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Brie Larson stars as the Marvel superhero Captain Marvel.

 

“Captain Marvel,” the latest film from Marvel Studios, is second only to fellow Marvel Cinematic Universe flick “Thor: The Dark World” in being dull and uninteresting throughout. That’s too bad, as “Captain Marvel” is the first Marvel film built around a woman superhero.

Starring Academy Award-winner Brie Larson, this MCU production is sadly not as impactful or engaging as some of its recent films, such as “Black Panther” or “Thor: Ragnarok.” While certainly not a fatal wound to the MCU, “Captain Marvel” barely soars at all. 

The actors are great for the most part (looking at you Jude Law). The real villains here, as hapless as they may be, are the writers. The movie is scatterbrained in its search for a tone. At times it’s silly, other times it tries too hard to impart a message of female empowerment or it wants to hop on a soapbox and speak about a real-world crisis. 

Larson stars as Carol Danvers, who becomes the titular superhero after being exposed to an alien energy. First appearing in 1968, Danvers was created by Jewish comic book artist Gene Colan. Her alter ego was actually called Ms. Marvel for several decades before taking the name Captain Marvel in 2012. The first human iteration of Captain Marvel was also the comic book world’s first black woman superhero, Monica Rambeaux. With visions of “Domino” from “Deadpool 2” still fresh in mind, it’s hard not to think about how much more fun this film would have been with Rambeaux kicking butts and taking names.

But with this script, would it have really mattered whether it was Danvers or Rambeaux? Normally, in a superhero origin story the protagonist learns how to conquer their own inner demons or insecurities by mastering their powers. However, at the beginning of the movie Danvers already has her abilities and she doesn’t have much problem using them. A major script issue is that Danvers is introduced to the audience as an amnesiac living in an alien world — a blank slate with no real drive or yearning of her own. She isn’t really that interested in discovering who she was until about halfway through the second act, when she finds herself back on Earth as an Air Force pilot. Perhaps the film would’ve done better with a complete rewrite that focused more on Danvers learning her abilities and having a specific goal. More defined world building would have been very welcome. 

As a film studio and cinematic franchise, Marvel has made each of its movies approachable for audiences. Most of their films have done well to get the viewer up to speed, especially if they’re not a die-hard fan of the comics. Not so in this case. “Captain Marvel” doesn’t explain much at all about the universe and instead relies on the viewer’s knowledge of past movies like “Guardians of the Galaxy” to provide extra context.  

There’s maybe a sentence or two about an ongoing intergalactic battle between two alien races — the Kree and the Skrulls — for set up. Danvers, still a dead-eyed amnesiac, is fighting for the Kree against the terrorist Skrulls. From there, the movie haphazardly jumps from the space battle to Earth in the 1990s. Compared to the creativity of past Marvel films, grunge-era Los Angeles feels like a step backward. The time period is hardly relevant, acting more as a prop for cheap laughs. Apparently the writers didn’t want to waste the chance to use all of their Blockbuster Video material. 

While humor is an important factor to the MCU franchise, “Captain Marvel’s” humor is very hit-or-miss. Some of the humor feels like it would be more at home in “Men in Black” than a Marvel movie.

Still, Larson, who won the Oscar for “The Room,” gives it her all to bring an appropriate level of charm and sass to her performance. As Danvers, she is never too cool to be the occasional butt of a joke, yet she remains a capable warrior and hero.

Larson is joined by Samuel L. Jackson, CGId to look about 20 years younger and with hair and both eyes. Jackson reprises his role as the tough and funny Nick Fury. This time he acts as Captain Marvel’s guide to Earth. He and all the actors have a lot of heavy lifting to do, but Ben Mendelsohn, as the Skrull Talos, steals the show with a distinct likability. 

But the actors’ best efforts are consistently stymied by a messy, convoluted script full of plot holes. Many moments are explained by convenience rather than narrative structure. There are several times when certain characters seem omniscient, appearing just when the plot needs them.  

As with most Marvel movies, “Captain Marvel” is a CGI spectacle and the film is serviceable in that respect. Watching Danvers fly is one of the stand-out scenes and evokes a classic Superman flight. The fight scenes are good, but some rely on shaky cam and are too close for the viewers to appreciate the choreography. 

Maybe Marvel’s first woman-led movie should have been the one fans have been clamoring about for years — Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. She already has been established in several Marvel movies and has a complex backstory that is ripe for a spy thriller. Instead, we got “Captain Marvel,” one of Marvel’s weakest films. To end on a positive note, a Black Widow movie is in the works. JN

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