March 7, 2019

CINEMA | Brie Larson Feels the Need for 'Captain Marvel'

"There's nothing more dangerous to a warrior than emotion."
Brie Larson Anna Boden Ryan Fleck | Captain Marvel

Marvel Studios' latest foray into the more intergalactic space elements of their massive interconnected comic book franchise, Captain Marvel, is a perfectly fine and aggressively underwhelming entry thanks to some rather blandly generic feeling storytelling despite some highs. Brie Larson stars as the titular fighter pilot Carol Danvers (aka "Vers") turned alien energy power source and reluctant weapon of cosmic destruction.

Indie filmmaking duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, known for their adult-based character dramas, take on the mid-'90s set Marvel prequel trying to skip the traditional origin story route to frame the exposition with an amnesiac hero who slowly realizes their full powers for some decidedly mixed results.

A truly energized Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, remarkably digitally de-aged to look like his younger self circa The Negotiator, teams with Danvers when she returns to Earth as a buddy cop duo to investigate her mysterious past and what a shapeshifting race of aliens (the Skrulls) are up to in their search of another power source. His and Larson's chemistry is clear as the duo have confidence in spades with a likeable rapport.

All-stars Jude Law and Annette Bening both play parallel mentors who figure prominently in the confusing first act before their full importance in Danvers' life is truly revealed. Law's Starforce team leader seems to only speak in inspirational platitudes and clich├ęd motivational one-liners. Enter Ben Mendelsohn, who really elevates the material with a mannered performance, bringing tons of emotional resonance as the Skrull leader Talos bent on finding a new home for his people.

Ben Mendelsohn Anna Boden Ryan Fleck | Captain Marvel

Possibly Captain Marvel's biggest misstep, aside from a baffling fight scene needle drop set to No Doubt's very on the nose "Just A Girl" song, is trying to sidestep the usual (sometimes generic) origin story formula as the film starts with Danvers at some unknown time in her life, already powered up, but having still untapped potential thanks to her memory loss. We never really get a sense of who she is beyond her clunky flashbacks that only fill in the faintest of exposition.

The overused superhero origin is such a durable staple for a reason, especially for unfamiliar characters with unclear or complicated mythologies. The directors tried their best to ditch Danver's complex backstory and streamline it into the Marvel Cinematic Universe as they clearly preferred going the prequel flashback route paired with a buddy comedy setup.

Larson has the right stuff in a fun but thankless performance, but she cannot singlehandedly overcome Marvel's more formulaic storytelling tendencies. Captain Marvel seems like what Guardians of the Galaxy would have been without James Gunn's involvement. There are plenty of good ingredients starting with Boden and Fleck's instincts. However, this clear retread feels just so underwhelming and overly safe as Marvel's first solo female hero effort definitely deserved better.

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