After almost a year-long hiatus, I’m back on the blog. Soon I’ll have a new schedule and approach, but for now I’m jumping back in with a review of the Captain Marvel movie.
I know, I know, I’m a white male writing a review of Captain Marvel. That’s apparently an incendiary action these days, but as a writer I’ve written about quite a few topics in ways which have made people squirm and even lash out. Good writing will challenge how you think, push you out of your ideological comfort zone, and get you to look at things from a different perspective. If I’m not doing that, I’m not doing my job.
To start, let me just say I’m a big fan of Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel. Despite people running around trying to say otherwise, the character wasn’t changed or created for this new film. Yes, in the comics she’s ultra-powerful, at one point taking on an entire star fleet single-handedly and winning. But she’s also not perfect, and that’s one of the charming qualities she possesses.
I really wanted to love this film, but the first thing that soured the experience was that Carol Danvers was pretty much perfect. Without spoiling anything, the only “mistake” she made was trusting someone whose intentions she thought were pure. To top it off, Brie Larson played the character in quite the stiff mannerism. In the comics Carol Danvers is brash and colorful, having amazing emotional depth, not too unlike Tony Stark. I was really looking forward to those two sharing a room in the next Avengers movie, but now I’m just dreading it.
Then there’s the issue of the 90s nostalgia in the film. I was a teen in the 90s and have a playlist from that decade that will last a day, but even I thought the nostalgia was like drinking syrup from a bottle. While Guardians of the Galaxy used its classic songs to pump up the dramatic qualities, in Captain Marvel the songs seemed to just be shoved in all over the place. Where it hit a ridiculous pinnacle was when No Doubt’s “Just a Girl” — a song that’s on my 90s playlist, by the way — started blaring during a fight scene. It didn’t fit the mood and quite frankly was distracting (something from Nine Inch Nails, such as Head Like a Hole, would’ve worked so much better). But the fact the song placement was to get across a point that was constantly belabored throughout the movie wasn’t lost on me, leading to my next point.
I absolutely detest preachy books and movies. The Legend of Bagger Vance, one of my favorite movies of all time, strikes a nice balance. It could have so easily been sanctimonious, and unfortunately the book is. Instead, the movie leads you most of the way, then allows you to fill in the rest. Captain Marvel doesn’t do that. The script treats us all like dumb schoolchildren who need it spelled out: Captain Marvel is a strong woman, damn it! She’s been oppressed and told by men, including her own father, that she wasn’t good enough to race go-karts, join the military, or save the universe. There’s nothing wrong with portraying that, but when you ram-rod it into the audience’s brains, that’s where the storytelling jumps the tracks.
The rest of my review is very spoiler-filled, so read on only if you want to know what happens, or you’ve already seen the movie.
A good plot in a movie or book flows so smoothly it’s just a joy. There were numerous points in Captain Marvel that were anything but smooth. Overall, the movie’s pacing was off.
One specific problem was the inclusion of the Tesseract in the film. It contains the Space Stone and in the MCU is apparently the source of Danver’s powers. That’s not the case in the comics, but whatever, the movies differ in many ways. What is important is the question of how Carol Danver’s ability to produce photon beams and fly, plus her super strength, connected to the Space Stone? This point was never explored, and quite frankly it doesn’t make much sense. If Captain Marvel could teleport it would, because that’s directly related to the power of the Space Stone. Really, it felt like an excuse to throw the Tesseract into the movie, like that would wow us all and create a clever bridge between it and the other Marvel films. Also, it was never explained how a Kree scientist got her hands on the Tesseract. Maybe we’ll find that out later, but it just felt forced.
Even more egregious was the black-and-white approach to the Krees and Skrulls. One of the most fascinating elements with the Skrulls in the comics is they could be anyone, so you’re always wondering where they could be hiding. The movie started playing off that element in some brilliant ways, then the script did a sudden about-face for what was obviously a political statement about immigration. This was a cheap emotional bid designed quite frankly to cover up lazy writing. In complicated issues like a war between two races which has stretched on for generations, if you view everything as the “good guys versus the bad guys” you’re missing the boat. Yet that’s exactly what happened in the movie. There was absolutely nothing dynamic about the portrayal of the Krees or Skrulls, why they hated each other, and so forth. Instead, the Skrulls were the perfect victims of an overly-aggressive race. Ugh.
Then there was the appearance of Ronan the Accuser. When we saw him in Guardians of the Galaxy, Ronan was a force to be reckoned with. A religious zealot, Ronan seemed to have little regard for those who stood in his way of fulfilling a divine rite, which in this film is cleansing the universe of the Skrull. Yet when Captain Marvel stops a bombing barrage from raining down on Earth, then flies up into space and destroys a Kree ship, Ronan tucks tail and runs. Again, it’s the message that a strong woman will make such bullies flee, but unfortunately the reality is far more dynamic.
Finally, there’s zero hero journey for Carol Danvers. She gets her powers in a tragic moment, loses her memory, is tricked by the Kree into believing she’s one of them, then finally realizes she was duped and turns on her former handler without any self-doubt or confusion. That’s the end of the struggle she deals faces. Once Captain Marvel understands the full extent of her powers, nobody can stand in her way, including herself. That’s not how life plays out. Quite frankly, a hero who cannot be opposed and doesn’t struggle with some demons is just not interesting. Life is hard, period. We all struggle, even the bravest and boldest. It’s like Captain Marvel isn’t a human being but instead is some sort of a robot, which was how Brie Larson played her.
Again, I really, really wanted to love Captain Marvel. I’ve been pumped for this movie since it was first announced. Despite all the controversy about Larson and the outrage at her public comments, I was not deterred. For that I was rewarded with lazy writing, cheap emotional bids, and a slathering of 90s nostalgia so thick I could puke. I wish it weren’t so, but it is, and that’s just utterly disappointing.