captain marvel

A certain stripe of critic likes to complain that the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies adhere too rigidly to formula. I think they’re reacting more to how similar the reviews end up being than to how similar the films actually are. There are a handful of standouts like The Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, the Captain America sequels and Thor: Ragnarok, but most of the MCU features are are solid B-plus films that may rise or fall in one’s personal estimation based on your particular like or dislike for an actor, concept, sub-genre or theme.

But otherwise, if someone says “Captain Marvel is your basic Marvel origin movie, and one of the good ones” you know what they mean. It’s a fun, comfy, mid-tier action blockbuster built around an agreeable performance by an overqualified supporting cast and a compelling lead actor you wouldn’t necessarily expect to be blowing stuff up with laser fists. It gets a little long in Act 2. It’s really good when it’s an easygoing dialogue-driven character piece and sci-fi inflected morality play, and not as good when it’s doing world building housekeeping for interchangeable plot widgets that even the other movies don’t pretend actually matter anymore.

As is equally typical the of brand, the bad guys aren’t as interesting as the good guys. But then these films aren’t really about the villains or even the story really. They’re about building up the characters as relatable and likable three-dimensional personalities so we’ll watch them in future sequels and crossovers. It’s a cynical marketing strategy to be certain, but one which paradoxically also keeps turning these features into weirdly intimate character pieces that make you ignore the less good parts and then really like the good parts.

The movie starts out like Star Wars and then morphs into kind of a Riot grrl Flight of The Navigatorand then turns into Star Trek: The Next Generation once it heads back out into space.

This time around the movie is boasting the nominal gimmick of being the franchise’s first theatrical “prequel” since the original Captain America and the first film headlined by a female hero. It’s other big novelty is being a non-linear version of an origin-story, starting in what we eventually learn is the mid-1990s with Brie Larson already boasting mysterious energy-blasting superpowers and near-total amnesia while serving as a soldier of the alien Kree Empire in its war against the shapeshifting Skrulls. A Skrull mind probe captured during a failed mission turns out to be (for some reason) interested in the same unanswered questions about her past that she is, sending the heroine and a small squad hurtling down to “primitive” Earth. There she runs into younger versions of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Nick Fury and Phil Coulson and realizes that Earth may actually be her home planet and the key to the past life she can’t remember.

There’s a bit more to it than that, mostly laid out over the course of a second act road trip that the woman, who eventually learns her name is Carol, undertakes with Fury to stop the Skrulls from getting what they want. It all has to do with why she can’t remember who she is, what she was doing that caused her to wind up in outer space with superpowers and no memory as well as what the Skrulls are up to. People will also insist it is prequel housekeeping connecting back to the later Avengers movies and providing backdoor origins for a pair of Guardians of the Galaxy bad guys.

The unfolding character business is invested with a slow burn, Sundance Festival-feel that fits Larson’s overall groove. The back and forth with Jackson is great, and the de-aging effect is really impressive to boot. He’s super funny in this and it’s fun watching him slip back into his slick ‘90s action-comedy guy mode. The whole interlude with Lashana Lynch as Carol’s best friend Maria Rambeau is VERY affecting and honestly could’ve used more screen time to develop further. There’s also a good stretch of Act 3 where a major revelation turns the way a whole mess of characters relate to one another completely on its head. The movie starts out like Star Wars and then morphs into kind of a Riot grrl Flight of The Navigator and then turns into Star Trek: The Next Generation once it heads back out into space.

That stuff works like gangbusters as does Ben Mendelsohn as the nominal main Skrull baddie Talos and Jude Law as Carol’s Kree commander Yon-Rogg. The stuff that works less well is the world building and continuity business and some of the pacing. There’s a pair of big action scenes at the end that are both excellent in isolation as technical achievements in stunt work and effects, but are undercut by an element of “I get WHY fighting these specific people is important, but if they’d had one or two more scenes to establish it I’d feel it more.”

