Arts movie review

Captain Marvel, the MCU’s newest powerhouse

Marvel’s newest and first female-led action flick delivers a compelling story but limited character development

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Brie Larson stars as Captain Marvel in the latest Marvel Studios film, 'Captain Marvel.'
Courtesy of Marvel Studios

Captain Marvel
Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck
Screenplay by Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, and Geneva Robertson-Dworet
Starring Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law
Rated PG-13, Now Playing

In Captain Marvel, Vers (Brie Larson), a soldier on an elite task force from the Kree alien society, must confront her past while defending the Earth from an extraterrestrial invasion of shapeshifting Skrulls. The film takes place in the 90s, and reminds viewers of this with references to Blockbuster, dial-up internet, and period music. As avid fans of the Marvel franchise, we were excited to see how this prequel would fit into the larger universe. Would it be consistent? Would it feel unique? The trailers did little to inspire confidence. Despite the inclusion of a young Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), both fan favorites, the film’s hype hinted at a generic storyline where our heroine “remembers who she is.” This, coupled with a preview of relatively characterless, unoriginal villains (ugly aliens are bad) and powers (lasers galore), made us feel like the film would be, at best, unmemorable.

Luckily, the movie defied our expectations in several ways.

Despite our initial fears, Captain Marvel’s flashbacks are handled well and fit seamlessly into the main story. The movie avoids the tiresome trope where the main character sees something from their past life that triggers an important flashback. Captain Marvel also never wastes time on a predictable “shapeshifter revealed plotline,” and it incorporates the Skrulls in a less cookie-cutter fashion.

The film intelligently uses Nick Fury as a main supporting character, and sets a lot of groundwork for the (until now) very mysterious assembler of the Avengers. His buddy-cop dynamic with Captain Marvel keeps the movie grounded and relatable, given that the main conflict is between two different alien species.

This interstellar war is mirrored as Captain Marvel’s struggles between her dual identities: a cold, controlled Kree soldier and a caring, instinctual human pilot. This leads to a major theme of the film: emotions — how should we deal with them? Throughout the film, she’s torn between the advice of two mentors — one who claims that “there’s nothing more dangerous to a soldier than emotion,” and another who argues that emotion is “what makes [us] human.” While the payoff of this struggle was dampened by the audience not getting a strong sense of her feeling side, her independent thinking leads her to emerge triumphantly as the first female lead in the MCU.

However, the film falls short when it comes to action. While Captain Marvel’s story is compelling, her fight scenes are decidedly less so. It’s fun to watch as she develops her personal fighting style, but at a certain point, it’s not super interesting to watch a battle between a bad guy with no powers and someone who can fly and shoot light beams from her arms. Despite the symbolic significance of such a moment, we felt moments like this grew stale over the course of two hours. The audience never feels that Captain Marvel can get hurt or lose a fight. Vulnerability is an important part of any good superhero film; otherwise, it’s hard to be invested in the conflict.

As a result of Captain Marvel's apparent invulnerability,  the climax feels a little empty. While the first two acts do a great job of progressing the story and the characters’ journeys, the threads they set up are not properly tied off. Clear opportunities for the movie to deal with interesting issues are flipped into the bad end of a joke. We left this movie enjoying the ride but felt that with a tighter conclusion, it could have been amazing.