For over a decade since 2008’s Iron Man marks the beginning of the subsequently successful era of Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), the female superheroes were all confined to supporting roles. Even so, the MCU did introduce some of the best female superhero characters ever graced on the big screen including the likes of Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch, Zoe Saldana’s Gamora as well as Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia and Danai Gurira’s Okoye.
Then along came Captain Marvel, which finally gives us the first female-led superhero movie in the decades-long MCU era. In this origin story, we learn that Vers (Brie Larson) is an intergalactic warrior from Kree’s elite military unit known as Starforce where she trained under the mentorship of Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). She also has a past back on Earth. Apparently, Vers’ actual name is Carol Danvers, an ex-Air Force pilot whose unfortunate accident got her the power in the first place.
Following an ill-fated mission that finds her crash-landing in Los Angeles in 1995, she soon encounters two young S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Nick Fury and Phil Coulson (Samuel L. Jackson and Clark Gregg, both digitally de-aged). From there, she gradually learns the truth about her real identity while fending off shapeshifting green-skinned Skrulls led by Talos (Ben Mendelsohn, under heavy makeup and prosthetic effects).
After all the ballyhooed marketing push surrounding Captain Marvel‘s biggest novelty factors for being the first female-led superhero movie in the MCU era and the first time we get to see the franchise being helmed by a woman (Anna Boden who co-directed alongside her frequent collaborator Ryan Fleck), this is supposed to be something remarkable or groundbreaking. But here’s the thing about Captain Marvel after watching it: the movie is shockingly hollow and underwhelming. It really hurts me to say it but this is the second time in a row an MCU movie ends up being a disappointment following last year’s Ant-Man and the Wasp.
Among the biggest problem is Brie Larson herself. I do really impress with her Oscar-winning performance in Room back in 2015 but then came movies like Kong: Skull Island (2017) and Basmati Blues (2018) — two particular films that got me thinking: is this the same Brie Larson that won her a well-deserved Oscar for Best Actress years ago? Captain Marvel is supposed to be her biggest break ever in her career and again, she disappoints me with her dull acting and blank-faced expression. I get that she tries to act cool with all the devil-may-care kind of girl-power attitude but she looks largely awkward in her first superhero role. It’s like as if she doesn’t feel comfortable acting in a big-scale production that requires her to dress in a skintight rubber suit.
Then, there’s the story. Co-written by Boden and Fleck themselves with additional inputs by Geneva Robertson-Dworet (2018’s Tomb Raider), the plot is nothing more than your standard-issue, perfunctory origin-story template. Although Captain Marvel/Vers/Carol Danvers is given a backstory via occasional flashbacks every now and then, the overall plot is curiously hollow with little-to-zero emotional weight. Suffice to say, it’s really hard for me to care what she’s been through as well as her inner struggles. The plot also botches a good opportunity to make a potentially exciting 90s-style buddy comedy between Larson’s Captain Marvel and Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, even though Jackson does acquits himself well enough in a solid supporting role. And the middle part of the movie drags the most, complete with an exposition-heavy scenario that grows increasingly sluggish to the point I wonder the 124-minute length feels a lot longer than it should.
Given the fact that Captain Marvel takes place in the 1990s, the story is understandably packed with nostalgia factors. While scenes like the dial-up connection (remember how frustrating it was back then?) and slow-loading CD-ROM drive are amusing, the rest feels awkwardly misplaced. This is particularly evident during a surreal memory scene scored to Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” and another one where No Doubt’s “Just A Girl” is curiously added during one of the climactic fight scenes.
Of course, no Marvel movie would be complete without its signature sense of humour. Likewise, you will find plenty of humour on display in Captain Marvel but most of them feel like they are trying too hard to elicit some laughs. And speaking of laughs, I can’t believe the actual reason that Nick Fury lost one of his eyes turns out to be… unintentionally laughable (you just have to see it for yourself).
From the visual point-of-view, Captain Marvel looks generic at best. A typical MCU movie with the same old inconsistent special effects. Except for the digitally-aged Samuel L. Jackson, in which I found the younger version of himself looks so convincing that it’s a definite step-up than what we used to see the likes of de-aged Michael Douglas in Ant-Man (2015) and Kurt Russell in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017). The action sequences are mostly a mixed bag, with the supposedly entertaining homage to the legendary car chase in The French Connection (1971) is hastily put together.
Whereas Brie Larson fails to make a lasting impression as the titular character, the supporting cast is the least saving grace. Well, most of them anyway. Apart from the aforementioned Samuel L. Jackson, it’s nice to see Ben Mendelsohn gets to loosen up a lot more with his surprisingly laidback performance as Talos while Jude Law brings a decent charisma to his otherwise lacklustre role as Yon-Rogg. But of all the actors involved, it was Goose the cat that unexpectedly steals most of the show here. Let’s just say the cat is more than just a cute pet.
As usual, do not leave your seats once the end credit starts rolling as there will be a mid-credit and post-credit teaser.