CAPTAIN MARVEL -- GRADE C
I had high hopes for this one, since it was co-directed and co-written by a woman, and since Marvel’s female superheroes have been known to kick serious butt. (Looking at you Black Widow, Okoye, Agent May and Quake.) And it was fine.
Brie Larson was fine. The digitally de-aged Samuel L. Jackson was fine. Their relationship was fine. The cat was cute.
And there was one overt feminist moment that almost saved the movie for me. (Stay tuned.)
But other than that, there was nothing particularly remarkable or groundbreaking or rousing about Captain Marvel. Nothing visually different or interesting. No great set piece or battle I’ll always remember. I can’t even really tell you the plot. And they certainly didn’t take advantage of the ‘90s-era setting -- aside from that Blockbuster Video gag.
It just felt like a pastiche of every other MCU movie we’ve ever seen. As in Guardians of the Galaxy, we’ve got a team of traveling aliens on a mission, complete with a blue female (Gemma Chan is completely wasted here). There were also hints of Iron Man (Captain Marvel’s powers include energy blasts shooting out of her arms and legs, propelling her into space), Captain America (a crack pilot crashes), The Avengers (wild car chases, scene on top of a train careening towards a tunnel), and on and on. It wasn’t particularly clever or funny.
I’d never heard of Captain Marvel before this, and I don’t really know or care much about her character Carol Danvers, even after this introduction movie. It's not even entirely clear what her powers are. I mean, at the end of the film, she leaves the earth to help the refugee Skrulls find a home, and gives Fury a pager to call her when he needs her. Only he doesn’t -- not even through all of these “the end of the world is coming” Avengers movies.
If she’s the most powerful Avenger of all, as the MCU powers-that-be keep saying, then where the hell’s she been the last 30 years? Why didn’t she come when Thanos first raised his thick, ugly head? Nah. This is Marvel president Kevin Feige and team playing catch-up and paying lip service to the zeitgeist’s call for a Marvel Wonder Woman.
That’s what five credited story writers gets you -- even if they are women -- an unfocused, unfulfilling through line. I wanted to feel something -- like when Wonder Woman defied all those men to walk across No Man’s Land to save the villagers. Danvers had no such rousing moment, no emotional arc of her own. She was just reacting to events around her.
After being gone from earth for six years, she finally reunites with her best friend, a fellow fighter pilot and her daughter. Which is fine. But if you discovered that you were not an alien, as previously believed, and you grew up on earth, then wouldn’t you try and find your family as soon as you got there? I mean, you keep remembering a picture of a guy who looks like your dad, so… maybe at least ask after him?
And I guess that’s what really pisses me off -- women were so thirsty for a stand-alone Marvel female superhero that they slurped up this half-baked effort, praising the producers to the stars.
And yes, it’s great that she didn’t have a love interest, that her costume wasn’t created “for the male gaze” and that she was sticking her neck out to help the universe’s refugees. But is that all it takes to let male-run Hollywood off the hook? I just wish she'd been as snarky and active a character as Black Widow or Okoye -- both of whom should've had a stand-alone film before Captain Marvel. She was basically the blandest bad-ass ever.
Which brings me back to the one true feminist moment. Danvers (or “Veers” as her Kree buds call her) is told by her mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law, also fine and boring) at the beginning of the film that she must control her emotions to become a true warrior and most powerful self. But with the #MeToo movement, there's been a rightful and righteous backlash to this idea. Women have been denigrated and sneered at for being emotional, as if it makes them appear weak. But it's exactly the opposite. Emotions are what make women powerful, and they have every right to feel them and use them. So when Yon-Rogg taunts her about having failed to control her feelings in their final battle, she lets loose with a huge blast that sends him flying.
If only the rest of the movie lived up to that empowered attitude.
Femme Critic Score:
Female Writer: Story by 5 writers (four of them women), screenplay by 3 writers (two of them women)
Female Director: Co-director with male
Female Cast: Most assuredly
Passes the Bechdel Test: Yes, of course.