“Captain Marvel”

LOUISA:  2 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

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.

26 comments

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment! I really wanted to love this movie and it totally disappointed me. As you can imagine, I’m taking lots of heat as a female critic who didn’t rave endlessly about it.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. I thought this review was well-reasoned, but was a little put-off by the comment about what “fly-over country” folks wanted in a movie. I know that was a generalization to make a point, but when can we get past denigrating others to validate our own opinions? Fly -over country obviously had no problem with female empowerment in Wonder Woman, Ripley in Alien, Sarah Conner in Terminator and many other movies. Just show most folks a good movie with a good story and good characters and they will go along for the ride whoever is in the lead. It’s been proven already.

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    1. Thanks so much for pointing this out, and I’ve since edited my review because it didn’t read as I intended. That wasn’t MY voice saying those things, it was what I imagined a snotty studio executive saying. I’d never use a derogatory term like “flyover country,” but I know Hollywood types would think this way. Sorry for any confusion, and I appreciate you taking the time to point out the editing error.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I appreciate your forthrightness and understand your frustration and disappointment. It also would’ve nice if you had acknowledged Larson and company their attempt at bringing more inclusiveness to the table. The film worked for me more than many other MCU films because if it’s unusual indie feel and character moments and I agree I’d have enjoyed a whole movie starring Larson and Lynch. Here’s a NY TIMES article addressing Larson’s impact on diversity. She deserves kudos.

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    1. To be fair, none of that has anything to do with the quality of the movie at all, therefore, it shouldn’t be included in a review, except as an aside.

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    2. This is the kind of honesty I truly appreciate as a woman. I’m glad to see someone calling it for what it is. I’ll likely still go see it for continuity but now you’ve shown me where to set my expectations.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. Why kudos? Diversity is not something you have to create or promote by saying how much she doesnt want white men at her pressers or doing interviews. Gail Gadot didint do any such thing and it did not prevent it from being a much more powerful female movie then this one. The cinematic universe should be inclusive in the truest sense. If not enough woman or minorities, of which Im one of, show up and you try to do so by getting more non white woman or minorities to show up that seems a little too artificial. That’s not diversity but just mixing people up.

      Larson has come across in her media appearances as very unlikable and unfortunately it bled into her character.

      As a result this movie was entertaining but not any more remarkable than any other Marvel movie, lesser in fact.

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    4. Why kudos? Diversity is not something you have to create or promote by saying how much she doesnt want white men at her pressers or doing interviews. Gail Gadot didint do any such thing and it did not prevent it from being a much more powerful female movie then this one. The cinematic universe should be inclusive in the truest sense. If not enough woman or minorities, of which Im one of, show up and you try to do so by getting more non white woman or minorities to show up that seems a little too artificial. That’s not diversity but just mixing people up.

      Larson has come across in her media appearances as very unlikable and unfortunately it bled into her character.

      As a result this movie was entertaining but not any more remarkable than any other Marvel movie, lesser in fact.

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  3. The No Doubt reminded me, oddly, of the recent run of female empowerment commercials shoe companies and others are so fond of that have used that same song and others like it. In that context, playing “I’m Just a Girl” over a montage of female athletes defying the odds, it works. Here, however, it is kind of eye-roll inducing because they’ve painted Carol with such a broad brush and turned her more into a plot device that needs to be solved than a full character. The amnesia storyline is so poorly handled that it renders Carol as arguably the least interesting part of her own movie.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Nice review with some really thoughtful points I hadn’t considered before. I came out of it having really enjoyed myself despite some mediocre action sequences and some awkward dialogue. I just thought the story had some good twists and I actually really appreciated Carol’s character arc (the fact that I teared up during that “get back up” montage probably helped), even though, yeah, it wasn’t exactly super progressive in the female empowerment realm. (though I did appreciate how, contrary to Wonder Woman where it was a man who saved the day in the end, it was Carol’s show all the way.) But all of this said, I’m very thankful to read your critique coming from a female perspective. Your disappointment and frustration with the film is much more important for people to hear than anything I have to say about it as a man and just emphasizes how Hollywood still needs to do a lot better in giving women equal opportunities in film beyond just simple pandering (both behind the camera and in front).

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I believe this was sarcasm. Apparently, Brie Larson was saying that people that didn’t like A Wrinkle In Time had opinions that didn’t matter, because it wasn’t made for them.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I appreciate your review, it is clearly very thought out and honest. I totally disagree though, I loved it! Full disclosure I am notoriously easy to entertain, and although I thought the dialogue was awkward at times and the acting in some scenes wasn’t 100% believable, I didn’t personally view it as patronizing at any point. I am really interested in your take and I’m trying to understand it.

