When she is captured by Skrulls during a disastrous rescue mission and subjected to a mind-bending interrogation technique, Kree soldier Veers (Brie Larson) is reintroduced to a number of seemingly foreign, or perhaps just long forgotten, memories. These recollections lead both Veers and her captors to Earth, where she escapes only to arouse the attention of SHIELD, a fledgling government agency lead by Agent Fury (Samuel L Jackson) and overseen by Agent Keller (Ben Mendelsohn). As Veers recalls more of her life as Carol Danvers, including her relationships with friend Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) and mentor Wendy Lawson (Annette Bening), she begins to question the circumstances surrounding her assumed Kree identity.
There’s a lot of ground to cover in Captain Marvel, even in the abridged form her convoluted origin story assumes here, so it’s little wonder that screenwriters Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck and Geneva Robertson-Dworet have embraced the film’s higher, further, faster mantra, as if trying to make up for lost time. Co-directors Boden and Fleck (the first woman to direct a Marvel movie) certainly hit the ground running, with Veers already powered, if not yet empowered, and at war. Unfortunately the unfolding conflict is so alien that these early victories and failures hardly register. One side is sometimes blue, sometimes not, while the other — comprised of shapeshifters — is forever changing its face. It’s all a bit of a blur.
Unlike Thor or Spider-man, both of whom also entered their respective frays fully formed, it isn’t immediately apparent who Captain Marvel is or what she wants. Her alias is never used during the movie, either because its bestowal is being saved for some future film or because there simply wasn’t room for it, with the film instead trying to reconcile her two alter egos. The problem, however, is that the Veers persona isn’t particularly interesting and her relationship with the Kree, particularly Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), isn’t especially engaging. This should have been Carol Danvers’ film, her defining moment, and yet by film’s end, despite all she is put through, it’s still hard to get a handle on her personality or priorities — or, for that matter, excited about seeing her interact with established characters like Tony Stark or Natasha Romanov in Avengers: Endgame. She is still so fractured, her human and Kree identities so removed from one another, that the inner conflict rarely has a chance to play out.
It’s a shame because there is definitely potential. Larson, as ever, is a likeable screen presence and a talented performer, and she meets the emotional and physical requirements of the role with ease. Her partnership with Fury is often fun and her friendship with Maria is perfectly familiar, but overall her relationships feel superficial and her breakthroughs unearned. The script is largely to blame, somehow seeming overly descriptive while still managing to confuse. It’s never entirely clear how much Carol can remember at any one time (about Earth culture, for instance), how much SHIELD is privy to (nobody questions Carol’s counter-intuitively human appearance) or what business the Kree have had on Earth before (one character with prior experience describes it as a shithole). The whole thrust of the movie seems to be that Carol must reconnect with her emotions to fully embrace her powers yet she never seems overwhelmed by or disconnected from them to begin with. As for how her suit works, with its seemingly child-friendly controls and perfunctory redecorating ability, who knows. And that’s without getting into equally perplexing spoiler territory.
Captain Marvel is by no means a failure — at this point Marvel’s formula simply won’t allow for one — but for all the talk of Danvers being the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s strongest superhero it’s a shame her debut doesn’t land more of a punch. But then the point has never been that the world needs better female superhero movies — it just deserves more of them. And with Captain Marvel already dominating the box office, she should succeed in this particular goal regardless.