Both fans and film critics alike have at some point made the argument that origin stories are played out and formulaic. What many people seem to forget is that the entirety of the MCU’s foundation is fundamentally built on each character having a concrete origin story. No matter what way you spin it, origin stories are necessary to build a character from the ground up and with Captain Marvel it feels like we’re only given half of her origin, how she gets her powers and not who she is as a person.
Captain Marvel follows the story of pilot Carol Danvers (Brie Larson), a woman part of an elite Alien military unit, she’s also someone who, for reasons unknown, has trouble piecing together the memory of her past. Much like the character of Carol Danvers, Captain Marvel as a film struggles with its identity; it feels as if there are two lassos pulling this film in different directions and unfortunately these lassos don’t glow gold. One side is attempting to build a light and comedic origin story and the other is attempting to be a more unique and complex narrative.
What is left is a bit of a tonal mess with themes that don’t stick and emotions that don’t quite feel earned. It’s clear the theme of “humanity” was pushed for, and I can’t help but be reminded of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (2013), as those very same themes were shunted in as flashbacks of “what it means to be human” and such. Beyond these criticisms there’s a funny film here, and audiences certainly do get their fair share of humour throughout, Captain Marvel spends a surprising amount of time cracking jokes in an effort to make Carol a more relaxed and goofball female heroine as opposed to the excessively gloomy and serious female characters within the MCU.
Brie Larson stands confident and steadfast in her role as Captain Marvel, she seemed to be having a lot fun in the role and she strikes a good balance between being emotional and having banter between the supporting characters. However Ben Mendelsohn steals some of that spotlight as he provides a different than usual performance than I’m used to. Samuel L. Jackson is Samuel L. Jackson. And Jude Law played a flat and dull character that did not provide him the opportunity to stretch his acting talent.
Captain Marvel excels greatly in some visual effects areas, such as the CGI de-aging of Samuel L. Jackson — it felt visceral and possibly the best example of de-aging to date. There is also some fantastic makeup in the form of the Skrulls, as there was an emphasis on practical makeup over fully CGI aliens. However there are clear moments of faces having a plastic texture in some of the more CGI intensive space battles, specifically Captain Marvel herself. This film was set in the 90’s and there is without a doubt countless visual gags from that era which were a blast to see; but that’s where that ends, it never really feels like the 90’s, more that there’s 90’s nostalgia thrown in your face — I remain unconvinced. There’s clever camerawork in Captain Marvel and even some beautiful shots, but it’s mixed in with just as many poorly directed sequences. The sound is all over the place with some really good sound design; however, the score is trampled by generic 90’s music being played overtop. The 90’s soundtrack does not fit the character or the story, making it just another piece of nostalgia. This feels like two very different ideas trying to mesh. This film giveth and taketh away at the same time.
Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck seem to have differing visions with how this film should unfold and unfortunately it’s quite glaringly obvious, there are many questions left from a lot of its plot points due to how they decided to construct this story. Captain Marvel would have benefited from a singular vision and singular tone – Larson, Jackson, and Mendelsohn carry the film forward and do their best with the jumpy material at hand. This is a suitable entry for Captain Marvel as a character and it does its job in establishing her so she’s fit and ready to enter Avengers: Endgame. No more, no less. Despite its energetic confidence Captain Marvel struggles to produce the spark necessary to elevate itself above – if at all – any of the MCU origin stories.