After years of Marvel fans begging for crumbs of representation, we were given Captain Marvel. There were moderate to good performances, coupled with a story that struggled to find it’s way. To borrow from Chernobyl’s ill-fated Anatoly Dyatlov, it was “not great, not terrible”…it just was.
Even before it was released, this movie was always going to have a tough time. Marvel has an incredibly checkered history with female representation in their gargantuan universe. It took years before fans were given a Black Widow solo movie. Before that, the sole non-male Avenger was often portrayed as hyper-sexualized and rarely given her own agency in relation to the men around her. Combine that with dead mothers, damsels in distress, and just general lack of screen time, and you have a franchise that has clearly pandered to the male gaze for the majority of its run.
With that background established, let’s return to Captain Marvel. It was billed as an adventure film set in the 90s, ready to pander to the generation raised on Blockbuster’s endless supply of videos, with phenomenal women who broke barriers as US Air Force fighter pilots. It has to be said that Brie Larson, who played the titular role in this Marvel entry, is an incredibly talented actress in her own right. It was just hard to see her almost solely responsible for carrying this entire movie without a lot of consistent support. She clearly shone in this starring role, and it’s shame that she was never fully given a chance to lead which she’s evidently so capable of.
The movie really suffered from the callbacks to earlier events in the Marvel timeline. I’ll admit that I personally am still holding a grudge against Marvel for how they’ve handled Phil Coulson. I will equally admit that it was great to see Clark Gregg returning to this role. A de-aged Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury was a riot. All of that being said, the movie felt more focused on just giving these old, familiar characters screen-time rather than using them to tell a compelling story. The case in point for me was the revelation about Fury’s eye, and the fact that he lost it to Goose the Flerken, who masquerades in the human world as a cat. It cheapened Fury’s line about losing his eye the last time he trusted someone.
The story itself was more than a bit of a mess. Of course Marvel isn’t known for it’s very complex, tightly told stories, but this one was a bit out there even for them. It’s always a challenge to bring other-worldly stakes and characters down to an Earthly level. Getting into alien politics and alien colonization doesn’t necessarily compel viewers to make connections to these very real problems in our very real world. Instead, it can produce glazed eyes or not-so-subtle eye rolling. The plight of the Skrull against the Kree didn’t really provoke a lot of deep thought, neither was the plot twist involving which aliens we were supposed to cheer for particularly compelling. Perhaps too much to expect from a Marvel movie.
Captain Marvel was perhaps one of the clearest examples of what I’ve dubbed the Marvel Villain Problem. Jude Law is another incredibly talented actor. It’s just a shame he wasn’t given much to do. There were certainly compelling moments, but he ultimately made no impact. That fact that he was controlled by a mysterious, unseen source only made his motivations and actions less clear and compelling.
What this movie needed a lot more of were the new supporting cast of characters. In particular, Monica Rambo (Lashana Lynch) needed far more screen time because she was one of the best parts of the movie. Her friendship with Carol was so moving, and a terrific example of why we need more female friendships in our movies. The great Annette Bening was sadly regulated to a holographic projection of a memory of a character who actually had a fascinating story that we really never got to delve into.
Ultimately, what made Captain Marvel such a disappointment was the massive amount of potential it had. There was the seed of a compelling story about sexual harassment that women face every day, that was immediately shied away from. It needed way more fighter pilot content, especially since they consulted with Brig. General Jeannie Leavitt, the U.S. Air Force’s first female fighter pilot. Hopefully The Marvels will give a much-needed second chance for a lovable and empowering character that we never really got to know.
Captain Marvel is available to stream on Disney+.