Tripwire’s senior editor Andrew Colman takes a look at Captain Marvel, out from Friday in cinemas. Warning: a few spoilers ahead…
Directors: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Stars: Brie Larson, Samuel L Jackson, Ben Mendlesohn, Jude Law
I rather like Bill Maher – his forensic, incisive, and really quite funny monologues about current U.S. politics and mores are a welcome distraction from the grind. However, as we all know, he recently got caught up in a brouhaha of sorts when he belittled the medium of comics and its fans. After considerable opprobrium, he doubled down, contemptuously claiming in a particularly venal diatribe that the focal point of every super-hero movie was the possession of the deus ex machina Glowy Thing ™.
Not that I agree all that much with Maher (I am a comics fan after all), but there are glowy things galore in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s latest instalment, and not just the clunkily named Tesseract either. Sailing on a wave of rather diffuse hype that was trying to emulate that of Black Panther, Captain Marvel is a film that wants to be Wonder Woman, but ends up being more like Green Lantern – a project that is hailed as thematically sound and relevant but barely has any vision or reason to be released, bar one, which of course is to do with continuity.
Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) is a lady with a dual identity – she’s both an elite Air Force pilot and a member of Starforce, a military unit of the Kree, a distant alien race eternally at war with the shape shifting Skrulls, who they allege are trying to invade their galaxy. Moulded into a warrior by her mentor Yon–Rogg (Jude Law, even more painfully hammy than usual) she suffers relentless and rather annoying flashbacks about her past – it’s clear that something doesn’t add up. Meanwhile the Skrulls have stealthily placed agents on Earth, which leads the conflict to our planet, and the attention of a certain Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson).
Throughout this first half hour, especially when Captain Marvel lands on Earth, formula does briefly take a back seat – granted, there are plot holes, as Fury is far too quick to accept and adjust to the existence of aliens. The bravura sequence when Marvel gives chase to a Skrull agent on an elevated train is compelling, but before long everything recedes into plodding exposition. Again. Only this time the somewhat threadbare efforts at bringing humour into the mix fail to gel, as there’s far too much to get through. Even Jackson, apparently told to tone down his lugubrious acerbity by the director due to Fury being 25 years younger here (the film is set in the 90s for a specific reason – that aforementioned continuity thing) fails to ignite interest. It’s only Ben Mendelsohn as Talos who elicits a smile as Danvers’ nemesis / ally, despite being given so little to do.
Once the narrative moves to former air force colleague Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch)’s remote homestead however, matters get far too wholesome and incongruous. Any impending threat is undermined by a lack of drama and a welter of cheese, while the return of Yon-Rogg and his chums leads to Carol’s de rigeur rebirth, courtesy of a particularly cringe worthy coda featuring Annette Bening (emailing her performance in) as the Supreme Intelligence. It is here that the wheels fall off, despite a reasonably well choreographed climax involving Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) and bombs aplenty, which is pretty much the same as all the other MCU grand finales.
It’s a passable effort, but (as with Ryan Reynolds’ long forgotten space saga) it comes across as a hastily put together prequel that is basically a two hour plot device. The filmmakers practically acknowledge this in the inter-credits sting – next month’s Avengers Endgame had better be good. There isn’t one worthwhile bit of characterisation in the entire tale, and despite the amount of work that went into the making of this film, and all the corporate pretensions regarding artistic depth (directors Boden and Fleck claimed that The French Connection and The Conversation, two gritty downbeat 70s classics, were an influence on this film – oh please!) what’s on the screen is all down to post-production. The script desperately needed some edge, but was very clichéd and pedestrian. This is possibly due to the film having two directors.
Brie Larson is presentable if anonymous as the title character, and much like the film is depicted as inoffensively as possible, even if the producers (and the media, of course) talked up the feminist angle in the production, which (bar one throwaway line) is non-existent. To be fair, it was a sound move just to let Carol Danvers be a super-heroine and not bother with the identity politics. And as for the 90s soundtrack that was meant to evoke nostalgia, well that, unlike Guardians of the Galaxy, was feebly tacked on. Yes, it’s not Aquaman (a film that was essentially a kitsch Bollywood parody of a super-hero film with some kabuki thrown in starring a non-actor) so there’s always that. And Carol does amusingly put the Glowy Thing ™, I mean Tesseract (I suppose “Cosmic Cube” sounded too hippie) in a toy carton. So credit where it’s due.
Bill Maher’s witheringly reductive take (he’s a meanie!!) on Marvel’s spandex fests like this one is of course unfair – Avengers Infinity War, X-Men 2, Captain America Winter Soldier, Thor Raganarok, Antman and thefirst Guardians of the Galaxy flick all managed to combine mainstream entertainment with wit, intelligence, inspiration and something approaching cinema. So it’s not unreasonable to expect a wee bit more over the course of these overlong blockbusters. There’s not much time until the next one, so we, as they say, shall see.
Captain Marvel is out in cinemas from this Friday 8 March.