When Marvel first announced their Phase 3 lineup of films at comic con, the two movies that received the loudest cheers were Avengers: Infinity War part 1 and part 2, and Captain Marvel. At the time, I was actually a bit more excited about Captain Marvel than I was about Infinity War, and Infinity War sounded awesome. It didn’t hurt that Kelly Sue DeConnick was still writing Carol’s solo series, and it was a very entertaining run. My excitement waned a lot between the announcement and the release though. Part of it was weaker writing for the comic series by Margaret Stohl, to the point where I stopped reading it entirely. I still looked forward to the movie mind you, just not as much.
Development for Captain Marvel began in May of 2013, with Nicole Perlman and Meg LeFauve both hired on as a writing team after they both submitted their own take on the character. Kevin Feige wanted the MCU’s first female centric movie to be about a new character to the MCU, instead of using an already introduced character like Black Widow. At the time, the movie was called Ms. Marvel, as the character hadn’t yet taken on the Captain Marvel name in the comics. The story would also borrow elements from the famous Kree-Skrull War storyline from the Avengers comics in the 70’s. Both writers would eventually move onto other projects, Perlman most notably writing Guardians of the Galaxy and the upcoming Pokémon Detective Pikachu.
Although the first planned release date was July of 2018, the movie was pushed back several times, partly because they wanted to iron out the script before they moved forward with casting. But the biggest delay was in choosing a director – in fact they cast Brie Larson in the title role well before they decided on a director. They approached Ana DuVernay to direct either Captain Marvel or Black Panther, but she turned them both down in favour of A Wrinkle In Time. They also considered indie film director Emily Carmichael, who also helped write Pacific Rim: Uprising. In the end, they hired Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who also took over as the primary writing team.
The movie wasn’t without its pre-release controversies, although how serious they were may depend on who you ask. The Rotten Tomatoes audience interest score took a serious hit with a number of people going out of their way to say “not interested”, which was somewhat misreported as review bombing even though it’s impossible to review a movie that’s not released yet on the site. This led to Rotten Tomatoes even removing that score from the website. The movie also received a 33% audience score on the website shortly after its release from more than 58,000 reviews on opening day. That’s more than Infinity War (a $2 billion dollar movie) received during its entire theatrical run. This on the other hand is a pretty clear example of review bombing, however I’m not buying the sexist argument, not when 2017’s Wonder Woman didn’t suffer review bombing. At least, nowhere close to this level.
However there is something to be said about focusing the MCU’s first female-led movie on Captain Marvel. I like the character, at least when she’s written well. But despite Marvel’s big push for this movie and her solo series, Carol Danvers isn’t actually that popular. Her solo series rarely sells over 20,000 copies per issue beyond number 4, and most Marvel titles are cancelled well before they reach 20,000 copies/issue sold or less.
The reaction to the first Captain Marvel trailer was fairly mixed, with naysayers complaining that Carol looked bored through most of the trailer. The CGI didn’t look that great either. In reverse, the movie’s defenders, and even some of the cast and crew, accused these naysayers of being sexist. As someone who wasn’t sold on the first trailer, these kinds of accusations are a turn-off for me. That further waned my excitement for a movie that I wanted to like. Another thing that waned my excitement was that a lot of people seemed to be ignoring all of the female focused superhero movies released in the past, even 2017’s Wonder Woman. Sure, movies like 2003’s Catwoman and 2005’s Elektra were terrible, and most people completely forgot about 1985’s Red Sonja (for good reason), but they exist. People are allowed to not like something for a number of reasons, and accusing them of being bigoted only creates needless division.
Yes, the review bombing was immature, but so were the accusations of sexism over what was mostly constructive criticism (I’m not denying that there’s no sexism here by the way). And I will say that I found the second trailer a lot more compelling than the first, helping sell the movie on me again.
Regardless of the controversy surrounding this movie’s release, it performed very well. It currently stands as the highest grossing movie of 2019 by a wide margin, earning over $1 billion and counting, on a budget of somewhere in the range of $152-$175 million. That makes this the most profitable Superhero movie starring a female character to date. By comparison, 2017’s Wonder Woman earned $821 million.
The critic score on Rotten Tomatoes currently rests at 78%, with an average score of 6.7/10, giving it somewhere between mixed to positive reviews. Some positive reviews include The New York Times, declaring “it’s not too long, not too self-important, and benefits from the craft and talent of a cast that includes Annette Benin, Jude Law, and Ben Mendelsohn.” The Los Angeles Times praised Larson’s performance and the directing. Richard Roeper gave the film 3.5/4, stating “It’s a real treat to see Carol Danvers find her footing and her wings, so to speak, while at the same time Nick Fury is taking the first steps towards becoming NICK FURY.” Rolling Stone praised Brie Larson’s performance.
