***This review contains minor spoilers, with a major spoiler indicated beforehand***
On Friday, March 8, the much-anticipated Captain Marvel finally released in theaters. Directed by filmmaking duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, and produced by Marvel Studios, the movie is the 21st in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and the first to feature a sole female lead (aptly released on International Women’s Day). The film stars Brie Larson as the titular hero Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel, Samuel L. Jackson (reprising) as S.H.I.E.L.D agent Nick Fury and Ben Mendelsohn as the Skrull leader Talos. A wide supporting cast, including Lashana Lynch as Maria Rambeau, Jude Law as Yon-Rogg, Djimon Hounsou (reprising) as Korath the Pursuer, Clark Gregg as (reprising) Phil Coulson, Lee Pace (reprising) as Ronan the Accuser, and Annette Bening also appears. Set in the 1990s, the film follows an alien Kree warrior (Carol Danvers) who slowly uncovers her past on Earth while waging war against another alien force - the shapeshifting Skrulls.
While the films of the MCU have peaked in quality in recent years, most notably with the releases of movies such as Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), Captain America: Civil War (2016), Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and Avengers: Infinity War (2018), Captain Marvel unfortunately does not stand among most of the MCU in terms of quality. While not inherently bad, or even the worst in the MCU for the matter (that honor would go to 2008’s The Incredible Hulk) - Captain Marvel is surprisingly mediocre for such a successful time in Marvel Studios.
The primary flaw in this film comes down to its lead - Brie Larson. Regardless of your opinion on her controversial comments regarding race and gender during Captain Marvel’s press tour, her acting in this film is unfortunately weak. It’s a shame, too - Larson is a capable actress, having (rightfully) won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in the film Room (2015). In Captain Marvel, however, Larson is largely devoid of any personality or charisma that the other characters have. Her performance is sadly characterized by a certain stiffness, and Larson’s sarcastic and quippy delivery of most of her lines make Carol Danvers appear as disagreeable and careless. In itself, portraying a character as rude is not bad, as previous MCU heroes (such as Thor or Iron Man) have been portrayed that way as well. Her sarcasm and quips are comparable to MCU lead Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark/Iron Man, who maintains a similar attitude - but Downey Jr.’s character has far more of a charisma and heart.
Larson isn’t helped by the poor writing of the film, either. And I don’t view her performance in this film as a complete reflection of her abilities as an actress - think Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Larson & Christensen were hampered by exceedingly poor writing, as they were frequently forced to deliver odd and strangely-worded lines. The tone also shifts between serious and humorous very quickly at times, which is somewhat jarring as an audience member. And perhaps the poorest aspect of the writing is that Carol Danvers lacks a solid personality arc. She starts out the film as a sarcastic, witty, and rude, and she is still acts that way at the end of the film.
Aside from Larson, the acting in the film is very good. A digitally de-aged Samuel L. Jackson is a bright spot, along with Ben Mendelsohn, who brings a unique perspective that adds further character to an otherwise seemingly lackluster Skrulls. Lashana Lynch and Annette Benning also stand out in their appearances - although I feel that their scenes could have been much more powerful than what the final cut of the film actually was.
The plot of the film is somewhat disorderly and hard to follow at times, which is only complicated by Captain Marvel’s various flashbacks throughout the film. The fight scenes vary in quality - the opening battle on the alien world Torfa, and a first act clash on a LA Metro light rail train are executed well, while the final fight leaves something to be desired. The movie also makes several notable controversial retconns pertaining to the history of a certain character, christening and object within the MCU, that, while not entirely unreasonable in-universe, are somewhat disappointing as compared to what many fans theorized would occur.
Technically, the film is a mixed bag. The visual effects vary in quality, with Captain Marvel’s “photon” powers occasionally looking very poor. The editing is highlighted by quick and choppy cuts, and the cinematography is so poor at times that it is hard to tell what is going on due to poor lighting. The score is generally unnoticeable, and the soundtrack (which, unlike the Guardians of the Galaxy films, is mostly non-diegetic), often interjects at critical moments in the film - such as the final fight scene - which just furthers the movie’s over-saturation and difficulty to comprehend.
Captain Marvel also makes several very subtle politicals statements as well - despite, quite surprisingly, lacking any overt “girl power” feminist message (contrary to Larson’s press tour comments). The political message, rather, seems to be a subtle jab at U.S. President Donald Trump’s attempts at constructing a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. This is seemingly alluded to multiple times, primarily due to the Kree-Skrull war primarily occurring on “Border” planets (and, **SPOILER ALERT** a later reveal that the Skrulls are mostly families fleeing the violent Kree, and not mainly the violent warriors that they were initially portrayed as *end spoilers*).
Several of the movie’s twists were positive, however, and I did walk out of theater positively surprised with a few of them. It is also worth mentioning that the film also featured a nice tribute to Marvel creator Stan Lee, who passed away in November 2018. As I’ve made clear, I have mixed feelings about this film. There are other issues I didn’t even touch on in this review (Goose the cat, namely) that decreased the quality of the film in my mind. Ultimately, the mediocrity of this movie not making it the poorest in the MCU is largely a testament to how good the films in the MCU have been. The redeeming qualities of Captain Marvel don’t elevate it much higher in my mind, and with the lack of development that Carol Danvers received, I am not particularly excited to have her be at the forefront of the MCU for Avengers: Endgame and beyond. I do hope that Joe and Anthony Russo, directors of Endgame, will transform the character of Captain Marvel for the better in the long run, as they have for Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Star Lord, Gamora and Scarlet Witch in the past.