead or dispersed and apparently helpless against the villain. The Marvel audience was left salivating for part two, Avengers Endgame, due out shortly. But at the end of Infinity War we had a teasy reference to Captain Marvel, when a disintegrating Nick Fury sends out a call for help to her.
So Marvel Studios clearly had to introduce this new character, and herein lies the problem. This means asking us to put our anticipation for the finale of the Thanos saga on hold, switch our attention to Captain Marvel, and then duly pick up the threads of the overarching saga again. I’d say that’s a big ask. Yes, this film does tie its story to the Thanos arc, but really it’s being asked to tread water when you want to steam ahead in a flurry of freestyle strokes. This wanting-to-get-on -with-the-big-picture feeling nagged at me throughout Captain Marvel. Knowing how the studio constructs its films, I found myself waiting for the expected post-credits scene, where I assumed we would see the link to Thanos, more than I was hankering for the grand finale of the film proper.
But could Marvel have done it any differently? Probably not. Had they introduced Captain Marvel before Avengers Infinity War, they’d have been stuck with what to do with a character clearly powerful enough to take on Thanos all by herself. If they’d waited for Avengers Endgame to introduce her, they’d have had to somehow shoehorn her origin into that film too, risking cluttering up the plot.
No, they boxed themselves in, and the result is this standalone film. It’s fine, with the usual mix of action and humour. But it feels swamped by the more gripping events occuring elsewhere in the Marvel Universe, and its impact is reduced by that. Even setting the story earlier in time doesn’t help. Bring on Avengers Endgame and let’s get on with the story.