Review of Captain Marvel: A Midling Movie -or- The Benefits of Being the Butt of the Joke

Right off the bat, let’s address the elephant in the room concerning this movie. While promoting the movie there was a plethora of comments and sound bites from Brie Larson about diversity and white male journalists. And naturally the internet exploded with vitriol. Who knew the internet was an opinionated place? But, I ignored it. I only cared about two things: the movie . . . and why is Brie Larson slowly transforming into Diane Kruger?

Images from Celebmafia and Getty Images

Before moving into spoiler territory, this is my brief, IMO, spoiler-free, TL;DR review: The movie firmly falls into the “It’s Fine” category. Nothing special. Nothing horrible. Nearly every story beat is predictable with minimal twists on the superhero movie formula. It has neat action. It has some jokes. It tries for heart, but misses. Captain Marvel follows in the wake of Wonder Woman, but without a seasoned hand like Patty Jenkins to guide the movie, it falls short of what it could have been. Influenced by other Marvel movies like Guardians and Captain America, but ends up in the mid-tier.

Okay, with that out of the way, the rest of the review will have some spoilers. Cool?

Marvel has always impressed me with casting, seeing something in an actor that could shine. If you look back, they cast the unstable wild card to be Iron Man, the banana in his ass comedian as Captain America, the unknown dead George Kirk to be Thor, and the pudgy schlub from Parks & Rec as Star Lord.

Images from Daily Mail, Not Another Teen Movie, Star Trek, and NBC

So when Brie was announced, I was excited. I loved her in Scott Pilgrim, The United States of Tara, 21 Jump Street and Kong: Skull Island. I was wondering what the Marvel casting team saw in her. But, after watching the flick, I think what they saw was her left shoulder, constantly pointing towards the camera, in a 3/4 square stance. The below pics don’t do justice. She loves to run/storm into frame, put her left shoulder forward, and make fists.

Images from Marvel

The movie is a pretty good action flick. It tries for comedy, and some jokes hit. But, you can also tell that the movie tried to be like Guardians, but with the 90’s instead of the 70’s. But, it never quite hits. (There’s even a scene where we’re in her head and Nirvana’s “Come as You Are” is playing. But since she disappeared from earth in 1989 and returned in 1995 . . . she shouldn’t know that song.) James Gunn brought a pathos to Guardians of the Galaxy and to his characters. A deep, personal pain to each of them which was masked in comedy. Something we the audience can relate to. But, the Captain Marvel movie is devoid of such depth.

The movie also tries to be a buddy cop flick with Marvel and Nick Fury, and that never really gels. And while Mr. Jackson is perfectly fine, the Fury you know from other movies is gone, and is replaced with this younger, dorky version who is the butt of Carol Danvers’ jokes and jibes. This self-described Retired Colonel turned Spy turned SHIELD Agent gets all gooey whenever that stupid cat is on screen “Who’s a widdle widdle good kitty kitty?”. (Yes, he says crap like that. A lot. And it sucks. And I have a cat.) The other sticking point is that Jackson and the rest of SHIELD, accept alien existence really, really quickly. I know the story needed to keep going, but as the directors/writers hand waved that bit away, I knew I was just along for the ride. Stuck in the backseat and forced to suffer bad choices. (see Fury’s missing eye here). This choice also retcon’s Fury’s speech in Avengers when he tells them that SHIELD is developing new weapons and tech because of Thor, and up until he arrived, they thought they were alone in the universe.

The movie is in essence a discovery of personal strength. You know, “the power was in you the whole time, you just had to believe” trope. As Cap Marvel AKA “Vers” discovers her past on earth, she starts to remember her old life, and there are actually very touching moments between her and her old wingman, Lashana Lynch’s “Maria Rambeau” and Maria’s daughter, Monica. When her best friend comes back, after 6 years of presumed death, Lynch’s reaction and performance is amazing

. . . and then, then they had to ruin it.

You see a few scenes later, the dialogue forces Larson to say something like “I don’t even know who I am anymore!!” Ugh. To which Lynch is forced into the other dead horse of bad writing by listing the protagonists superlatives. “You’re Carol Danvers! The bravest, strongest, and most amazing person I’ve ever known!”

