In the first female-led entry in the successful Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), “Captain Marvel” is a bit like its titular character: confident yet flawed. The gender politics are strong in this one, but that’s not the reason it left me disappointed. It was the insistence on rushing to fill in the blanks of the story, at the expense of the character, before next month’s “Avengers: Endgame.”
“Captain Marvel” tells the origin story of U.S. Air Force Pilot Carol Danvers (Brie Larson), a woman who becomes one of the most powerful heroes in the universe after she crash-lands an experimental aircraft. After being taken captive by aliens, she becomes tangled in the middle of a war between two alien races and escapes to Earth. When a happenstance meeting between Carol and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the pair begin to discover shocking things about her past.
This is an important movie at an important time, and it was equally important that Hollywood get it right. You could say they gave it a good effort, for the most part. There’s a seamless diversity in the characters and cast, and certain aspects of the film are likely to inspire a passionate tenacity in women of all ages the world over. The girl power themes are at play, like one of the very best scenes when Captain Marvel overcomes the voices in her head spewing from the “stronger” man (Jude Law) telling her that she’s worthless and weak. Instead of staying down, she finds the inner courage to cast aside her doubts and embrace her impressive, near-invincible powers. Sounds great, and it is, but what a pity it’s preceded by scene after scene of Carol being chastised because she can’t control her emotions.
That’s where the film lost me. Not in the overblown, lifeless action scenes that bombard the viewer every 5 minutes (and the accompanying, mostly cheesy special effects), but the condescending story line of a woman breaking free from society’s restraints. Normally I’d respond with a big, fist-pumping “hell, yes!” to a film like that, but it’s poorly done here because it feels like a half-baked attempt to bring women on board with a strong superhero simply because they share the same gender. Why praise a movie that panders, with a symbolic pat on the head, to the audience it is supposed to empower? (Note to Marvel: DC did it far, far better for once with its non-manipulative “Wonder Woman“).
I wanted to root for the character and the film, and I really, really tried to overlook the myriad problems. But once the choice was made to use No Doubt’s “Just A Girl” as the soundtrack to one of Captain Marvel’s big breakout fight scenes, I was so angry, irritated, and exasperated that I nearly mentally checked out. (I am not making this up; this really happens. I can’t imagine females everywhere wouldn’t find it obnoxious, if not insulting, to our gender).
Captain Marvel may be super powerful, but she’s a boring character. It’s not Larson’s fault, as she’s more than capable at handling the material and physicality of the role. Her rapport with Jackson is relaxed and natural, but he provides most of the heavy lifting when it comes to the comic relief. The women characters are all whip-smart and strong-willed, from the youngest (Akira Akbar) to the most mature (Annette Bening). Carol’s relationship with best friend Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) is extremely effective, but isn’t given enough screen time. I can just hear those patronizing studio suits now: “flyover comic book audiences want more CGI fighting, not human connection through an actual story.”
Captain Marvel is an extraordinary woman who’s presented as ordinary, with a flat, undeveloped personality. She’s nearly emotionless to the point where I’d believe she (and this boring MCU stumble) was created by a Hollywood think-tank who feared giving her too much fire would rock the boat.
Nothing, not even this lame attempt at conveying a feminist viewpoint in the “me, too” movement, can change that.