But when it’s working, it’s working — and that’s most of the time. The film admirably commits to being a very decisive inversion of a long-lived Marvel Comics mythology trope. After a suitable amount of shouting and exploding, it also commits to a decidedly different sort of finale than blockbusters like this usually go for. I’m not sure it completely works, but I admire it anyway considering how easy it would have been to do something more conventionally satisfying.

Bottom line: I had a good time with Captain Marvel. As is usually the case with the better Marvel movies, I liked it more the more I thought about it after. With apologies to the folks who are hoping for one reason or another that this whole Marvel thing will slow down or be done with at some point, it looks like another two to three sequels and handful of team-ups are in the cards.

Bob Chipman
Bob Chipman is a critic and author.

    Becoming Jim Gordon, the Man Who Lights Up Gotham

    Previous article

    How I Combined Westerns and Roguelikes

    Next article

    47 Comments

    1. The movie starts out like Star Wars and then morphs into kind of a Riot grrl Flight of The Navigatorand then turns into Star Trek: The Next Generation once it heads back out into space.

      Somebody get Bob an editor.

    2. Didn’t GotG go out of its way to say Ronan was a rogue Kree? I mean as a long time comic fan I know the Kree are bad guy aliens mostly but GoTG doesn’t say “Hey the Kree are all bad”, so this prequel showing them be bad could still be a surprise for your average MCU watcher.

    3. “The movie starts out like Star Wars and then morphs into kind of a Riot grrl Flight of The Navigatorand then turns into Star Trek: The Next Generation once it heads back out into space.”

      You could just say “this is a piece of shit”, but I understand if you get paid by the word, so….

      “Bottom line: I had a good time with Captain Marvel.”

      This line is contradicted by what came before, but okay.

      1. Sounds like you have decided you don’t like it before you’ve actually seen it. Also, calling out Bob for contradicting himself is more fun when you do it as a drinking game, you’ll be on the floor in no time!

      2. How exactly does the quote equal “this is a piece of shit” and contradict the idea of having a good time? That combination sounds awesome.

      3. Im confused as to how
        The movie starts out like Star Wars and then morphs into kind of a Riot
        grrl Flight of The Navigator and then turns into Star Trek: The Next
        Generation once it heads back out into space.” is a bad thing? All of those things are cool. So, if the movie has elements of those things, that sounds cool.

      4. Nope.

      5. He literally had a whole paragraph explaining that you can say “It’s a a good Marvel origin movie” because it covers all the stuff you’ve seen with the rest. He was highlighting the things that didn’t work because anyone who has seen the rest of the MCU knows what the stuff that works looks like.

    4. Basically its a Marvel movie so lets throw all our money at it while movies that try to be something else gets burnt at the stake for trying.

      1. What else that’s good (or at least solid) but trying to be different is getting burnt at the stake?

        1. Well, Suicide Squad for starters. it got burnt at the Stake for not being a Guardians of the Galaxy clone. but i guess you guys don’t remember that, huh?

        2. Are there any superhero movies being made right now that’s not getting marks down for not being a Marvel-type movie? as in a mix of bright colours, slightly dim-witted characters, memorable soundtrack and a joke about every 5 minutes of run time?

    5. You know, I think the one prequel that managed to avoid the aforementioned Palpatine problem was probably Fate/Zero. Mostly because of the actual role the villain has in the story.

      Also Fire Emblem Blazing Swords, I guess.

      1. Blazing Sword’s a weird example, as prequels go. Japanese audiences already knew Zephiel’s backstory from having played Binding Blade, but I can’t imagine international players were anything other than shocked and confused when the obnoxiously pure hearted prince they endure a dozen resets to protect showed up in the epilogue as a bitter, misanthropic adult consorting with dragons.

