Pop Culture

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
Captain Marvel

Title: Captain Marvel

Describe This Movie In One Inaccurate Yet (Sort Of) Chronologically Appropriate TLC Lyric:

No, I don't want no Skrull
A Skrull is a guy that can't get no love from Kree
Hangin' out the earthbound side
Of an Accuser's ride
Trying to holler at Fury

Brief Plot Synopsis: Alien warrior (re)visits Earth, befriends secret agent, cat.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 3 octoparrots out of 5.

Tagline: "Higher. Further. Faster."

Better Tagline: "This woman's work."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Plagued by mysterious memories yet undaunted in her desire to prove her worth as a Kree warrior, "Vers" (Brie Larson, pronounced "Veers") and her team run afoul of an ambush by the treacherous Skrulls. She crash lands in the year 1995 on C-35 (AKA Earth), a planet containing blueprints crucial to the plans of Skrull leader Talos (Ben Mendelsohn). Vers barely has time to contact her commander Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) before making the acquaintance of Shield agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Together, the two must deal with the Skrull threat to Earth and unlock the secrets of her past.

"Critical" Analysis:
 Finally, after much gnashing of teeth and rending of keyboards, The Marvel Cinematic Universe's first female-led superhero movie is here. Unsurprisingly (and not entirely fairly), Captain Marvel arrives in theaters under the weight of some pretty hefty expectations.

In many ways, directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck and star Brie Larson were dealt a Kobayashi Maru scenario: if Captain Marvel fails financially, it's proof that diverse superhero movies aren't viable (Black Panther and Wonder Woman notwithstanding). If it succeeds, it's because Marvel's formula is more or less a license to print money and a female lead had nothing to do with it.

Boden and Fleck (along with co-screenwriter Geneva Robertson-Dworet) are clearly aware of the pressure, hammering on the "rise again" beats we've seen since the first trailer and highighting Danvers' struggles to be accepted everywhere from the playground on up to the Air Force. At the same time, they try to reconcile her growing awareness of the past with what the Kree have withheld from her.

You might think hiring the duo behind such character-driven films as Mississippi Grind and It's Kind of a Funny Story and the star of Room to do a superhero movie was counterintuitive, but Marvel has a pretty good track record picking talent that, at first glance, raises eyebrows. Robert Downey, Jr. was still considered a potential liability when cast as Iron Man, James Gunn was a Troma alum before landing Guardians of the Galaxy, and Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi is from someplace called "New Zealand."

Still, for a while, it's like they can't decide if their movie wants to be a GotG-style space epic, a Ragnarok-ish buddy comedy, or a Winter Soldier-adjacent conspiracy flick. It ultimately works best when it settles into its groove and lets the hero cut loose. And if there's a complaint to be made about Larson's portrayal of Carol Danvers, it's that the script doesn't give her much to do. She should be a heroic figure even without the plasma bolts, but that isn't conveyed particularly well here.

Speaking of that, it's kind of a bad look to just now introduce the most powerful superhero in the MCU (arguably: Thor would probably like a word). Bad enough it took Marvel 20(!) tries to make a movie about a female superhero, especially when they should have introduced her back in Phase 2 (her Kree connection makes her perfect for a Guardians appearance). It's possible Marvel has had this all mapped out since the Tesseract first showed up in Thor, but dropping her movie a month before Avengers: Endgame feels like a CYA move.

Is it a tad on the nose to set a climactic fight to No Doubt's "Just A Girl?" Of course, but so what? Captain Marvel may be formulaic (just like every other MCU movie) but there's a catharsis involved here that's likely to fly over the heads of . . . certain members of the audience. And if it feels like a lot of indignity is being crammed into a short time frame — flashbacks to a pilot bro's "cockpit" jokes, a random dude asking Danvers to give him a smile, gaslighting "allies" — maybe there's a reason for that.

Captain Marvel isn't a great movie, but it is a good one. A decade on, Marvel's money-making juggernaut (not that one) isn't capable of dramatic course corrections. And while Boden and Fleck do some tweaking (eschewing a true origin story, for example), the beats are familiar and the surprises only mildly so. Nevertheless, you should see it for a badass Larson, Jackson as a pre-cynical Nick Fury, an occasionally befuddled Mendelsohn, and Goose, the unsung star of the film.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar