The fact of the matter is, 2019’s Captain Marvel is a cultural icon. With its iconographic imagery, it’s inspired girls everywhere and invoked the ire of many who view the movie as a misandrist conception of heroism. As the sole female-centric movie in the MCU, its impact is still being felt months after its release, be it for good or for bad. This begs the question whether or not the movie is adequate based on its own merits.
Well… the movie isn’t terrible. It’s definitely not the worst MCU release. It’s just painfully mediocre.
That being said, there were some positives. I’m surprised Samuel L. Jackson’s back isn’t broken from carrying the entire film. He played a young, slightly rash Nick Fury really well, and I enjoyed watching his attempts to inject life into the movie.
The rest of the cast wasn’t too bad either. Ben Mendelsohn was incredibly entertaining as Talos, the leader of a group of refugee Skrulls. Another standout was Lashana Lynch’s performance as Marie Rambeau, Danver’s best friend. She helped create an incredibly interesting character, who really could’ve made this movie less stale, but was, unfortunately, painfully underused. Overall, the acting in this film was very solid.
However it didn’t make up for any of the movie’s flaws, the most glaring of which, for me at least, was the protagonist’s poor characterization. The writers for Captain Marvel attempted to create a dichotomy between Danver’s two ‘personas’; that of the stoic, emotionless Vers and the supposedly empathetic Carol. Yet there was no noticeable difference between the two, and no real effort to flesh out what could have been an interesting concept. Instead, Carol appears emotionally balanced — serious and sober when necessary, and still able to joke around. It’s at this point some might point the finger of blame towards actress Brie Larson. In fact, that appears to be what the majority of the Internet seems to do, and I’ll discuss this later, but I disagree with this.
Larson’s shown plenty of charisma in her past roles as Envy in Scott Pilgrim V.S the World, or her guest role as Rachel in Community — she did the best she could with the milquetoast writing in Captain Marvel. It appears that the writers just tried to copy and paste different character qualities from past movies; the wit of Iron Man, the iconic heroism of Captain America, the feeling of a fish out of water of the first Thor movie, and the rag-tag, retro charm of Peter Quill. Yet by doing so, the character felt lifeless and confused. Her character attributes consisted of the same old, stock goals, meaning there was nothing distinctive about her, nothing that humanized her. There weren’t any real flaws to her either.
Sure, the film tried to suggest she was impulsive or something along those lines, but it turns out that this impulsiveness is actually just her embracing her ‘humanity’ and, oh, would you look at that, she’s perfect! Furthermore, Danver’s purported high power levels cause me to worry slightly about any possible enemies for her to face in future Marvel installments. Perhaps, since Danvers is the MCU’s first female superhero, there was a fear of making her flawed. But that’s just food for thought.
Speaking of the female aspect, it appears that another big thing about this movie was the messaging. During the lead up to the film’s release, we heard a lot about how the film was essentially this feminist behemoth meant to brainwash the next generation.
To be honest, the so-called ‘radical feminist messaging’ was, at its very worst, heavy handed, inoffensive and bland. Hearing absolute gems of lines like “There’s a reason it’s called the cockpit” made me physically ache, and watching Danvers fight to No Doubt’s ‘Just A Girl’ made me shudder. The ostentatious montage of a bunch of different aged Carol’s standing up in the face of patriarchal oppression was the cherry on top. Still, it was just cringe-worthy and nothing dangerous.
To be fairly honest, the subliminal messaging that really concerned me was the propaganda-esque support of the U.S Air Force. I mean, Captain Marvel’s very costume design is hinted to be inspired by the logo of the Air Force. In fact, in the U.S, they air recruitment ads before the actual movie. It’s half-hilarious and a little unsettling in the context of the MCU; “we are not soldiers,” indeed.
Despite the flavourless corporate feminism presented to us, it seems a lot of the discourse surrounding this movie focused on it — and especially on Brie Larson. YouTube video essayists talking about how ‘unlikable’ Brie Larson is, months after the movie has been released, seem to be plentiful. Some have centred around her polarising comments about diversity in film criticism, which were, admittedly, phrased a little poorly, while others have focused on how the other actors in the MCU apparently despise her overly defensive and victimising attitude.
This is not to say everyone criticising the movie was like this, but a worrying amount made their dislike of Larson’s public persona and the fact that the main hero was a woman a central part of their problems with the film.
In fact, we’ve seen this a lot with movies that have attempted representation. If we take something like The Last Jedi or the Ghostbusters remake, both of which received a lot of flack on the Internet for ‘forced representation’, the criticism seemed to attribute blame to the fact that the characters were from minorities rather than the bad writing.
I suppose that’s one thing to remember when listening to discourse online; characters aren’t bad because they’re men, women, white, black, or Asian — they’re bad because of the writing.
My final bone to pick with the movie was just how poorly constructed it was. It felt like the movie wanted to be over even more than I wanted it to be. You could tell from the editing and cinematography that everything was happening fast in order to stuff in little Easter eggs and bits of exposition, perhaps another nostalgic 90’s throwback or inane, little joke to distract from the seams coming apart.
There was no heart put into this film, no real purpose. As a result, the whole affair became just a bit lame.
Written by Judy Fong. Edited by Ellen Wang. Published on 21/07/2019. Images by Marvel, exempted from copyright restrictions as fair dealing for purpose of criticism, review under Copyright Act 1994