Captain Marvel (Boden and Fleck)

It’s been roughly four years (and a rough four years) since I gave a 1 1/2 star review to Avengers: Age of Ultron. Since then, I have admitted to liking okay a Batman v Superman movie that was roundly panned for not being a Marvel movie (even though it seemed exactly like one), finding Guardians of the Galaxy II and Avengers III to be tedious, bloated slogs, not seeing any of the cleverness of Thor: Ragnarok or visual splendor of Aquaman that its admirers reported, and thinking Steve Trevor was the best thing in Wonder Woman.

Clearly, I have no idea what makes a superhero movie any good.

Take it with a grain of salt, then, when I say I liked Captain Marvel just fine. Perhaps it helped that I didn’t know the origin story, so this material didn’t seem to the regurgitation of previous story elements that constitute so many MCU movies. Even in structure, it is a different sort of origin story, since Vers (Brie Larson) starts with powers but no memory of how she received them. That fact makes the film more of a mystery, albeit a rather obvious one, which allows the action sequences to be interspersed rather than located in a bloated finale.

Sure, I’ll concede that the female-empowerment themes are bit heavy-handed and feel a bit tacked on. No matter how many times you hit her, she nevertheless persists. Got it. It’s not that this element is unwelcome, just that such cultural work is usually more effective if done with less comment and self-congratulatory back-slapping. The opening sequences of Vers as a Kree Warrior are all the more effective because they are situated in a context where all anyone cares about is prowess, which she has.

But the story looks good on the IMAX screen, with the galactic scope of the the story providing a context for special effects aplenty while not limiting character development to awkwardly placed expository arguments between conflicting characters. It’s probably worth noting that when Captain Marvel discovers the true nature of the conflict she has been participating in, her adjudications of right and wrong are primarily filtered through her personal story. This practice seems…human.

Much as with Wonder Woman, the gender reversal reminds us that non-powered sidekicks need not be portrayed as simpering and worthless. Samuel L. Jackson gives Nick Fury a sense of competence and confidence, while his backstory helps explain why he is comfortable as a human around those with transformative powers. He remembers a world without such heroes and villains, and his origin is one of discovery, if not transformation.

I would be hard-pressed to argue why Captain Marvel is better or worse than Iron Man 3 or Ant-Man and the Wasp. Aren’t these movies supposed to be interchangeable? Isn’t that the point? If you are the sort of viewer who has ever ranked entries into the MCU or remember which X-Men movie saw Jennifer Lawrence take over the role of Mystique from Rebecca Romijn, then I have no earthly clue where you might situate Captain Marvel in the hierarchy of superhero films. If, like me, you watch the newest film and say, “Hey a Tesseract, wasn’t that mentioned in one of the other movies?,” then you will probably enjoy it well enough.

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