I literally had my hand over my face during that scene in abject shock and cringe during this stilted scene. And for some reason, I couldn’t get the scene out of my head from Face/Off when Sean Archer is now wearing Caster Troy’s face and freaks out. His (Sean’s) best friend and partner Tito, has to remind of who he was. “You’re Sean ARCHER!!” You know, another black character reminding the white lead of their inner strength. Blah.

***Special shout out to Ben Mendleson as Talos, leader of the Skrulls. He chews the scenery and has some of the best lines and scenes. His character is given oodles more comedy, pathos, and depth. All this despite being forced to wear a mask that forced him to mumble and slur. Truth be told, if he was a new addition to The Guardians, I would totally be down.***

But since watching the movie, I’ve been trying to figure out what about Captain Marvel didn’t work for me. She was strong, she had some humor, she was snarky, she was committed. So what was it that made me, at best, iffy? And then it hit me. She, or likely the writing/directing team, refused to allow Captain Marvel to have humility.

What do I mean by that? Well, IMO, one of the reasons that the MCU characters have been so accessible, and thus successful, is because of their relatability and their humility. No, we’re not gods, super soldiers, or billionaire tech geniuses. But we are people who seek our father’s approval, feel weak, or mask our inferiority complexes with humor and narcissism. But beyond that, the characters are willing to be the butt of the joke.

Tony Stark blasted himself into the ceiling learning to fly while his robot sprayed him with an extinguisher. Thor was knocked out several times by being hit by a car, and even got a hypodermic needle in the ass mid-tough guy speech. Steve Rodgers was a scrawny, virgin, twerp who never learned to talk to women. Even in later flicks, Peter Quill is perpetually the butt of the joke. Steve Lang is constantly being mocked. Even T’Challa gets laughed at by his sister and his closest allies.

Carol Danvers doesn’t. She’s like a white-girl Vin Diesel who isn’t allowed to look foolish.

Think back on Wonder Woman. In DC’s first female led flick, Diana embodies power, poise, grace, and duty. But, she also has scenes of tenderness and humility. Remember laughing at her when she sees a baby? When she’s trying on dresses? Or when she marches out of the dress shop with a sword and shield? Funny stuff. Because the character was a fish out of water, there are moments when its okay to laugh at your protagonist. Because they kick so much butt later.

Image from Wonder Woman

Now maybe there’s a scene or two I’m forgetting which refutes these thoughts, and I’m willing to give the flick a second shot. But I think that by trying to make her a cinematic icon, they did a disservice by not allowing us to laugh at her, then cheer her later. I mean, even Rey got made fun of.

Image from Lucas Film/Disney

Another perfect example to illustrate my point in recent memory is Spider Man, Into the Spiderverse. The movie follows the standard superhero formula of newbie, incident, learning, falling, then succeeding. And Miles Morales is CONSTANTLY the butt of the joke. But, his story has style, flair, development, action, humor, and it will heart-punch you right in the feels. That’s why it beat Pixar for best animated movie in 2018, and why it will long be remembered when Captain Marvel is in the discount bin.

Image from Sony

I wondered if I was off base with my opinion of Captain Marvel. I am, after all, a white male (wocka wocka?). But once I started sifting through the reviews, I noticed a trend in the “left-leaning”/progressive websites. Some of them were not happy with the movie; seemingly upset that the movie was not what they had wanted it to be. On Metacritic, sites like Slate, Vox, Slant, The Guardian, Time, and the NY Post all had Captain Marvel in the 60% or below category. Some had titles like, “Finally, Women Have Their Own Mediocre Marvel Movie” (Slate), or “Captain Marvel Deserves a Better Movie” (Vox).


But they aren’t wrong. 60% is about where it falls for me. I think there was a lot of potential in the movie But IMO, the short development cycle to get it out before Avengers: Endgame hurt the movie.

But, these are just my opinions. If you like the movie, GREAT! Don’t let me, or anyone else, tell you otherwise. Like what you like, love what and who you love.

Live long and strong