We were all concerned that Marvel had finally shat the bed when the media started rolling out the old “basement-dwelling neckbeard trolls are targeting the poor big-budget empowering lady movie” canard they used to drum up sympathy for the awful Ghostbusters reboot and the immensely disappointing The Last Jedi. A rumour circulated that two versions of the next Avengers film were in the can in case of fan backlash. Fears of cringe-inducing girl-power pandering papering over tepid writing were curdling, and the rather bland trailer didn’t help at all. Sadly, this means it’s hard to address the film entirely on its own merits. Well, we’ve seen Captain Marvel and it’s okay.
We are introduced to our hero Carol Danvers (played by Brie Larson) living as a superpowered amnesiac in a futuristic alien society, where she is training to be part of an elite fighting force defending the Kree civilisation against the goblin-like, shapeshifting Skrulls, led by Talos (Ben Mendelsohn). When a mission goes wrong, she ends up back on Earth in the ’90s and starts piecing her memory back together with the help of a digitally youthified Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson). Needless to say, all is not as it seems and there’s intrigue and revelations and then a great big fight where her powers are finally unleashed. We’ve all seen Marvel films, this is how they work.
What Marvel has going for its product is excellent quality control. Even the patchier entries are quite watchable. The scripting is lighthearted and fun and self-aware in a likeable way, and the performers are generally quite charismatic. In Captain Marvel, Jackson is as reliable as ever in providing his brand of surly yuks but Larson is left to play character with no definable character traits about as well as she can. The central problem with the script is that it wants Danvers to start from a low point, but it never wants her to seem anything less than confident and powerful. This and her lack of personal connections to anyone or anything combined with her amnesia leaves her as an almost totally blank slate. All you’re waiting for is for her to get her memory back and smash stuff.
The film tries a little too hard with the ’90s references, although there are some scenes involving older technology that will get a chuckle out of a Gen-X audience. The music choices are fine, if a little on-the-nose. Although, to be nitpicky, Carol Danvers left Earth in 1989 and is shown wearing a Guns ‘N’ Roses shirt in old photos, but all the music is Riot Grrl-influenced pop rock from the mid-’90s because that’s the tone the film wants and to Hell with characterisation. Maybe she does some radio-listening between scenes to catch up.
Fears that we were going to be subject to eye-rolling yougogirlery are unfounded. The film is studiously apolitical to an almost mindbending degree. What limited difficulty she has in terms of the old woman-in-a-man’s-world angle is there purely to show her general determination in a series of hazy montages as she tries to recall her past (much of which is her early childhood). If you were expecting a lecture, you won’t be getting one. In fact, the film is so blankly universal in its politics that with very little imagination it could even be seen to be pro-Brexit at one point (although I’m sure its makers would be mortified to hear that).
Captain Marvel is your basic Marvel film with every edge sanded right off it. It has some fun scenes that flesh out the series’ backstory, it’s perfectly pleasant, slots right into the series, and will be forgotten a day after you’ve seen it. It hasn’t ruined anything and you can happily watch it without fear the series has gotten woke and gone broke. Really, it’s fine. It’s just kind of bland.