I caught the latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain Marvel, this weekend. It runs along the same quality as most of the origin stories: not terrible but not as great as Thor or Iron-man. What disappointed me most in the flick was that Brie Larson, who played Carol Danvers, failed to live up the feminist film hero. Since this movie was one of very few female superhero-based ideas, the story should have equated her with Wonder Woman in terms of icon status. It did not.
The movie starts on a distant planet where the Kree rule. Carol Danvers, simply known as Vers at this time, wakes from an Earth-related dream and deals with it by training with her Kree mentor (Jude Law). He teaches her to fight and control (i.e. suppress) her abilities. Her power comes from energy jets that blast from her fists, but she is also mastering martial arts so she can fight without using her special ability. As the movie progresses, we learn that Vers, who considers herself an amnesiac Kree, is really an Earthling survivor of an incredible energy explosion. Hence the origin of her power.
The story was engaging. We saw the amnesiac go through the emotional discovery of her past as the real Carol Danvers emerges. Several wicked plot twists have her questioning everything she knew. In the end, she learns her closest companions have lied to her for six years. She alone must learn the truth of who is the enemy and the victims. One of the best feminist scenes in the film was when her male enemy is yelling “come on! Let’s fight! No powers!” (not a direct quote). She pops a power blast into him that sends him spiraling across a field and into a rock. When she stands over him, she states, “I don’t have to prove anything to you.” Something most women should say to men who challenge their worth.
Part of the disconnect for me was in the setting. I thought I was going to see an Earth-hero movie. When the movie started and stayed for a while in the Guardians of the Galaxy setting, I then had expected some of the lighthearted banter that Guardians had perfected. Not in this film. The audience saw familiar faces and strong enough references to know this was set before the first Guardians film. Even though the director added some of the same pop-music feel, it didn’t come off successfully. This movie was simply a dark view of the galaxy.
In addition, Brie Larson never took Vers’ or Captain Marvel’s emotions out of grim fuming mode. We saw fuming-but-unsure and fuming-but-confident but very little else. For example, when she was at the crisis point of the plot, fighting for her life, we saw no strain or focused emotional depth to show us that she was maturing from doubtful soldier to rebel powerhouse. I suspect this is a director’s decision and not the actress’s doing, yet it made the character less likeable. Although her best friend states that Carol Danvers is “funny”, the director never proved it to us. This is unfortunate since the plot had plenty of opportunities for small comic highlights for her.
In addition, she didn’t come off as heroesque and certainly not as a “defender of the Earth.” What I mean is that Larson doesn’t have the physical look that audiences (or at least that I) have come to associate with comic book movies. After all, Captain America, Wolverine (yes, I know he isn’t part of the MCU), Thor, Iron-Man in his suit, Superman, and even Wonder Woman all come off as visually larger than life. Even Black Widow, though average size, carries an aura of more-than-everyday-hero attitude. These heroic proportions are at the very heart of comic book art. True, Spider-Man and the Flash aren’t necessarily tall and brawny, but their characters and powers dictate they be young and wiry, rather than beefy. Larson is shorter than many people in the movie and even in costume doesn’t look all that heroic without her glow.
Other Origin Stories
Captain Marvel is also a thin origin tale for Nick Fury, played by Samuel Jackson with a computer-enhanced young-looking face. We learn about his early days in S.H.I.E.L.D. and where the idea of the Avengers Initiative comes from. Jackson’s ability to deliver great lines and infuse humor is one of the best aspects of this movie. The one problem with young Nick Fury is that, although he looks in his early thirties, the body’s use in action scenes still screams a 71-year-old man. I love Sammy, but his ability to move swiftly and deal with fighting looked off.
Ladies, check it out.
Despite the negative review, I suggest fans of the Avenger comic movies go see Captain Marvel for completeness. She will figure prominently in Avengers: Endgame as indicated by the sneak preview at the end of the Captain Marvel movie. In fact, that is the only reason I think this movie was made. The resolution of the Thanos problem should not look like a cheap magician’s hat trick. Plus, I want ladies to see it to encourage more use of women in top hero roles. The days of the damsel in distress are over. They flocked to Wonder Woman for that reason. Captain Marvel, even flawed, should inspire the same rallying cry.
One final note. The producers or director had fun putting in light references to other great movies. Just for fun, see how many other films and comic books shout-outs you can catch. The producers created a wonderful homage to Stan Lee in the opening credits, and they dropped in some other nods to great movies as well. Here are some hints: References to previous versions of the captain, Men in Black, Independence Day, and Top Gun.