    6. Much like Ant-Man (But not for the same reasons) this one is on my “Netflix Marvel” list.

      1. That’d be “Disney streaming Marvel” list now

    7. I’m going to see it this weekend. I tried avoiding the hate as much as possible. There’s this one channel YouTube keeps putting in my suggestions list that seems to be a real jerk. (You know the kind, how DARE they make Captain Marvel not as sexy as he’d like.) Looking forward to seeing this for myself. I was/am worried this may be the one that bombs and the MRA wannbes will try and take credit.

      1. We don’t care if she is Sexy, we’d just like her to not be a Bigot with a Scowling face, also being a total Mary sue with an agenda behind her doesn’t do her any favors.

    8. It’s kinda Marvel’s take on a buddy cop movie and those parts are when it’s not just good but damn good.
      “C: What’s your mom call you?”
      “F: Fury”

    9. Do you know what the favoured videogame series of the antagonist race is in this?

      The Elder Skrulls.

      Alright, where’s the door? I’ll go.

    10. Looks like close to $500mil opening weekend. So much for the boycott I guess. While I hate to bring Alita into it since I really loved the movie, it had the biggest percentage drop of any movie in the top ten, so much for Jack Prilosec’s effect on the real world.

    11. Flight of the Navigator….I just survived a flashback…

    12. Well, TO BE FAIR, don’t really think that anyone thought that GotG was gonna be a household name/could carry a movie on their own… I mean… Were they as popular as they should’ve to warrant that kinda thinking on your part? Don’t…Really think so

    13. Seems like MovieBitch brought the heavy duty fedora o tip on this one.

    14. Just saw Captain marvel tonight and I absolutely loved it! I don’t understand why people were hating on it as much as they were. It’s a fun movie with a talented cast and I loved it!

    15. The most interesting thing about Captain Marvel is the time Rogue took her powers 😛

    16. Needed more Goose.

    17. Having watched Captain Marvel, and now rewatching this review, I don’t get the “Star Trek” reference Bob made. Any explanation on that?

      1. I can! SPOILER AHEAD

        He’s referring to the twist re. the Skrulls’s motivations and how that changes the goal of the mission in Act 3. Very TNG–that bad guys actually aren’t that bad, they just need to be listened to–and then the resolution of the conflict is not through escalating violence, but through nonviolent diplomacy.

    18. I’ve never read one of your reviews. Only watch ’em on YouTube, but after seeing Captain Marvel, I wanted to know what you thought. I can’t remember the last time my opinion has been so close to a reviewer’s! Therefore, you are correct.

    19. I didn’t have much expectation for this movie, but I was surprised at how much I liked. And I’ll disagree slightly with Bob — I thought the world building was pretty damn good, and the whole setup/Kree planet section of the movie really sucked me in. I’m definitely invested in seeing what happens with everything in the next movie, apart from the Earth/Avengers stuff.

    20. My first time viewing the movie I felt rather disconnected during the first two acts. I think it’s because of the third act twist – the stakes for the movie aren’t revealed until then. On my second viewing, knowing the full stakes from the beginning, I had much more fun.

      I liked it fine on the first go through. On the second it became even better. Not in my top ten MCU films but still up there with, say, the Ant Man movies.

      Definitely not a disappointment on any level. It did leave me wanting more and maybe even wanting to see Endgame, which I had very little desire to see before watching this.

    21. Okay, I just about busted a lung when the Super Crown came up!

    22. Translation: “This is a mediocre movie, but I have to choose my words carefully because I’m pretending to fight make believe trolls and I can’t let them win.”

      1. Found the troll

    23. i wasnt looking forward to going to watch this but that chuckle at the start…im so curious.

    24. That’s a pretty fair summation from Bob (and, like the vast majority of Internet users, by “fair” I mean “I more or less agree with it.”) It felt a little… disconnected, to me, though? Maybe it’s that I got exposed to the press about how *important* the heroine’s relationship with Rambeau was, whereas what I saw in the movie felt more like “These characters are really important to each other because she’s in the five-second flashbacks to Carol’s Defining Moments. No, really. Just go with us on this one.” But in hindsight, most of the relationships between super-heroic and non-super-heroic characters in Marvel movies, romantic or otherwise, tend to run a little flat. I also would have liked to see a little more personality than “snarking and/or slightly annoyed” from the heroine, and it was nearly the end of the movie before we got to. So, let’s say this is about on the level of an Ant-Man for me: servicable, entertaining, not likely to linger long in your brain.

