Brie Larson as 'Captain Marvel' is a joy, even if the movie sometimes isn't
By Andrea Thompson
I will not mention “Wonder Woman” because this movie should be judged on its own merits not because it's one of the only other comic book movies with a female lead so I will not mention it I will not I will not I will not dang it “Wonder Woman” was the better movie.
Well, it was a noble attempt. There is certainly a lot to like about “Captain Marvel,” and it's certainly not fair that the expectations are higher simply because this is the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to have a female lead. Such a thing has to be acknowledged, and “Captain Marvel” does do that. The problem is that it does so in a way that's more like a checklist than an examination of the everyday sexism women often face. Guy telling her to smile? Check. Her emotions are dangerous? Check. Colleagues making crude jokes? Check.
What is enjoyable about “Captain Marvel” is that it's a different kind of origin story. Brie Larson is the titular hero, who regularly dreams of another life she can't recall, only to awaken to her “normal” life as a soldier of the Kree army whose aim is to eliminate the threat posed by another species of aliens, the Skrulls, who can shape-shift and impersonate other beings. Her purpose seems clear, and she is one of the Kree's most loyal, competent fighters. However, when she ends up on Earth in the 90s, she discovers there's a lot more to her past, and the war she's been fighting.
In a way, the origin story of Carol Danvers, the woman who would become Captain Marvel, is also the origins of the MCU itself, what with the introduction of Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who has an especially large role to play. Brie Larson is also a joy as always, only this time she's effortlessly holding her own with the likes of Jackson. To the movie's credit, it also never forgets that this is her story, not his.
But just as Carol is unfamiliar with exactly who she was became caught up in interstellar events, so are we. We see her being told she doesn't belong due to her gender time and again, only for her to get back up and face down her bullies. And that's it. Who she is as a person besides the fact that she's firmly on the side of good is mostly unsaid. Heroes like Captain America and Wonder Woman (sigh) prove that being unquestionably good doesn't have to mean boring. However, the movies about them also delved into their pasts and how they inform the present. We don't just root for them just because they're heroes, we root for them because we get deeply invested in them as people and their struggles, and not only when they're fighting bad guys.
With Captain Marvel, we only really get to know her in the context of the battles she has to fight, whether it's against aliens or discrimination. The film also doesn't present a very complicated portrait of the war, even when she discovers there may be more to it. There are still clear good guys and bad guys, quite unlike the far more complicated history of the Skrulls, who have been both victims and antagonists throughout comics history, sometimes simultaneously. Carol herself also seems more complicated than the film is willing to say, as it's hard not to look at her very close, loving relationship she had not only with her “best friend” Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) and her young daughter Monica (Akira Akbar) and something much more that Marvel is too timid to openly acknowledge, despite its recent statements to the contrary.
It's damn fun to see Larson as a hero coming into her own, complete with 90s staples that includes a great soundtrack and references to Blockbuster, but it's hard to get truly invested since we know so little about Carol, and only about the hero she was clearly destined to be, and in a large sense already was far before an accident made her something more.