    You talked about what you called the best scene in the movie (and I agree with you there) when Carol “finds the inner courage to cast aside her doubts and embrace her impressive, near-invincible powers” but lament “what a pity it’s preceded by scene after scene of Carol being chastised because she can’t control her emotions”. I may not understand your exact complaint here, but I didn’t see this piece negativity. I saw it as Carol, who had been put down over and over for not being able to “control her emotions” discovering that her human emotions were a strength rather than a weakness. It’s empowering to me to see a person embracing who they are especially when they have been told they are broken. I found it especially interesting because throughout history women have been told they are too emotional for (insert place/profession here) and in this movie the response wasn’t to change or conform, it was to realize that her emotions and determination made her stronger both before and after she gained super powers.

    I am a woman and a mechanical engineer in an industry that is very male dominated (even by engineering company standards) and even in this day in age I have dealt with a lot of disrespect, chastising, skepticism, and harassment on the road to my current position sometimes it’s because I’m a woman, sometimes it’s because I’m young, and sometimes it’s just because people are jerks. I imagine 25 years ago this would absolutely be the case in a career like hers. Failing and being told “no”, “you can’t”, and “you’re not good enough” over and over and over again will either cause you to get sick of it and do something else (which happens to a lot of women in my industry) or learn to try over and over again. But that isn’t an experience unique to being a woman. Anyone who fails repeatedly, is an outsider, or gets told they aren’t capable or can’t succeed has to either learn to be empowered by getting back up after getting knocked down or will eventually give up. I sympathized with the strong super hero not just because we share the same gender, but because I am inspired by those who possess the conviction to get back up. I thought your comment “certain aspects of the film are likely to inspire a passionate tenacity in women of all ages the world over” was a bit telling in terms of highlighting the difference in how we saw the movie. I think it is likely to inspire passionate tenacity in people of all ages the world over. I am not sure I understand why that response would be unique to women. The movie wasn’t about pregnancy, it was about a character realizing she was stronger and more capable than she was given credit for and using her determination to realize her potential.

    Just because this specific story focused on a woman who experienced many things some of which were because she’s a woman does not mean that she is only relatable to and because of her gender. I loved Kung Fu Panda for some of the same reasons I loved this movie, and in Kung Fu Panda Po faced some specific problems because he’s a panda, but it produced situations that are relatable because he is a sentient creature. Po is overlooked, underestimated, and told he doesnt have what it takes to succeed in the role circumstance thrust upon him, but beccause of his personality he chooses to pick himself up again and again. But I’ve never heard anyone say the creators are just pandering to pandas and only pandas can relate to him. Even though Po faces some specific challenges because of his species, he is inspiring because of his choices and his actions not because he is a panda. I’m a sucker for protagonists who get back up after getting knocked down over and over and over again (literally or figuratively) regardless of whether I relate to the specifics in their situation. I find it interesting that when women are the main characters in stories that have some plot points about being women suddenly comments like “the gender politics are strong in this one” start cropping up in reviews with little explanation. On that note, what stuck out to you in this movie as being about gender politics and in what way? 

    As far as the “Just a Girl” action scene is concerned, again I felt totally differently about it. I actually loved this scene too, but I was struck by your comment that you “can’t imagine females everywhere wouldn’t find it obnoxious, if not insulting, to our gender”. Maybe I am being dense, but I don’t understand what was insulting about it. If you were looking for a more serious scene and/or intense music then I can see why you’d be disappointed, but I thought this was similar to Dead Pool’s fighting scene set to Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5”. I guess I like when they set fight scenes to pop music in these movies. I think its fun and funny. Out of curiosity, were you offended by that scene in Dead Pool 2 (if you’ve seen it)? Not that it’s exactly the same thing, but I am trying to understand your viewpoint. If it was specifically the song choice being “Just A Girl”, I am curious about that as well. I really like the sarcasm in that song and I even thought it was clever to use a song that came out the year in which the movie took place.

    I found your review really interesting, and I love discussing this stuff so thanks for entertaining my long response. I’d enjoy reading more specifics about your viewpoints.

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  6. This was a very objectively and reasoned review. Much more powerful coming from a woman which is an unfortunate thing given the accusations that if a man gives a negative review they must be misogynistic pigs who hates the sight of a super woman figure. Wonder Woman didnt have this problem because Gadot was comfortable enough to not need to go out there and try to make a cause of behaving like women were suffering a lack of strong portrayals.

    Thanks for writing a review that while hoping for he best you were still willing to call it as you see it. It s unfortunate that while this movie was entertaining and had its moments it failed miserably to do what it could have accomplished. Im sorry but I believe that a lot of it had to do with the performance of the lead character.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I still haven’t seen this. I made a promise to my kids that we would all see it together and then they both got sick. Now everyone is better and we are seeing it tomorrow. You’ve helped me keep my expectations in check! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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