On the eve of the Marvel Studios crown jewel unveiling, Avengers: Endgame, Captain Marvel looks to not only satiate the appetite of longtime MCU fans, but also bring on as many new ones as it can by capturing a new demographic. Somewhat similar to that of last year's Black Panther breathing down the neck of Avengers: Infinity War, Captain Marvel is tasked with being both culturally relevant and another strong link in the Marvel chain. And for the first time in what feels like years (2015), Marvel's newest film feels decidedly out of place.
Before digging too far into the trenches of where the film ultimately falters, it's important to recognize some of its achievements. Although it sticks mostly close to the MCU's tried-and-true cookie cutter formula for origin stories, this isn't necessarily a fault of the film, as there's a reason why these formulaic presentations continue to be well received by audiences and critics alike. (Surprise, people like cookies.) In terms of what Captain Marvel absolutely needed to achieve, it does exactly that. Brie Larson is a fun, albeit sometimes childish main heroine that comes off as easy to like, yet continuously has an air of mystery that should keep most folks tugging away to see at how the plot unravels. Samuel L. Jackson and Jude Law command most of the screen time that isn't already occupied my Larson's Carol Danvers, and their performances are sufficient, if not unremarkable. Jude Law's overall performance and dialogue delivery are the strongest that the film has to offer, however, his scenes were sporadically placed at best. A constant stream of his character would've benefited the film well, but given how they write him in and out of scenes for large portions of time, the justification behind this at least makes sense.
Samuel L. Jackson's reprisal of Nick Fury feels oddly out of place. It's hard to say whether or not his performance this time around was lacking, or if the Fury character was never really meant to command this large of a leading role. Whichever it is, Fury would've been best served to emulate something more akin to his role in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (i.e. more of an overseer, as opposed to one of the buddy cops). Although he never stoops to the level of a sore thumb, he spends a lot of time playing with a cat. I don't know how else to say it. Something just feels off.
Tonally, Captain Marvel is a bit of a grab bag. Sure, it's easy to digest as a whole of a film, but some of the dialogue and music choices end up doing more harm than good. The comedic bits end up hitting the mark at about half the time, and the music portions even less. Instead of making the music itself into a character (a la Guardians of the Galaxy), the overlay of 90's rock and pop hits feels lazily done, as if the rush of nostalgia alone was enough to justify its awkward inclusion. This is mostly apparent in any of the scenes that take place on Earth which, oddly, feel terribly reminiscent to that of 2011's Thor, and not in a good way. When the orchestral themes inevitably kick in is when Captain Marvel regains its stride and morphs back into the heroic display of action sequences that we've come to expect.
It's a shame though that it takes such a prolonged amount of time before Brie Larson's character finally becomes the crazily overpowered weapon that audiences were hoping to see. Once she's fully charged and dons the mohawk-displaying helmet is when things get fun, and I really wanted to see more of that. Even though she's mostly relegated to firing off energy beams from her fists, the sheer joy that's on display is what ultimately made the character endearing to watch. Although her power level is up there with the likes of the Vision and Thor, her growing pains in getting there feel more like that of Spider-Man or the first Iron Man film. This inherent clash of power and responsibility (yeah, I went there) creates for some interesting internal struggles that mostly entertains.
But for every piece of spectacle, there are a dozen other weird flashbacks, unpolished lines of dialogue, and generally hit-or-miss delivery. This results in some moments being incidentally funnier than they probably should be, and some forced jokes failing to elicit much of a response. It feels strange talking about a Marvel Studios film in 2019 and having to bring up these seemingly squashed issues. Captain Marvel is far, far away from being a bad film, and is mostly an enjoyable movie-going experience. Given Marvel's recent history of films spanning from 2016's Captain America: Civil War until the most recent Ant-Man and the Wasp from last year, it feels decidedly worse than its most recent predecessors. And again, that's not to say that the film is terrible, but Marvel has typically done a fantastic job with having each new installment bring something new while also feeling fresh. In its current state, Captain Marvel comes with quite a few awkward quirks that peg it solidly in the bottom third of Marvel's offerings, but had it tightened up the dialogue just a hard and cut out some of the extraneous attempts at humor, we'd have ourselves a solid middle entry to the franchise (which is high praise).
While there's probably a universe in which the struggles of Captain Marvel completely derail next month's fourth Avengers film, it certainly isn't this one. Like many excellent television series, not every single episode can be a home run. Captain Marvel isn't a filler by any means, but we all know that it isn't the main attraction. If there's one large piece of optimism that I'm walking away with, it's that I can't wait to see what the directors of Endgame (the Russo brothers) are able to do with her character.
Be sure to stay for those end credits scenes!
1-2: Horrendous, wouldn’t recommend watching even if free of charge.
3-4: Potentially has some good ideas, but overall still lackluster.
5-6: Average, a decently good time; go see it if it's free.
7-8: A solid recommendation, and well-rounded film; warrants a purchase after home release.
9: No glaring flaws; deserves to be watched multiple times.
10: Masterful, must-see; filmmaking at its finest.