TV and Film

REVIEW: Captain Marvel (2019)

By Timeyin Nikoro

March 19th, 2019

For a movie that possesses a tagline as galvanising as “Higher, Further, Faster”, the Marvel Cinematic Universe ‘s most recent outing reveals itself to be a rather lacklustre affair. Whilst Captain Marvel, isn’t an awful film by any stretch of the imagination, it is undoubtedly plagued by a number of rudimentary script/story issues reminiscent of the MCU’s first wave of films. Unfortunately for Brie Larson and co, Captain Marvel falls prey to the insurmountable odds of the Marvel’s formidable track record and its positioning within the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole. As the precursor to the highly anticipated Avengers Endgame, fans would not be amiss in expecting Captain Marvel to provide the audience with a wealth of crucial narrative information. Unfortunately, directing duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck provide the audience with an unexceptional addition to the MCU, almost entirely divorced from the happenings of the MCU’s greater story. Whilst Captain Marvel’s self contained nature doesn’t automatically hamper the movie quality wise, it does hinder the movie’s capacity to generate buzz going into Avengers Endgame. The movies lack of connective tissue combined with its rather unexceptional story, both contribute to Captain Marvel’s relatively forgettable nature.

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Conceptually, following Marvels initial announcement, Captain Marvel seemed on track to be a bona fide hit. With fans foaming at the mouth following the announcement of the cinematic returns of fan favourites such as Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick fury and Clark Gregg’s Phil Coulson. Newcomers such as JUDe Even Guardians of The Galaxy’s ill-used and under-utilised villains, Ronan The Accuser and Korath were poised to achieve genuine redemption. Captain Marvel also boasts a pretty strong basic premise — “an extraterrestrial Kree warrior who finds herself caught in the middle of an intergalactic battle between her people and the Skrulls. Living on Earth in 1995, she keeps having recurring memories of another life as U.S. Air Force pilot Carol Danvers. With help from Nick Fury, Captain Marvel tries to uncover the secrets of her past while harnessing her special superpowers to end the war with the evil Skrulls.” However, the movie undercuts all the good faith earned by such announcements and undermine’s its robust story premise, by its poor execution.

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Out of all of Captain Marvels moving parts, only a few elements truly live up to their potential. Characters such as Samuel L. Jacksons return to the character of Nick Fury, Ben Mendelsohn’s Talos, Lashana Lynch’s Maria Rambeau and Akira Akbar’s Monica Rambeau, all establish themselves as the movie’s standout performances. Samuel L. Jackson in particular, shines in his expanded role as Nick Fury. Throughout the entirety of Captain Marvel, the character proves himself to be the highlight of the movie. More often than not, Captain Marvel serves almost as a back-door origin movie for Nick Fury than it does for Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel. Despite the script providing few opportunities for character development , Samuel L. Jackson’s charisma elevates a vastly underwritten character and potentially bland role. Samuel L. Jackson’s charm and screen presence does much (if not all) of the heavy lifting, simultaneously stealing every scene whilst also bolstering all the characters within his immediate vicinity. His dynamic performance is infectious and injects each character in his midst with a new sense of vitality and vibrancy, which in turn propels the movie even in its dullest moments. Samuel L. Jackson’s is even enough to distract from films sillier moments such as Nick Fury’s absurd relationship with Goose the cat. Although such a relationship seems incongruous with the Nick Fury fans know and love, Samuel L. Jackson’s charm is able to sell their relationship well enough to distract even the most cynical movie-goers.

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Their chemistry provides the film with the bulk of its comedic moments and despite its inherent absurdity, the unlikely pairing ranks amongst the films most delightful treats. Where Captain Marvel misfires in its handling of Nick fury, is its few hollow attempts to use the character as the connective tissue to greater MCU. At various points during the films conclusion, directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck endeavour to broaden the mythos of the MCU’s origin, in addition Nick Fury’s own origins. However, a vast majority of these creative decisions range from passable to downright obnoxious. Some of these decisions even go as far as undercutting and denigrating the very mythos/origin it sought to enrich. Two choice’s in particular are sure to garner a sizeable amount of pushback from the audience.

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Lashana Lynch’s Maria Rambeau and Akira Akbar’s Monica Rambeau serve as Carol’s emotional tether, providing the audience with the films greatest insight into Carol Danvers’s otherwise rather muddied character. Although fleeting, the sparse moments spent establishing the between the pair are enough to develop the character of Carol Danvers slightly beyond the smarmy and brazen caricature the audience is presented with. Maria Rambeau’s difficulty processing Carol’s supposed death and return delivers the crux off the film’s emotional core. Whereas Lashana Lynch’s performance helps soften Carol through a lens of friendship, Akira Akbar’s performance develops Carol through their pseudo-familial relationship. The connection between the two characters wondrously catapults Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers beyond the rigid and arduous performance Brie Larson presents the audience with for a large portion of the film. Every moment the audience with Akira Akbars Monica Rambeau inundated with an enthralling sense of wonder and charm. Akbars magnetic performance brings out the best in Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers, their relationship does an abundance of the legwork in terms of humanising the character and developing Carol beyond the loose collection of character traits established early on in the film.

