Captain Marvel is the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The story follows Vers (Brie Larson), a soldier of the spacefaring Kree civilization, who develops (after some initial struggles) the ability to project energy from her body.
After being captured by the Skrulls, a race of shapeshifters with whom the Kree are at war, Vers discovers she has memories of another life as a human USAF fighter pilot on Earth named Carol Danvers. The Skrulls are seeking Dr. Wendy Lawson (Annette Bening), a scientist on Earth who is developing a faster-than-light (FTL) drive which could give whichever side possesses it a massive strategic advantage. Vers, now separated from her comrades, must venture to Earth and find Lawson and the FTL drive before the Skrulls do. Along the way, she must figure out whom to trust, master her powers, and uncover which of her two identities is the real one.
If my description does not do the plot justice, the story is admittedly hard to explain and make sense of, especially early on when a lot of exposition is thrown at the audience very quickly. The narrative becomes a bit more coherent once the main character arrives on Earth, through the roof of a Blockbuster Video store.
Captain Marvel is set in the 1990s. It’s official: the ‘90s are now long enough ago that we can do period pieces about the era. Although, it is not so much a period piece as relentlessly clobbering the audience over the head with references to the ‘90s (and some from the ‘80s for good measure). It’s weird seeing a period that I lived through presented this way. In fact, since they filmed some scenes on the SkyTrain, I may have literally been there in the ‘90s.
Captain Marvel serves as a prequel to many of the other Marvel movies, and we get to see Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) in his younger years back when he still had both eyes. He arguably overshadows the main character. (This is Samuel L. Jackson we’re talking about, but still.) Truth be told, Captain Marvel herself is a bit bland. No aspect of her appearance, personality, or powers really sets her apart. She wears red, blue, and gold spandex, can fly, and shoots blasts of energy from her hands. Iron Man has all of this minus the blue, but plus armour, an array of gadgets, and an intriguing and larger-than-life personality. To be fair, the original Captain Marvel was one of the first superheroes, and he ended up being a yardstick against which subsequent heroes were measured, with each new character putting a new spin on the basic archetype. Unfortunately, vanilla, while a good flavour, will only take you so far.
Having touched upon gender in passing (like this movie does), perhaps it’s time to address the elephant in the room. Captain Marvel has attracted controversy over gender issues, but, having seen the movie, I think the reaction is overblown. It is true that some instances of stereotypical male jerkassery (including such gems as “You know why it’s called a cockpit, right?”) are inserted. However, these instances are few and far between, and do not detract much from the overall film. For the overwhelming majority of the story, the main character is not treated noticeably differently than a male equivalent would be, and the main themes revolve around trust and believing in yourself. (The latter of which is pretty tired, if you ask me.) Perhaps this is the problem. Captain Marvel broached the subject of gender without following through on it. If Captain Marvel actually had something substantial and original to say about gender, that would have been interesting and worth discussing, but, whether for good or ill, it does not.
All in all, Captain Marvel is an unremarkable movie. There is nothing here that cannot be found in any other MCU film, or even action movies in general. It is not a bad film, but nothing really sets it apart or sticks out in one’s memory. Captain Marvel didn’t really call to me before I saw it, and seeing it has not changed my opinion. There are a lot of great movies out there, a shameful number of which I have not seen yet, but seeing this one doesn’t make that list any shorter.
However, there is a least one thing that makes Captain Marvel special; it features Stan Lee’s last cameo appearance before going on to make a cameo in that great Marvel movie in the sky. Godspeed, Stan, you were, and remain, an inspiration to us all.