Some of the less positive reviews include The Hollywood Reporter, writing “The picture is not dull, exactly, just mundane, marked by unimaginative plotting, cut-rate villains, a bland visual style and a lack of elan in every department.” Indie Wire gave it a C-, saying it’s “neither a blast from the past, nor an inspiring glimpse into the future … it’s just another Marvel movie. And not a particularly good one.” The A.V. Club called the film a disappointment. “It’s everything you might expect a sci-fi superhero movie to be, if you hadn’t seen one in a long time.” The New Yorker review said “Captain Marvel is like a political commercial – it packs a worthy message, but it hardly counts as an aesthetic experience. The message of the film is conveyed less through the story than through its casting.”
Like I said earlier, I wanted to like this movie. Despite how the character isn’t hugely popular in the comics, I do like Carol Danvers when she’s written well. She holds similar beliefs to Captain America, even if they don’t always agree. She can be a bit of a hothead, but she’s got a softer side to balance it out. She’s no genius, but she’s intelligent enough to be a capable leader and can solve problems based on her abilities. She’s also got a snappy sense of humour.
I didn’t really get any of that from the movie. She spends most of the movie believing she’s a warrior for the Kree, while suffering from forced amnesia. Because of this, you don’t get much of a sense of her beliefs or her motivations beyond what she’s been told to do. Save for the quiet moment she shares with Nick Fury (played by Samuel L Jackson in his biggest MCU role yet), you don’t get all that much humour from her. You also don’t get any of her hothead side because she spends most of the movie either following her orders like a soldier or being a bit confused about who she’s supposed to be.
The action, while not bad, is really unbalanced. Most of the fights are relatively small in scale, like the fight on top of a subway car, brief gunfights on strange planets, or the occasional chase scenes. Then you suddenly get to the climax where Captain Marvel unleashes her true power and single-handily fights off a small fleet of space ships. It not only makes the rest of the movie feel small by comparison, but it feels really anti-climactic when the main threat doesn’t stand a chance. It might even take the cake from Thor to make this the most anti-climactic MCU movie yet, even if some of the action leading up to that moment felt intense.
The story felt as if it’s partly there to fill in a bunch of blanks, as it it’s meant to set up Avengers: Endgame more than it is to tell its own story. The villains didn’t feel like anything special, and as much as including Ronan in the movie could have given us a good look at a younger Ronan, he’s barely in the movie. It made his inclusion kind of pointless. The closest thing we’ve got to a real villain is Jude Law as Yon-Rogg, who’s acting as a mentor for Carol within the Kree forces. He doesn’t really even feel like a villain. He clearly cares about Carol, it’s just that his dedication to the Kree Empire turns them into enemies at the end of the movie. Minn-Erva, who’s got a major rivalry with multiple Captain Marvels in the comics, is reduced to a jealous fellow Kree warrior. And Korath (who also appeared at the start of Guardians of the Galaxy) might as well not even be there. As for the Skrulls, I get what they were going for with turning them into refugees, but the movie took a major villain and turned them into victims. I’m not a fan of that direction. Beyond that, the story gets bogged down by several excessively long exposition scenes.
This movie also creates a couple of plot holes for the MCU as a whole. The one I’ll be focusing on goes back to Captain America: Winter Soldier, where Nick Fury states “the last time I trusted someone, I lost an eye.” He sounded angry when he said that. Furthermore, there’s a picture of Nick Fury being promoted to the director of SHIELD after repelling a bunch of rebels in Bogota. That picture shows Fury with both of his eyes open and unharmed. I won’t spoil how it happened, but this movie shows how Fury lost his eye, and it’s both too early to match up with Winter Soldier, and it’s not the kind of thing he’d ever be that angry about.
With all that said, there are things I like about this movie. Captain Marvel’s best scenes are when you’re watching Larson and Jackson interact. They’ve got a good chemistry going as unlikely allies turned friends. The scenes with a young, inexperienced Agent Coulson are also entertaining. The 90’s songs added to the soundtrack really help make this movie feel like it’s from the 90’s, even if “Just a girl” playing when Captain Marvel unleashes her potential is a bit too on the nose.
(Bringing in the flerken cat straight out of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s run may be
the best thing this movie did)
Overall, I though this movie was on the upper end of ok. I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I wanted to, nor do I think it’s nearly as bad as its naysayers say. Despite the uneven scope of the action, most of it is fun to watch. Goose, the flerken/cat, is awesome. And it’s great to see that not only does Jackson have a major role as Nick Fury, but he’s just as charismatic as ever. But the things I generally appreciate the most about my favourite movies are the character and the story, and when both the title character and the story feel mediocre at best , that seriously holds back what is otherwise a decent movie. Larson doesn’t really show that much emotion in the movie, and I know she’s capable of an emotional performance. She was very good in “Room”.
I personally know a lot of people who really enjoyed this movie though, and by no means am I trying to take that away from them. If you enjoyed Captain Marvel, that’s great. I was personally hoping for a lot more than what we got. I feel that it’s the weakest of the Phase 3 MCU movies so far, although it’s still better than Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World.
Avengers: Endgame releases this weekend, and I can’t think of another movie I’m more excited about. Considering we’re getting Toy Story 4, Star Wars episode 9: The Rise of Skywalker, John Wick Chapter 3 and others, that’s saying a lot.