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Whilst Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel is peppered with a number of delightful performances which elevate the rather bland script, the performances of the supporting cast is not enough enough to save the film from mediocrity. Unfortunately, the biggest hinderance to Captain Marvel is Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers. Regrettably, the character suffers from a number of problems stemming from both the script and Larson’s rather wooden performance. Much like the rest of the characters, the script provides the character of Carol Danvers with few opportunities for Brie Larson to truly show off her talents, the only difference here is that a number of the supporting cast is able infuse their characters with enough personality to elevate their characters. The same cannot be said for Larson’s performance as Carol Danvers, throughout the majority of the film Larson’s portrayal of Carol is incredibly stiff and emotionless. When Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel isn’t being humanised by her supporting cast, Larson’s acting remains utterly bereft of emotion and personality. Larson’s uninspired performance even goes as far as to lack heart, the character remains utterly devoid of a moral centre. The character is at her best when being bolstered by the strength of her supporting cast, the few instances she demonstrates a palpable personality are the moments where she is allowed to bounce off of her supporting casts spirited performances.

The script further compounds Brie Larson’s flavourless representation of Carol Danvers through its poor characterisation. The script does an atrocious job at clearly defining the character at start of the film, nor does it fare in any better at demonstrating the character undergoing any significant character changes. The screenwriters fail to provide the character with a distinctive personality and subsequently fails at helping the audience to understand the character much further than a surface level. For example, script repeatedly attempts to convince the audience of Carol’s inability to the control her emotions, abilities and obey orders without actually allowing the character demonstrate any evidence of these faults through her own actions. The script then furthers the problem by its inability to provide the character with a storyline that allows these supposed character traits to be addressed, analysed or decontextualised through clever storytelling and a strong character arch. As such, the movie also fails to provide the character with a tangible character arc in which the protagonists morality and psyche is tested. This results in the scripts failure to provide Carol Danvers with a genuine hero moment, in which she is able to demonstrate the ideals she stands for. Nor those the script allow the character to develop or demonstrate any sort of driving force/motivation that allows the audience to understand what make the character work. Carol Danvers ultimately remains a loose collection of character traits, without possessing any substance or narrative depth. Her rather bland portrayal poses a large problem for a script which halfheartedly attempts to convince the audience that its main character is some sort of emotionally unstable and rogue maverick.

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As such, the characterisation of Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel pales in comparison to the rest of the heroes which populate the MCU. Such a problem is rather perplexing as Marvel Studios usually have a knack for ingratiating their protagonists in the eyes of their audience and providing fans with stellar characterisation for their main heroes. Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s inability to grasp the character of Captain Marvel is rather worrying considering, considering Kevin Feige’s intention to make the character a significant tentpole franchise in the MCU moving forward. As it stands the character as currently presented is incapable of anchoring her own film, much less the wider MCU.

A large portion of Carol Danvers poorly developed characterisation and somewhat muted portrayal can be attributed to the movies narrative structure. In a bid to circumvent the audiences supposed origin story fatigue, the movie ventures to present the audience with an almost fully formed hero whose backstory is told in notably roundabout way. Whilst such an approach to the characters backstory benefits the film by allowing the movie to hit the ground running, maintain a steady pace and offer the audience a refreshing reinvention of the MCU’s typical approach to a protagonists beginnings; the script just simply isn’t sophisticated enough to present the audience with a near fully formed character while simultaneously providing the audience with opportunities to actually connect with/develop a relationship with the protagonist and form a significant understanding of the character they are currently faced with.

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Captain Marvel’s attempts to reinvent traditional storytelling by revealing Carol’s backstory in a non-linear fashion, also undercuts the film by transforming the character of Carol into a Mary-Sue like figure. Seeing as Carol Danvers begins the film as a hyper capable alien soldier who’s gifted with extraordinary abilities that are quickly established as surpassing anything her compatriots and foes a capable off. As such film fails to establish any significant stakes as the character rarely feels as if she’s in any real danger or incapable of achiever her goals. The majority of Carols external obstacles are easily circumvented or overcome through the use of her immensely vague abilities or by her. A quality which is intensified through the films lack of power-balancing systems, nerfs and antagonists that are able to match or challenge her abilitie During the few times the movie seeks to provide some sort of obstacle or threat to Carol’s extensive abilities, Captain Marvel simply overcome’s said obstacle through increased brute force, or by simply attaining a new level of power and mastery over her abilities. The movies challenges with Carols power scaling are worsened by its failure to clearly establish or define her power-set and limitations (or lack thereof). Thus, the film undermines its own dramatic tension and severely minimises the stakes, as her powers become a deus ex machina through which the character is able to solve almost all of her problems.

Featuring such an clearly overpowered character doesn’t necessarily mean that a narrative is inherently incapable operating with adequate stake or tension, but it does mean that the writers must find new ways to garner and retain the audience’s investment in the narrative. A surefire way to ensure and retain the audiences engagement with a narrative in the absence of heightened physical stakes/tension, is through internal conflicts and introspective character arcs. However, Captain Marvel exacerbates this issue through its inability to provide, explore or reveal any real character flaws/internal threats in its protagonist. Thus leaving the audience with an increasingly mediocre movie which is centred around an uninteresting, underdeveloped and rather one note protagonist.

Brie Larson in Captain Marvel (2019)

Score: 7.00/10

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