With each new instalment, Marvel’s films have become more ambitious, CGI-infested and very predictable. Thus Captain Marvel, which is neatly packaged as a one-off 90s super heroine’s origin story, as well as a nice warm-up to Avengers: Endgame that releases later this April, barely succeeds on both counts. The plot, and indeed most of the film, is essentially simple, and revolves around the central premise of mistaken identities. Vers is initially introduced to us as an amnesiac inhabitant of the planet Kree and a fumbling trainee warrior whose goal is to eliminate the shape shifting Skrulls. In her vague memories, there is a mysterious woman named Lawson, a scientist and a pilot who significantly influenced her but she cannot remember why and how. After a mission to recapture a spy goes haywire, Vers finds herself captured by the Skrulls, her memories invaded and reawakened by them, and after single-handedly defeating them; she lands on planet Earth, much like Thor when he was banished by Odin.
But unlike Thor, she is much quicker and efficient at adjusting to Earth and after encountering Nick Fury and Agent Coluson and alerting them to the fact that the Skrull are on her trail, she is determined to uncover the missing fragments of her past and finally piece together her identity. What follows in the second half of the film is essentially a series of reversals: she discovers that she was originally from Earth, a determined strong-willed pilot by her own right, that the Skrull are far from the actual villains and that she was on the wrong side of the war she’d been embroiled in. She rediscovers herself as Carol Danvers, a woman who’d always trusted her gut instincts, confident in her abilities and complemented with her superhuman powers that she can now control and channel for the right cause.
Given that the film is Marvel’s ostensibly only female superhero movie so far in the MCU (Black Widow despite being a part of Avengers from the very beginning is yet to get her own film) and that the movie’s release was carefully planned in order to build up the hype for the fourth Avengers’ film, Captain Marvel’s stakes were definitely high. And primarily so, because it would invite comparisons from the only other female superhero movie in the recent past, which is DC’s Wonder Woman (2017). While DC certainly has a long way to go to match up to Marvel’s standards of delivering blockbuster entertainment, Carol Danvers pales in comparison to Diana Prince, aka Wonder Woman.
And the fault isn’t so much Brie Larson’s somewhat deadpan acting, but the characterization of the First Avenger herself: she barely has any character. As Vers, she is a powerful soldier who has been brainwashed into believing the “wrong” ideology and she has absolutely no clue about her past or who she is. When she finally pieces together the details from Polaroids and non-consensual mind-invasions, it almost feels as though an alternate identity is being superimposed on her. Carol Danvers/Vers isn’t so much a character, but simply a medium for writers to put in what they feel a made-to-order female super hero should be like, in an age of feminism and human rights awareness.
Thus Carol is immensely strong-willed, a fierce fighter, conventionally attractive (because which female superhero isn’t?), emotional at times (because isn’t that what’s supposed to make women ‘different’ from men?), naturally gifted and supremely adaptive to her circumstances- and therefore by being so perfect, she fails to be real as a character. Except for a series of quick flashbacks, we rarely see her struggle as a woman in a patriarchal universe and as a superhero, come to terms with her powers. Her memory loss allows for her identity to be nothing more than a series of female super hero stereotypes that are designed to appear attractive, charismatic and tick all the right boxes for the audience. On the other hand, Diana Prince’s story arc, from a sheltered Amazonian warrior to a soldier in a World War, abetted by Steve Trevor’s death, made her evolution into Wonder Woman, not only believable, but gut-wrenching and devastating to watch, but Carol Danvers’ transformation into Captain Marvel, complete with a glowing suit eerily reminiscent of Iron Man and Superman, barely packed an emotional punch.
But this isn’t to say that the film didn’t have its moments. When Carol takes on and defeats her former comrade-turned-enemy, she delivers a scathing line, “I don’t have to prove anything to you” – a powerfully feminist moment in the film. And of course there’s Nick Fury, before he shaved his head or had an eye patch (whose hilariously sad origin is finally revealed in this film) whose very presence brings in an air of calmness and comic relief and helps to fill in several of the gaps in the overarching MCU narrative. Most of the audience will have watched some, if not all of the MCU films, and Marvel as usual works off this nostalgia. This in addition to the 90s settings, complete with nods to arcade gaming, old Windows Desktop computers complete with annoyingly slow internet connections, and a killer sound track featuring Bikini Kill and Nirvana, makes for an amply entertaining weekend film.
In short, this isn’t one of Marvel’s best films and isn’t brilliant as a ‘female’ super hero film, but it is nevertheless immensely watchable and in the manner of Ant Man and the Wasp (2018), oddly wholesome. While the first half is peppered with intense and extended action sequences, the tone is less serious and more comic in the second half, particularly due to the presence of Goose, an adorable alien cat with tentacles and the Skrull, as appearing more forlorn than formidable. Larson’s Captain Marvel is pretty likeable, Samuel L. Jackson is a gift from God and the two post-credits scenes are satisfying and worth the wait and sets up Carol’s role in Endgame pretty nicely- in fact, the movie decently does what most superhero films are expected to do.
In other words, just don’t expect too much from Captain Marvel, and you’ll be far from disappointed.