It has finally come: the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) to have a woman in the lead and a woman serving as a co-director and writer. These are undeniable achievements that are both exciting and long overdue. Yet, Captain Marvel still feels like a bit of a disappointment. Sure, it fits securely into the MCU, hitting the conventions that the universe has set. But it as well sufficiently functions as a stand-alone entity. All together becoming frankly, just fine and almost so average it’s forgettable.
Brie Larson takes this film front and center and delivers an unsurprisingly strong performance as the titular character. Her steely bravado and determination takes her far and helps her leave her signature on the character and take full ownership of it as well. Just as Robert Downey Jr. defined Tony Stark and Chris Evans defined Steve Rogers, Larson here has now defined Captain Marvel. There’s nothing as simple as super soldier serum or an unforeseen spider-bite. There’s a lot more narrative baggage here, and Larson’s performance always keeps us on her side. Ben Mendelsohn on the other hand is as well quite great, playing a vital part in the film’s emotional core, so much so that some might even say he fully is the film’s emotional core. His performance as Talos, the beleaguered general of a shape-shifting species called Skrulls, is one that contains the funniest lines, the best throwaway gags, and the most dramatic and potent turnaround of any of the film’s characters. He nearly steals the movie.
In a movie that doesn’t really know how to tell Captain Marvel’s origin story, the character’s personality becomes an essential. There’s a part of me that sympathizes with the film’s three screenwriters (Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck & Geneva Robertson-Dworet). Origin stories are often bogged down by exposition, as this film is at small points, but it’s something we’ve seen done to death in many others of its kind. What the film’s aforementioned screenwriters have done here is try to spice things up and take our lead character’s amnesia and make it be a clean slate not only for her but for the audience. Making it a simple way for the audience to discover her origin alongside her. Unfortunately though, that approach leads to other characters telling Captain Marvel who she is, and every time it has to lapse into reveals, it loses sight of her personality. The mystery of her origin is ultimately uninteresting, as it as well deprives Captain Marvel of a character arc or any notable weaknesses. It’s ultimately a narrative of her being a superpowered person who doesn’t know her past, discovers her past, remembers her strength, and becomes even more superpowered as a result.
Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck seemingly further diminish their story by showing an outright lack of any visual imagination when bringing Captain Marvel’s world to life. If you were ever wondering what Guardians of the Galaxy would look like without James Gunn’s personality, Captain Marvel is your answer. The direction here is at times so incredibly flat, it actually pushed me to a point of frustration for some reason. The cinematography here hits some of the MCU’s worse yet, especially after the visual riches of films like Thor: Ragnarok. In the films already overly long third act climax, there is one action set piece that is so poorly staged you can’t hardly see it in the first place.
With all the film’s narrative miscalculations and complete lack of visual swagger, Captain Marvel still brings some things worth while to the table. From the strong performances from Brie Larson and Ben Mendelsohn, to the pretty astonishing de-ageing CGI work to the some of the palpable themes that bubble up here and there throughout the film. Though it’s in the end when you sit back on Captain Marvel and feel how average it is. So average, it just might be forgettable.