On the planet of Kree, Vers (Brie Larson) is an impressive female warrior. Tutored by special forces leader Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), he promotes her to active duty when his team infiltrates the planet of the Skrulls. Ordered with extracting an undercover spy, things go awry when Vers is captured by the Skrulls. Placed on a machine that can read her memories, it is then revealed that unbeknownst to her, Vers previously had a different life on a different planet…
Managing to escape, Vers finds herself stranded on 1990’s Earth, where she meets a pre-Avengers Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jacskon). However with the Skrulls still chasing her, Vers must act quickly if she is to uncover her hidden past before she is caught.
… feels like a late arrival to an already crowded party.
With barely months to go until the arrival of the concluding Avengers saga, ‘Captain Marvel’ feels like a late arrival to an already crowded party. Following on from the global success of DC’s ‘Wonder Woman’, ‘Captain Marvel’ is Marvel’s first female-centric origin story. Keen to recapture the feminist zeitgeist that surrounded ‘Wonder Woman’ and ‘Black Panther’s ‘event’ as opposed to movie status, Marvel has striven to bake-in this character’s feminist credentials. However, in promising to deliver a forward-thinking female protagonist, the ultimate responsibility of its impact still rests with the actual story and its characters – and in this regard, the sober reality is less than promised.
In a film that relies heavily on flashbacks and short cuts from the outset, this economic approach to character development is unfortunately one that permeates throughout. Home snaps and super-impositions tease at Vers’s former life but when the plot actually unfolds, the film never lingers on how she actually feels. So, stripped of any scenes of that show genuine emotion like fear, guilt or betrayal, Brie Larson’s Vers comes across as a character who starts as a distant warrior, only to become a more powerful one.
Given this one-note character arc, the real entertainment of ‘Captain Marvel’ is to be found at the fringes. Ever mindful of the impending ‘Avengers: Endgame’, Marvel takes the additional running time of ‘Captain Marvel’ and delivers an extra origin story, that of Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury. Played mainly for laughs, Jackson’s hard-as-nails Fury is rendered with a softer hue which, whilst at odds with his previously growly insertions, provides a much-needed comic relief to the main narrative. Add to this also, the genuinely subversive character of Ben Mendelsohn’s Talos and a mischievous cat called Goose (expressly renamed for Top-Gun devotees) and these become welcome changes to Marvel’s tried and trusted origin template. That said, with its brief homages to 1990’s counter-culture and a millennial-friendly playlist welded to every fight or chase scene, the real business of ‘Captain Marvel’ quickly returns to its default setting.
With a storyline that flounders somewhere between ‘Thor’ and ’Superman’, Brie Larson’s Vers is a role that ultimately orbits a philosophical black hole. With its need to deliver on both gender rebuttal and spectacle, the earliest casualty is character development. With little or no actual heroic acts, sacrifices or risks to her well being or her values, ‘Captain Marvel’ trades inner growth for “sass”. In a portrayal that is custom built to reach an un-catered for audience, it’s this sense of self-acknowledgement that starts to distance rather than embrace you. Whereas Spiderman, Batman and others wrestled with the consequences of their powers, Captain Marvel wields hers as a punchline to any argument. It’s in this respect ‘Captain Marvel’ the movie completely misses Vers’s personality in the process. Whereas ‘Aliens’s’ Ellen Ripley used her feminism to cut through all the testosterone around her, here it is left to ‘Captain Marvel’s’ supporting cast to describe her past values rather than have the movie show them. As a result, this self-conscious origin story ultimately drowns out its own central narrative with its admirable desire to ring the thematic changes.
So, whilst this is a movie that neither lacks in technical zeal or visual élan, ‘Captain Marvel’ ultimately becomes a film whose colour-by-numbers approach to characterisation is the true nemesis for its titular heroine. With no real risk or threat to herself, this cinematic appendice sadly feels like a missed opportunity and a late plot inclusion at best.
How do I know? -Trust me, you’ll remember this one for the cat but not much else.