Captain Marvel is both far better than the trailers implied and well below my expectations for a 21st MCU film. It’s completely unextraordinary; undeserving of the laughable online controversy that led up to its release.
But that doesn’t mean being “just fine” is okay. Ant-Man gets away with the “just fine” moniker because being a sideshow to the main course is part of its DNA. Captain Marvel is supposed to be a very important appetizer in anticipation of the main course of Avengers: Endgame. Instead, it left me wishing the big Avengers finale didn’t shove another hero into the mix at all.
On its own merits as a standalone film, Captain Marvel’s plot is pretty successful. It handles the trademark Marvel origin story expertly, counting as an introduction for both Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel and Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury. It sticks to a formula, but an interesting turn in the second half livens up the cast of characters and reinforces a strong message about war.
As the 21st one of these things, though, Captain Marvel doesn’t feel as surefooted as you’d hope. The action is largely a dark mish-mash of blurry movement and CG that expresses nothing other than “pre-requisite action time is happening now, please stand by.” It baffles me how so many of the Marvel films manage to be bad action films, and Captain Marvel is near the top of that list.
These poor action scenes make this character—who is supposed to be the hero team’s ace-in-the-hole for Avengers: Endgame—a hard sell. Brie Larson seems to be doing her best here, but she looks very uncomfortable in that super suit.
Another hard sell is the setting. Captain Marvel was pitched as a bit of a 1990s period piece, but outside of a few gags and some 90s songs awkwardly shoved into all the action scenes, you could have fooled me. The setting is just another way that Captain Marvel fails to maintain a strong identity.
I’m glad Captain Marvel isn’t a bad film. I’m glad there’s very little here for internet trolls to credibly grab onto as some sign of conspiracy (although they certainly will anyway). I’m glad for my time with this film, because it genuinely tells a solid story and had a handful of laugh-out-loud moments.
But I’m still disappointed in Marvel Studios here. Captain Marvel is important as a female-led superhero movie and an intro to a hero who feels (in terms of the overall Avengers plot) largely unnecessary. With everything to prove, it would have been huge for this film to knock it out of the park. Instead, we got a leisurely jog to first base, with the lingering question of whether Avengers: Endgame can complete the play.