    25. Ok, this makes me a bit more excited and optimistic about this movie!

      1. I saw it opening night. It was a lot of fun. Everything Bob says was on point. I’d honestly say my only problem with it is one fight scene has some particularly bad lighting in it, but you can still tell what’s going on well enough. Just a personal thing, I would’ve liked to see it a bit brighter.

        Oh and no joke, the audience applauded the opening. It was really touching.

        1. Agreed. The lighting in that early fight scene could have been a bit brighter, hard to see what was happening in places. Otherwise Bob has this right, a solid entry to the series. And that opening made me wipe away a tear.

    26. Can someone explain what Bob meant in the beginning of his bit? Seriously I don’t get it.
      PS: that was the score i gave to my friends about it too.

    27. Just a few notes:
      Spoilers obviously
      1. I get why some people might be pissed that the only “good” Kree is now a woman meaning all the Kree men left are all variations of angry gruff bad guy soldier

      and

      2.
      Minn-Erva is the bad guy in Captain Marvel 2. Yes I know why that doesn’t make sense and I don’t care. Gemma Chan is an amazing actress and I want to see more of her as Minn-Erva who is a brilliant villain you’re not pulling another “Klaw” on us Marvel

    28. I’m irritated that I can’t see this movie without my experience being affected by the prerelease critical weirdness. I didn’t actually see much content in defense of this movie, but I saw a *lot* of preemptive mocking of said hypothetical biased defense. Like, it wasn’t a “feminist” vs “sexist” thing, it was “People who were emotionally invested in the failure of the film and what that would represent” vs “People who were oblivious to or mildly irritated by the first group”. Like, I know it was supposed to be noticeable that Marvel’s first female lead was a cosmic-level hero, but I never really got the impression that people were particularly invested in that angle?

      Also, I did notice a weird amount of people setting up an Alita vs. Captain Marvel feud.

      1. Or the DC crowd trying to set up a Shazam Vs Captain Marvel feud.

    29. I wish it was better to shut up the inevitable internet shit posters who hate Brie Larson. But it was fine. I think 7 is probably the right rating based on the scale the Escapist uses because it didn’t have some huge flaw destroying it. It was just more of the same, didn’t really take risks, and at times felt like it could have done more but I understand why they didn’t.

    30. I really enjoyed it. Brie Larson is likeable, and her chemistry with Sam Jackson is great. I can’t believe that this movie is the one being hate-bonered by review bombing. I mean, I can, it’s 2019 and there’s a bunch of sad little men out there….I’m just saying it’s the least deserving target of something like that. The Ghostbusters 2016 hate train was embarrassing as hell as well, but once the director started dismissing ALL criticism as having a sexist motivation, you could kind of see a reason for the overblown vitriol. Kind of (it doesn’t excuse it).
      Captain Marvel is just a good, fun time. It doesn’t wallop you over the head with a blunt message or patronise or demonise…it doesn’t deserve this BS just because the main character is female. The profoundly negative audience score on RT that’s seen it get more ratings in one day than the entirety of Infinity War’s long-ass theatrical run is just cringe-inducing.

      1. Very well said! I saw the movie on opening day and had a great time with it. And having seen it, I can’t see what all the anger was about AT ALL! It’s just a fun superhero film with some good drama, good comedy and great characters. I really fail to see what makes it so much worse than other films like it.

        If I had one criticism with it, it would be the first twenty or so minutes, or at least till Carol lands on Earth. The parts before that just seemed a bit dull and uninteresting, apart from one or two moments. Nothing outright bad or anything. Just dull compared to the later parts of the film.

    Leave a reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *