Before going to see this a friend texted on a groupchat. He was under the impression that this was the most “woke” of the Marvel films to date. That’s….sort of true. In ways it is, passes the Bechdel test and all that, but in other ways it’s more just very competent and standard. That might actually be its true strength.
A couple of years ago DC gave us Wonder Woman, the first cohesive and coherent film in their DCEU, and it definitely left an impression in terms of “girl power.” The film was about the strongest of women, from the isle of the strongest women, coming to save the world. It was handled with grace and class, a decently put together film that made waves with audiences and left a pleasant taste in the mouths of fans (seriously, anything to wash out that taste left by Suicide Squad would have been fine but WW was good). Marvel Studios has been behind on putting forth a female-driven film, at last delivering Captain Marvel to audiences. There’s a stark difference between how each handles the topic of its lead. We’re living in an age where strong women are generally acknowledged as such, their femininity being part of their power.
Captain Marvel doesn’t give a shit about that.
What we’ve been given here is almost aggressively standard, your basic origin story plot that’s delivered in an admittedly interesting way. The nonlinear progression of the plot, saved up to reveal some interesting twists, is a structure I’ve been longing for in a Marvel movie. We’re given false flashbacks, interwoven moments of reality and farce, and even bits of stuff that just plain didn’t happen. But outside of the structure there’s nothing interesting about this film and that’s sort of the beauty of it. Even Ben Mendelsohn’s makeup seems…off. You can tell he has to chew on it a bit to speak, and it’s borderline hilarious but the delivery of most of his dialogue is still heartfelt and meaningful. This feels very much like a sci-fi throwback, something akin to Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall or Byron Haskin’s Robinson Crusoe on Mars at certain points. It’s cheesy, it’s fun, and it’s even a bit messy, but it all feels like part of something larger.
What works the best is Brie Larson’s wide-eyed excitement. You can tell she’s thrilled to be here, eating up the scenery and costuming like a kid on Halloween that finally got to be their favorite hero. There’s a joyous enthusiasm each time she’s in the full costume that’s so much fun to see. Her street clothes appearances are fine, but you can tell she’s trying to act at those moments instead of just living in her joy, but once that suit goes on she’s all smiles and excitement. Yeah, there’s a big CGI battle and there’s a few “males are dicks” moments thrown in, but all of that feels like studio notes. The things that feel pure, feel like a movie that these people all wanted to make, are the moments when they’re letting everyone just exist in silly costumes and deliver heartfelt dialogue. This isn’t new for a few of the performers, but it looks like they all had an absolute blast doing it.
And those brief moments of toxic masculinity? They feel like something mandated, something the directors got notes on and tossed in to get them out of the way. This isn’t a female-driven film, it’s a film. That’s all. Whereas DC leaned in and made the female movie that everyone needed at the time, Marvel has moved forward and just made a movie. It isn’t all that different from watching Thor or Captain America: The First Avenger in that it’s just so….standard. It’s so basic, following story beats to the letter, but allowing for some fun nostalgic references and interesting asides that it feels new (not to once again mention that GORGEOUS nonlinear structure).
I will say that while I enjoyed the idea of some of the things we get to see later, I don’t necessarily know that I needed them. There’s some stuff with a cat scratch, some things that don’t quite line up with a cube, and a lot of de-aging that I don’t think was necessary but outside of that the story stood on its own and I think was stronger in those moments. Call-forwards are fun, but a few things left the same taste in my mouth that Solo: A Star Wars Story did last year with the whole “I’ll call you Han…SOLO” bullshit. Some stuff just doesn’t need an origin story, you know?
This is going to get some Mary Sue accusations and while that’s not completely wrong it isn’t completely right either. She’s been trained for years on how to fight, how to hide and use her powers, and unleashed she leans into them and it’s her childlike belief that she can do anything that lets her fight forward. Stuff like this tends to piss a lot of people off, and it’s definitely going to have the whole red pill crowd unbunching their panties, but at the end of the day it’s no different than Thor learning to properly wield the hammer or Doctor Strange properly controlling the mirror dimension. Some stuff just works out because plot requires it, this is no different. It’ll get called out because it’s lead is a woman, but people tend to forget that this is how most male superhero films go as well.
I didn’t love this, but I had a lot of fun with it. Most of that comes from the idea that they made your basic hero movie, but swapped in yet another charismatic lead. Brie Larson has more fun than I’ve seen a performer have in a Marvel film since the original Thor, where Hemsworth just chewed up all that scenery and relished in Shakespearean dialogue. Larson does that here, a kid in a candy shop when it comes to every moment she gets to be in costume or snarking off at Samuel L. Jackson. This is a film made by fans, for fans, and while it isn’t anything amazing it’s definitely a lot of fun to see. Nowhere near Marvel’s best, but so solidly placed in in the upper middle that it’s astounding to see it getting the discussion it is. Pay attention, because you’re probably going to see a lot of things like this coming up soon.