Brandon Shillingford, Contributing Writer
I really wanted to love “Captain Marvel.” But the fact of the matter is, it isn’t very good. The film’s a messy, uninspired and formulaic superhero movie that’s been seen time and time again.
If there’s any group of people that deserved a win, it’s the filmmakers. From legions of sexist complaints about Brie Larson’s initiative to diversify the film’s press junket and wanting more people of color and women to see the movie, to pressure from fans who have been craving a female-led superhero movie after the success of “Wonder Woman,” no one envies Marvel’s task.
And all of this makes the reality of the situation even sadder.
Captain Marvel tells the story of former Air Force pilot Carol Danvers who, after an accident, wakes on Hala — a planet inhabited by the Kree — with no memories of her former life or idea of how she got there. There, she trains with them and becomes a warrior with powers unlike anything ever seen.
When this first act begins, we really get a sense of the movie’s pacing and structural problems. Right away, it drops the viewer right into the middle of her training with Kree commander Yon-Rogg, played by Jude Law. Viewers have no prior information regarding what the two are doing, their relationship or power dynamic. It felt as if the movie began an hour earlier and we just walked in during the second act.
From there, the film moves into a mission to find a character we know nothing about, with other Kree soldiers we know nothing about, to a planet we know nothing about. Viewers are then treated to the first of many poorly lit and choreographed action sequences as the shape-shifting Skrulls capture Danvers and separate her from the group.
She escapes and finds herself back on Earth where she must find and stop the Skrulls, who followed her from getting to a piece of hyperdrive technology invented by her mentor, played by the excellent but underutilized Annette Bening. There, she meets Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, and this is where the film finally picks up some steam.
Larson and Jackson’s chemistry is great. Watching them go back and forth as they try to uncover Danvers’ past is an absolute delight, but the main plotline is much less interesting than their dynamic.
The third act is thankfully much better, truly giving Larson an opportunity to shine. It confirms much of what we already know — mostly that she is a superstar that elevates any material she’s given. But the problem is, the film elements around her aren’t nearly as committed to the same quality.
My biggest problem with “Captain Marvel” is how derivative it is. It borrows from every element in the sci-fi-superhero textbook, from the production design, to the soundtrack to the cinematography. The color palette is basically identical to the vibrant and colorful “Guardians of the Galaxy,” but still manages to look ugly.
I can’t help but feel the movie would’ve benefited from a director with a much stronger visual eye and voice, like Karyn Kusama or Chloé Zhao. Whenever Marvel branches out and hires directors with actual visions like Ryan Coogler or Taika Waititi, the end result is always spectacular.
Kusama — the legendary mind behind the masterpiece “The Invitation” — would have offered an aesthetic and tone unlike anything we’ve seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And Zhao, who was recently tapped to direct Marvel’s “The Eternals” is an exciting newcomer. Following up her highly acclaimed 2017 debut “The Rider” with a blockbuster like “Captain Marvel” would’ve been an intriguing move.
Even with all of its flaws, I hope that “Captain Marvel” makes a ridiculous amount of money. It’s an important film and a big step forward for Marvel. Releasing its first female-led and co-directed film with a character who will lead the Marvel Universe, and mere months before “Avengers: Endgame,” is a bold move.
It’s a risk I hope pays off. But if “Captain Marvel” is a sign of what’s to come for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we may have to bail out a bit sooner than expected.