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The disappointing mediocrity of ‘Captain Marvel’

| Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Claire Kopischke | The Observer

Nearly two years after the release of DC’s “Wonder Woman,” the Marvel Cinematic Universe has finally introduced its first female-fronted superhero movie. The end-credits scene of “Avengers: Infinity War” teased Captain Marvel as the savior of a universe devastated by the villain Thanos, and her origin story certainly establishes her immense power. In fact, that’s pretty much all it accomplishes.

“Captain Marvel” begins on Hala, a planet inhabited by an advanced humanoid species known as the Kree. Vers (Brie Larson), an elite soldier of the Starforce, trains with her commander Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) to fight in a war against the malevolent shapeshifting Skrulls. Vers lacks any memory prior to arriving on Hala with the ability to launch red-hot photon blasts from her hands; however, an encounter with the Skrulls spurs her recollection of a previous life as pilot Carol Danvers and sends her spiraling towards Earth in the 1990s. Vers meets a young Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) who joins her on a quest to protect Earth from the Skrulls and uncover the mystery behind her past. Vers and Fury survive several clashes with the Skrull general Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) as they gradually reveal Vers’ past through the help of former Air Force pilot Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch).

Unlocking the potential of “Captain Marvel” rests on a twist that the filmmaking duo of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck sterilize to its core. The Skrulls are actually desperate refugees scrambling to escape the merciless Kree, and Carol Danvers was tangled in an incident that wipes her memory while granting her the ability to manipulate energy. Yon-Rogg renames her Vers, transforms her from human to Kree and shapes her into a Starforce puppet. Compelling social commentary eludes any of these proceedings due to the movie’s cast of one-dimensional characters, particularly Danvers herself.

The leader of the Kree and Yon-Rogg tell Danvers that her success as a warrior rests upon the mastery of her emotions, but Carol morphs her supposed weakness into an advantage. She impresses with her unapologetic spunk and effortless strength, and her unparalleled power justifies recklessness. However, her self-confidence ushers in a return to the stale, unambiguous morality from which Marvel previously progressed. At the first hint of Kree manipulation, Danvers immediately recognizes the evil of everything she’s ever known and stands proudly with the Skrulls (who have tortured and attacked her throughout the film.)

The Kree military obviously deserves contempt, but the issue lies in Danvers’ characterization as the first perfect Marvel hero ─ not due to her immense power, but her ignorance of the trademark doubt and emotional flaws that define relatable tales of heroism. The casting choice of a woman provides vital representation in the Marvel Universe, but can an impossible character truly inspire in a world of very real problems?

“Captain Marvel” self-identifies as a story of female empowerment by playing No Doubt’s “Just A Girl” during an intense combat scene and delivering uncomfortably complex messages from Maria’s ten-year-old daughter throughout the latter half of the film. In contrast, heroes like Wonder Woman, the Scarlet Witch and Gamora actually prove that women can overcome any obstacle through their valor and tenacity. Danvers’ near-invincibility, while sufficiently explained and even necessary, complements her lack of depth in creating a bland character that robs the narrative structure of tension.

Other aspects of the film jeopardize its integrity. For example, Talos trades his jocular edge for a tender personality to remind the audience that its expectations of the villainous Skrulls were most definitely subverted. Unlike the first “Captain America” movie, the historical setting of “Captain Marvel” feels disconcerting due to the inundation of sci-fi elements and the clash between grandiose orchestral tracks and ’90s tunes. Disbelief must be suspended in moments such as Danvers and Fury evading security in the Marvel equivalent of Area 51 and an unexplained killer cat easily defeating a cadre of the superhuman Starforce.

Despite these fundamental flaws, “Captain Marvel” has its share of entertaining moments. Brie Larson manages to navigate Danvers’ numerous awkward lines while maintaining the engaging qualities of her character, and the playful banter between her and Fury redeems most of their joint scenes. The de-ageing technology used to give Samuel L. Jackson the appearance of a vigorous young agent function impeccably and provide Fury with a well-earned central role after years of minor appearances in Marvel movies.

“Captain Marvel” clings to the historic significance of Larson’s casting in hopes that its spoon-fed message of “stay determined” will be enough to save it from the preexisting heap of mediocre Marvel stories. Hopefully, Danvers awaits the realization of her potential in the upcoming “Avengers: Endgame” showdown ─ after all, everyone deserves to see himself or herself as a legendary hero on the big screen.

Title: “Captain Marvel”

Starring: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Jude Law

Directors: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck

Genre: Action, Science Fiction

If You Like: “Avengers: Infinity War,” any Marvel film

Shamrocks: 2.5 out of 5

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