‘Captain Marvel’ is a good, but far from great, Marvel adventure

Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) has a problem: is she an a human or an alien? It’s more complicated than that, though.

She has amazing superpowers, including the ability to light up her fists and send a bad guy halfway across a zip code, but she doesn’t know how she got them and why they belong to her. Danvers, known to her mentor and superior (Jude Law) as “Vers,” is part of an elite military tactical unit on the planet Holla (not kidding): a member of the Kree-but she keeps having nightmares and visions of a past that is fragmented at best.

The Kree’s main adversary are the shape-shifting Skrulls, who have an agenda of their own that the viewer is in the dark about during the early going of this film. Like Danvers, the audience member doesn’t have a clue of what’s going on, who is good or bad, and why is everyone wearing tights and looking so serious?

Welcome to Captain Marvel, the latest release by the Kevin Feige-led Marvel Cinematic Universe. A good, yet far from great, film about finding yourself, making good use of superhuman strength, and trying not to get lost in Jude Law’s eyes. For Danvers, the only way to find herself was to kick it back to 1995, crash-landing in a Blockbuster.

That’s where the movie starts to pick up a little bit due to the arrival of Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury. Now, this isn’t the eye patch-wearing former Shield commander who assembled the Avengers, or at least not yet. In this film, Marvel lovers get to see Fury as a young(er) Shield field agent who runs into Danvers right after she crashes Earth’s party.

It is here where the buddy cop comedy vibe lifts the film up for about 30 minutes before diving back into the tiresome “save the world” tactics and paint-by-numbers superhero plot threads. Jackson and Larson have great chemistry, playing two people from different corners of the Earth who are thrown together to help save a planet and race of species or two, all the while figuring things out about each other. The audience rides shotgun, gathering nuggets and pieces of info about Danvers and her plight and flight.

When judging Marvel movies, you go off two scales. The regular film scale where you inform a casual fan of the movies about whether this is a good idea or not to invest your time and money in, and the Marvel scale. Captain Marvel is a good movie, but it sits on the lower echelon of Marvel offerings. I’d snug this baby right in between Thor: Dark World and Captain America: First Avenger. Quite frankly, it’s not great and I am not dying to see it again as I write this.

When last year’s Infinity War (which was on my top 10 list) concluded, I yelled up at the projectionist to play it again. Same for last summer’s Ant-Man and The Wasp, which was intelligent, invigorating, and smart with its time. A warm blast of energy.

The biggest issue with this film is the fact that Danvers isn’t instantly interesting or someone you just get behind and believe in right off the bat. It takes time and patience. Seeing Larson punch, kick, and grimace her way through the first 80 minutes of the movie is enjoyable in parts, yet overall just routine and time consuming. It’s only when her backstory, which includes a best friend named Maria Rambeau (the wonderful Lashana Lynch), comes into play that the movie picks up and you actually get fired up about Danvers’ fight. When the film finds a heart, our own gets connected.

Before that, if Jackson’s Fury isn’t on screen, the film’s pace drags and the overall care level of the viewer zigs and zags. One of the hallmark features of a Marvel movie is the pacing and editing of the films. Captain Marvel felt like the longest 124 minutes I’ve ever spent in Marvel-ville. I actually checked my watch and wondered if I had turned off the kitchen faucet at one point in this movie. No, that’s not a good thing.

Captain Marvel’s final 30-45 minutes do pick up when the plot falls into place. It’s almost as if co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s film couldn’t believe in itself until Danvers found it within herself to stand up for her own good. Everything in this movie takes a while to formulate.

The action is nothing special. People get punched across a city, get back up, and get punched a few more times. If you’ve seen one intergalactic battle, you’ve seen them all. By the two hour mark, you are ready to get out a notebook and act as an interim grief counselor.

Larson makes the most of Danvers, filling out the costume and digging into the pathos as best as one can. When we see the quirky sense of humor of her character, as opposed to the punch first and think later, there’s some fun there. For a little while, I thought they pulled this lovely lady out of a depressing DC film. Unlike Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, who you instantly loved, Larson’s hero doesn’t instantly connect, and that hampers the film. It’s not only about caring for the character, but also finding it hard to take your eyes off them.

Jackson seems be having the most fun, because after many films playing sixth or seventh fiddle, he gets to expand a character that has filled his resume for a decade. Ben Mendelsohn, who played a great part in Boden and Fleck’s Mississippi Grind, gets a nice role here as an alien with a secret agenda. Law and Annette Bening are underutilized and don’t register much, playing a part, but never taking the character off the page and home with them. They do their best.

I won’t spoil much more about the plot, but if you’ve seen a trailer or a poster, I am guessing you know where it’s headed. There are no carpet pull-outs or back-bending twists here; just a superhero finding her way slowly but surely. If you are a Marvel fan, you will enjoy it. If you go in expecting too much, expect disappointment. If you don’t like Marvel movies, don’t start here, because this won’t make you buy a season pass.

I stand by the idea that Marvel can’t make a bad movie. They just can’t. Captain Marvel isn’t great, but it’s enjoyable, entertaining in parts, and finishes with enough of a bang to hold my attention for a sequel, or at least her part in May’s Endgame.

To the people who complain about this movie due to female empowerment, please get a hobby and have it be not talking so much. With eight out of every ten movies celebrating the achievement of men under dire circumstances, a female deserves more space in a flick. Judge the execution, not the current political movement you can attach the film to.

I left satisfied without being blown away. I wanted more of Danvers, but I wasn’t sure about the serving size just yet. Maybe, like Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk and Paul Bettany’s Vision, she is best served being a team player instead of a lead. Maybe not. I am game for a sequel, but I’m not sure about when I need it.

Here’s the thing. It takes a while to get close to Captain Marvel, and when it works the film sizzles, but in the end, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little let down by this latest Marvel entry, the 21st in their current phase.

Key Reminders: The Stan Lee intro and cameo are great, and the two post-credit scenes each have purpose.


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