By Jim Slotek
First let’s address the elephant in the chat-room.
That a superhero who’s been male in the comic books in the past (but not always) is Marvel’s first female feature film protagonist is one of the few interesting things about the by-the-book superhero movie Captain Marvel.
I mean seriously, all you outraged movie fanboys. A female super-hero who flies through space, and fires concussive flames from her hands? C'mon, only men can do that! It's biology, am I right?
It’s not like there’s a ton of character development in Captain Marvel, a movie that, like most other Marvel origin stories these days, is simply narrative glue for the next Avengers movie (they even announce her upcoming Avengers appearance onscreen at the end). But Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) – Air Force pilot turned amnesiac space warrior – does have memory-flashes of empowering past life moments, (like when she dusted herself off from a vicious brushback pitch in Little League, or drove a Go-Kart too fast and flipped it), that empower her all over again now that she can destroy things and right wrongs. It’s unsubtle, but at least it’s recognizably human motivation that doesn’t involve somebody killing your uncle.
But here’s how that plays out in Marvel trope fashion. Our heroine is accidentally drenched in space radiation (courtesy of a cube-shaped alien MacGuffin we’ve seen before) and attains super-powers she only slowly comes to fulfill. She’s frequently knocked unconscious and captured, awakening to find herself tied up in “inescapable” bonds. Then she has an empowering memory flash, realizes her capabilities and blasts her way out. Rinse. Repeat.
That said, just because something is a trope doesn’t mean it isn’t still effective, or at least watchable (at a mere two hours at least – thank you co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck for not stretching this out to typical overlong Marvel length just to show off more noisy CGI).
There are some fun aspects to this movie though. Like…
-The soundtrack. The movie is set in the ‘90s, with tunes from grrrl oriented groups like Hole, Garbage and No Doubt. You’ve really do have to have a problem with a woman superhero if you aren’t stoked by Brie Larson explosively kicking butt while Gwen Stefani sings Just A Girl (which turns out to be the best female fight song since Bad Reputation in Kick-Ass).
-The low-tech ‘90s “cutting edge” ‘90s S.H.I.E.L.D. gizmos.
-There’s a space kitty named Goose with unexpected abilities of its own.
-And there’s the twenty-years-younger participation of SHIELD’s Agent Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and a rookie Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg). Seriously, what veteran actor would say no to a movie role that digitally erases your wrinkles?
Ironically, supporting character Fury may rightfully claim to have the most dramatic character arc in the film, since he goes from not believing in aliens to not only believing in them, but sorting some first thoughts that we know will become the Avengers Initiative.
As we meet Captain Marvel, she’s “Vers,” a warrior for the alien Kree empire, trained by a brutal mentor named Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) and engaged in her ostensible home world’s galactic war against the Skrulls, shapeshifters who infiltrate planets and look like Ferengi with skin conditions and on steroids. When an away mission goes very wrong, she ends up in Skrull custody and her brain is scanned for info regarding a much-desired “light speed” technology, which supposedly has been developed by a scientist (Annette Bening) on an otherwise uninteresting planet we call Earth.
Are you with me so far?
After escaping and crashing through the roof of a Blockbuster Video outlet (talk about establishing your movie’s timeframe with authority), Vers interacts with security guards, military authorities, our pals Fury and Coulson, myriad Skrulls in positions of power on Earth and friends she didn’t know she had in a previous life.
Soon we’re left with some question as to who the bad guys really are, and our heroine must reconcile her future as a superhero.
The only thing that feels new about Captain Marvel is its protagonist’s gender. And as with Superman, I wonder about the dramatic limitations of such a godlike superhero.
But Larson seems born to wear the “laser-tag suit” (as it’s described by one character). We might get some interesting moments out of her before superhero-fatigue finally takes its long overdue toll.
Captain Marvel. Co-directed and co-written by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. Starring Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Jude Law. Opens wide Thursday, March 7.