Cinematic Releases: A New Cap In Town: Captain Marvel (2019) Reviewed

Sandwiched between two epic Avengers movies and following the critically acclaimed Black Panther, Captain Marvel has a lot to live up to in the Marvel franchise. The film’s had many strong reactions prior to opening weekend: it’s been preemptively hailed as a feminist cinematic achievement while simultaneously bashed by trolling fanboys on Rotten Tomatoes for the very same reason. While this polarizing fervor surrounding Captain Marvel has built even more excitement to some, the best thing you can do to ensure some level of enjoyment with this film is to calm down, go into it with an open mind, and lower your inflated expectations.

In true Marvel fashion, the film opens with some quick exposition, followed by a bombastic intergalactic battle to grab your attention. Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) is an amnesiac on the planet Hala taken under the wing of the soldierly Kree race via her commander Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). She dives into the first mission with her squad against the green, shapeshifting Skrulls, which goes south quickly when they end up capturing her. Her escape ultimately leads to her crashing onto our planet (or “C-53,” as they call it), and clues regarding her past on Earth begin to slowly unravel. She soon meets a young Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and they embark on an adventure to find the truth surrounding her origins, and discover more than they expect in the process.

Just wondering. Is this the HYPE train?

Much of Captain Marvel is a textbook Marvel film, but what sets it apart is the heavy-handed nods to its 1990s backdrop. The film even feels like a 90s movie at times, with its “fish out of water” storyline and goofy buddy cop moments. The choice to play heavily on the '90s vibe varies in efficacy: Carol plummeting through the roof of a Blockbuster Video and experiencing the woes of dial-up modems will produce some chuckles, but the choice to play No Doubt’s “Just a Girl” during one of the final battles is cringeworthy. Oftentimes the '90s factor is fun and nostalgic, but sometimes it’s a joke that overstays its welcome. This is indicative of a larger problem the film has: it’s just not consistent in tone at times, wavering between complete silliness and dire seriousness so much that it doesn’t have solid footing.

The pacing of the film wavers as well. While it’s generally fast-paced throughout, the more we learn about Carol’s backstory, the more the film decelerates. By the time she begins meeting key players from her past, there’s too much bland dialogue with not enough payoff, bringing the screenplay’s weaknesses to the surface. The script is not strong enough to make these exchanges work for more than a few minutes at a time. Thankfully, the film redeems itself with some snappy action sequences and the common sense to not have it far exceed a two-hour running time.

The greatest strength of Captain Marvel is its star power. Brie Larson brings personality to the hero, giving guts to a role that could have easily been two-dimensional had it been played by a less talented actress. Jude Law’s dashing yet draconian air as Yon-Rogg works effortlessly well for the character. Samuel L. Jackson fans, rejoice: not only does Nick Fury have the most screen time here out of any other Marvel film, but he also brings some of its most rewarding moments. His charisma and clever quips add levity to the story, and his relationship with Goose, an cat they stumble upon during their journey, is sure to melt some hearts.

Despite the countless explosions, chases, and fight sequences Captain Marvel offers us, this is a smaller, toned-down film in the grand scheme of thingsbut there is something refreshing about that at this point. It’s more character-driven and charming in its simplicity. The plot isn’t terribly complex, and it’s not muddied by a clown car’s worth of characters to keep track of; it’s the singular tale of a woman trying learn her identity that gets caught up in a sensible amount of interstellar drama. It’s faithful to how a good “origin story” should unfold, and does it well enough to keep us mostly engaged. There’s a preconceived notion with Disney and Marvel films that every movie in a franchise has to be bigger and better than the next, but there’s really nothing inherently wrong with dialing it back a notch every once in a while. It’s okay to have a film that’s “just okay” sometimes, when “just okay” in terms of Marvel films is still fairly entertaining.

Inevitably living in the shadow of its predecessors, Captain Marvel neither brings the laughs that Guardians of the Galaxy does, nor does it have the gravitas of something like Avengers: Infinity War, but it doesn’t necessarily need to. We shouldn’t fall into the trap of comparing it to what it isn’t in the Marvel Universe, which many unfortunately will. As a standalone film, it’s a funalbeit flawedsci-fi action romp with a strong cast and some interesting alien worlds and spaceships, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. If you go into it not expecting something epic, you will probably enjoy it to some extent, but if you’re expecting an earth-shatteringly original, life-altering Marvel movie, then you’re setting yourself up for disappointment, and should likely save yourself for Endgame.

-Andrea Riley