Marvel’s feminist flick is a decent, but deeply flawed, film.
Like many, I was rather apprehensive about this particular Marvel film. Captain Marvel is Marvel’s first female-lead superhero movie, and from the trailers and media coverage, it looked like it might be shaping up to be a rather heavy-handed feminist film. But while the female empowerment message is definitely there, I thought it was rather well done, and the film also focuses on a theme of compassion, so it’s not the only message in the movie. However, while I enjoyed Captain Marvel, it’s definitely not a perfect film, and some of its flaws make an otherwise fun and quirky movie feel rather… unsatisfying.
But first, here’s what I liked about the film. The plot in general was very good, with a really surprising twist that didn’t see coming. Captain Marvel is set in the 90s, before pretty much all of the other Marvel films, and the way it retroactively set up and connected a bunch of the earlier movies, the first Avengers movie especially, was extremely well done. The acting and characterization were also good, and Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel, is just the right mix of spunky and stoic. You get the sense that she’s just a regular person, with layer of strength and power underneath. (I know a lot of people have criticized her performance, calling it ‘wooden’ and unemotional, but I really never noticed that while I was watching the movie.) Goose, the cat, was adorable, and absolutely epic (I won’t spoil it for you, but epic is definitely the right word), and the visual effects, while good in all Marvel films, seemed especially stunning in this one. The visualizations for Captain Marvel’s powers specifically, whether she was soaring through the atmosphere or firing bolts of photon energy at the baddies, were incredible to see.
Unfortunately, the movie is certainly not perfect. It really lacks internal conflict, and therefore emotional punch, leaving the film fun but ultimately unsatisfying. Carol has no character arc and no internal conflict; whatever she wants to do she just does without two thoughts about it, seemingly at the whim of the plot. The big plot twist, which I won’t spoil, is great and surprising, but it felt so flat when Carol just… immediately went along with things, even though they turned out to be the opposite of what she’d been told her whole life. And I’m not just talking about the choices she makes in the film. Her powers, too, seemingly have no limit. Even the device implanted in her neck by the Kree aliens to control her power, if they see fit, doesn’t really stop her. It’s introduced in the beginning of the film, isn’t brought up again until the very end, and then she almost immediately destroys it without any consequences and becomes even more powerful.
One of the reasons I like Marvel films so much is that the characters are always so conflicted and human. Their powers aren’t magical cure-alls with no limits; they’re always limited, or they take a toll on the character, or the character must balance their powers with other aspects of their lives. Captain Marvel seems to have none of these things. There is literally a montage near the end of the film which shows Carol getting back up from all the times she’s been knocked down in her life; a kid who crashed her bike, a tween who crashed her go-kart, a pilot-in-training who failed a difficult training exercise in front of other recruits. In every scene, she gets back up without a problem. There is never a moment of struggle. There is never a moment of doubt. She always gets back up instantly, with no cost to herself, no change that allows her to attack the problem from a new angle. She can do whatever she wants.
I’m not sure entirely if this issue is caused by the fact that this is an openly feminist film, which has set out to empower women to chase their dreams, but that could certainly be one of the underlying issues. It’s an important and admirable message, of course, but the film falls flat in that it never shows Carol struggling. If you chase your dreams, you will struggle. There will be naysayers or actual problems and obstacles in your way that you will have difficulty overcoming. But the film’s “You can do anything!” message glosses over these struggles, to the point where it’s no longer empowering because Carol Danvers is not a real human; she’s a superhero who cannot lose, no matter what.
I don’t think that a story has to be ‘relateable’ to be good, and in fact I am very against that view. But, in my opinion, the best superhero movies are those that feature a protagonist with real struggles, whether those struggles are trying to hold to your ideals in the midst of a super-powered war, or juggling homework and a social life with your crime fighting escapades. Captain Marvel has nothing like this, and while the movie is fun and beautiful to look at in places, it ultimately lacks depth and substance, and fails to really say… anything.
Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
“An okay film, but not good by Marvel standards.”
Hey, thanks for reading my (rather late) review of Captain Marvel! What did you think of the film? Did you think that Brie Larson’s performance was ‘wooden’, like so many people say it is? I’m actually really curious! I didn’t think anything like that when I was watching the film… Let’s chat in the comments below!
See you again soon.