On the surface, Captain Marvel, the 21st entry in the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), the first female-led superhero film, and the first MCU film to be directed or co-directed by a woman, seemed to have it all: A newly burnished Oscar winner, Brie Larson, in the title role, a literal tale of superpowered empowerment, a co-lead role for Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, the onetime, future director of S.H.I.EL.D., well-respected co-writing, co-directing indie auteurs, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck ((Mississippi Grind, Sugar, Half-Nelson), and a hyped connection – and a key, maybe universe-changing role –for the title character to the MCU redefining, Phase 3-ending Avengers: Endgame in just two short months.Showbox app But unfortunately what Captain Marvel doesn’t have is a central character worthy of the title “Marvel,” the obvious fault of a screenplay-by-committee and the heavy hand of uber-producer/Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige.
Captain Marvel’s (Larson) journey – because every superhero origin story gets a personal, character-revealing one – begins with the title character, currently known as “Vers,” awakening on the Kree homeworld, Hala, after a confusing jumble of images, a sign or rather signs of things to come for Carol Danvers, a onetime Air Force pilot mysteriously turned Kree warrior, fighting the supposedly good fight, protecting the Kree homeworld and Kree’s militaristic, authoritarian civilization, from the presumably evil Skrulls, green-skinned, pointy-eared, and scrotal-chinned shapeshifters who’ve waged a millennia-long war against the Kree (and vice versa). Part of the ultra-elite Starforce led by Danvers’ mentor/paternal figure, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), Vers and her team descend on a desolate, fog-shrouded planet to recover an undercover Kree agent. Almost immediately, the rescue mission goes sideways, leaving a captive Vers in the clutches of the Skrulls and their leader, Talos (Ben Mendelsohn).
Through a combination of logic-defying circumstances, Danvers’ frees herself from the Skrulls before promptly crash-landing on Earth in a Blockbuster Video store, the first sign of roughly 357 that Boden and Fleck will exploit Captain Marvel’s mid-‘90s setting for all of the cringe-inducing nostalgia they can cram into a two-hour prequel to Avengers: Endgame, including the grunge, pagers, and flannel, along with over-familiar ‘90s needle drops to underscore practically every action and non-action scene. Just as quickly, Danvers crosses paths with Fury (a de-aged Jackson, sporting a full head of hair and a complement of two, undamaged eyeballs) and all too briefly, Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg, also de-aged, though far too smooth-faced to hold up under regular scrutiny). After Coulson gets literally left behind, Danvers, still believing herself a Kree warrior, allies herself with Fury to stop the Talos and his Skrulls from doing whatever evil Skrulls will do (i.e., steal tech, conquer the world and/or galaxy).
Sharing screenplay credit with Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Boden and Fleck (several other writers also receive story credit) settled on Danvers’ amnesia as plot device and story engine. The Vers we meet early on isn’t Captain Marvel’s true, authentic self, but an artificial, manufactured persona (manufactured by whom and for what reason spills into spoiler territory), the likely product of six years of gaslighting. Finding her true, best self involves more than training or fighting; it involves recovering her memories and reconnecting with her past, especially Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), her long-lost best friend and fellow Air Force pilot. The brief, table-setting scenes (literally in one instance) between Danvers and Rambeau give Captain Marvel much-needed emotional heft and depth, but they come in the second hour (i.e., far too late), as does a not unwelcome plot turn that connects the Skrulls and their fates – not to mention their depiction – in a different, more positive light, a light with contemporary political, social, and cultural relevance. The amnesia gimmick, a trite cliché by any definition, leaves Danvers – and by extension a game, but underserved Larson – with the equivalent of wheel spinning before yawn-inducing, ultra-predictable, third-act revelations eventually confirm what we’ve known for the better part of two hours.
While Boden and Fleck fail to dig beneath the surface of Danvers’ personality or psychology – she’s the sum total of what she did and does (pilot, warrior), a montage of men (always men) literally and figuratively knocking her down (a welcome feminist message it should be added), and her ability to emit energy blasts from her fists – they also fail in another, entirely predictable way: They make Captain Marvel far too powerful for the enemies she encounters in her self-titled film. By the time, she alters the colors of her suit from green, black, and silver, to red, blue, and gold, the revelation of a power-set meant to rouse moviegoers from their chairs instead feels perfunctory, an obligatory gesture needed to align Captain Marvel with her predecessors in the MCU. But it feels more like a set-up for Avengers: Endgame and a meeting between Captain Marvel and Thanos that will prove she’s his equal, if not his better. Until then, moviegoers will just have to reconcile themselves with a $150-million placeholder for Avengers: Endgame.