Captain Marvel is a fair enough movie on its own, but it's not necessarily a superhero tale we deserve or need right now. Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) starts the movie as Vers (pronounced "Veers"), on the planet Hala. She lost her memory six years ago, the same time she was imbued with a special power that allows her to shoot beams out of her fist. When she crash lands on Earth (now in the 90s), it's to keep Skrull aliens from infesting the planet but it also comes with a burgeoning awareness of her past. If you're not entirely connecting the narrative dots at this point, you're not the only one. Captain Marvel, strangely enough, bears the most resemblance with a DC Universe movie - Man of Steel, for more reasons than one. They both start on an alien planet, with somewhat confusing exposition and a setting that distances us rather than brings us closer to the character. And ultimately, they focus on characters that seem to have no flaws.
Veers is told consistently that her problem is that she is too emotional. But what is the emotion that she's supposed to hold at bay? Anger, confusion, impotence? The problem is that there is a lack of range in emotion that Larson is given to convey. We know she's a fantastic actress. We've seen her pathos and her comedic range in everything from Short Term 12 to Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World and 21 Jump Street. And yet it mostly falls flat in a film. Her humor is relegated to a quirk of the lips and a raise of eyebrows. Her best moments are the odd couple camaraderie she shares with a de-aged Samuel L. Jackson, as the fresh as a dewdrop agent Nick Fury.
In an early scene, she wakes up her mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) to spar because she's just woken up from a nightmare. He tells her that there are sleeping pills for that and she replies with a wry twist of her mouth, "Yeah, but then I'd have to sleep." Is that supposed to mean that she'd rather tussle because she's a tough girl, or that her nightmares are so bad that she'd rather avoid them? It's not certain, and there are too many missed opportunities throughout the story because of similarly shapeless lines. Captain Marvel lacks snap and sparkle, which is another way it kind of resembles Man of Steel which felt like a nostalgic filtered blue jeans commercial at times. It's hard to say what makes her unique, other than the type of perseverance that we've seen in all superheroes. Her backstory is told in flashbacks, which robs us of perhaps yet another origin story, but also what makes her her. The only snippets we see of her are the few where she's told she's not good enough, but we don't know anything else about her really. We don't have a roundness of her character, and the emotion she's said to show too much of is mostly her grit. She doesn't really have any demons or flaws to speak of. Her big character/memory reveal isn't that momentous at all...in fact, I'm sure it's revealed in any number of trailers.
Compare this to the number of other characters in the Avengers that we'll see in the Endgame, many of which have had numerous movies already. At this point, the Marvel Universe has afforded to go darker and more complicated with its villains, heroes, and morals. We've seen these heroes be defined by their weaknesses and grow from their mistakes. Furthermore, they're each imbued with certain characteristics that allow them to both be individual and contribute something when they come together as a team. It's great that they've decided that Captain Marvel is the strongest Avenger, but that doesn't necessarily make her the best. In fact, like Superman, it almost makes her...boring. The final scenes of Captain Marvel hold zero tension, because none of it is a challenge to her.
Yet despite that, it has many merits. The strongest relationship in Captain Marvel is the one between Carol and her longtime friend Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch). It's the linchpin to the film and really the emotional core that convinces Carol to go forward. Carol achieves her goals without relying on a man, or even having a romantic subplot shoehorned in. Her tenacity is also exhilarating compared to the spate of other feminine characters in sci-fi movies that feel the need to emphasize both the toughness and the naivete of its heroines which forces them to rely on others -- exemplified in everything from The Fifth Element to Wonder Woman.
Am I being too tough on Captain Marvel for being thus far the only female-led Marvel movie? Objectively, Captain Marvel is a weak movie. It suffers from loose pacing and weak character development. It plays more like an earlier Marvel movie, rather than the 21st one -- it somehow takes a step backwards in its ability to juggle humor and pathos. We know so little about Captain Marvel (a name which is also never actually said in the movie, just one we're supposed to surmise came to being) even though she is certainly likable and we'd like to know her better. And it commits a superhero cardinal sin in being more dazzled by her powers than her actual humanity. The danger, I feel, is more that are we allowing it too much slack for being a female-led Marvel movie and why we should. There's good material here and it's far more disappointing how much potential is in this film. It's not a bad outing, but it's certainly not memorable. If you're faced with exposition in a story or a movie that you only want to experience once, then you know it's poorly written.
However, Brie Larson is always winningly winsome and it's not the worst Marvel movie by any means. She has at least set the stage as someone we'd like to see more of and on top of that, I'm looking forward to seeing her camaraderie with the other members of the Avengers team.