The fatigue of superhero movies is something that I’ve discussed with friends since Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). While the Marvel Cinematic Universe redefined our expectations with regards to superhero movies, 21 movies later, it’s harder to have titles that standout alone by their own merit or quality. Titles like Ant-Man (2015) and Dr. Strange (2016) seem lost in the pantheon, melding into the fabric of the cinematic universe as lost threads in a tapestry; they help tell the overall story but are largely insignificant as standalone projects. The Marvel formula became more visible and old with each passing movie, requiring that Disney put in a little more effort to make us jump out of our seats. So it wasn’t a surprise that the unapologetically black perspective of Black Panther (2018) or the world-changing *snap* of Thanos’s fingers in Avengers: Infinity War (2018) made huge impacts in Hollywood last year, setting the stage for Captain Marvel to do the same in their wake.
Captain Marvel opens up with a sparring scene between Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) and his cadet, Vers (Brie Larson) introducing us to what will be one of its major themes throughout the movie. He teaches her that in order to achieve her true potential as a warrior, she needs to suppress her emotions and rely on her intelligence. This could be applied to the trope of aliens being unemotional robot-like beings and humans filled with feelings and heart and how they use those to find their true inner strength. Or seeing as the movie was released on International Women’s Day, there’s the idea that men have treated women over time as “emotional creatures” that need to quell their feelings in order to be as “logical” and “intelligent” as men.
Captain Marvel’s other attempts to play on this and other themes are not as subtle. Danvers’s relationship with Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) and her daughter Monica (Akira Akbar) help remind her of her humanity by bringing sense of family in as a theme. There’s a point in which the movie depicts female empowerment in a montage of different moments from young Carol Danvers life that makes out like a recruitment commercial for the Army. It works in retrospect when countered with the idea that in order for Vers, who is a Kree soldier to become human pilot, Carol Danvers, she needs to remember what it’s like to keep trying no matter how many times she might fail. To continue to fight no matter the odds and that feelings and emotions are what make us human.
Also, the film’s reliance on nostalgia plays like the writers and directors only learned about the 90s from watching other movies that were made in the 90s. Unlike its predecessor, Guardians of the Galaxy which used music and subtle visual effects as a transport vehicle to enable us to travel back in time, Captain Marvel feels like a sledgehammer to the face. Overt references to extinct brands, dial-up internet and No Doubt and R.E.M serve only to remind you that “HEY, THIS MOVIE YOU’RE WATCHING RIGHT NOW? IT’S SET IN 1995. JUST IN CASE YOU WERE WONDERING!”
The plot of the movie is decent but ultimately forgettable when you consider the grand scheme of things and the machinations of the MCU. It’s just a way to set the tone for Danvers’s return in Avengers: Endgame as she answers Fury’s (Samuel L. Jackson) distress signal and helps save the day from Thanos. It’s perfunctory. But unlike most formalities, it’s actually fun.
Brie Larson’s brings high energy to the role with her confident, witty personality. While her chemistry with Jude Law felt off in the first act of the movie, her charisma shines with everyone else. The best iteration of this movie plays like a late-80s to early-90s buddy cop movie with Danvers and Fury trading quips and witty banter like a Wimbledon tennis match. They play well with each other, making it more believable that Danvers would be on her way in a moment’s notice should Fury ever decide to hit her on the beeper. Ben Mendelsohn as the Skrull leader, Talos, almost steals the show with quick one-liners and very good comedic timing. When you look past the typical MCU tropes, like hidden bases, hangars and spaceships, the movie works much better as a standalone comedy, almost in the same way Thor: Ragnarok did but to a slightly lesser effect. It’s everything you’d expect from your typical Marvel superhero origin movie, except it’s funnier and that’s a good thing.