Updated: Apr 26, 2019
I saw Captain Marvel last Saturday, but it’s taken me a few days to completely digest the experience. After much deliberation, I’ve reached the following verdict: in terms of quality, it falls somewhere between “adequate” and “average." It certainly isn’t worth the minor cultural schism it’s caused, considering it’s neither as abysmal as its most venomous detractors claim… nor as radical and revolutionary as its most ardent supporters clearly want it to be. It is, all in all, fairly middle-of-the-road, putting it firmly in the same league as Doctor Strange and the first Thor.
Of course, I can’t just leave it at that. However, my biases when it comes to the topic of superhero fiction would make attempting to write a proper review a futile endeavor. Therefore, for the sake of brevity and convenience, I have chosen to break my (uncharacteristically complicated) opinions into bite-sized chunks.
Otherwise, we might be here all goddamn week.
[SPOILERS below! You have been warned.]
“Last time I trusted someone, I lost an eye.” Remember how that badass line of dialogue from Captain America: The Winter Soldier sparked your imagination, inspiring you to wonder about the action-packed story of intrigue and betrayal it implied? Well, prepare to be disappointed by Captain Marvel’s anticlimactic revelation that S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nicholas J. Fury’s eye was... unceremoniously clawed out by an agitated extraterrestrial feline. He should have survived the movie with both eyes intact; it would have made for a far funnier punchline—defying the natural assumption that of course a prequel would delve into such ultimately inconsequential details as the origin of an eyepatch—and it would have preserved the mystique that made the character so popular in the first place. As it stands, reducing such an integral part of his backstory to a lame joke severely undermines his credibility.
Getting Ben Mendelsohn to play Talos is the most brilliant example of stunt casting in recent memory. The actor has made a career of portraying slimy, irredeemable villains (Orson Krennic in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, John Daggett in The Dark Knight Rises, Sorrento in Ready Player One), so it comes as a genuine surprise to learn that the “nefarious” leader of the shape-shifting Skrulls (traditionally depicted as ruthless galactic conquerors) is, in reality, a freedom fighter desperate to save his race—especially his wife and child—from extinction at the hands of the oppressive Kree Empire. Mendelsohn has always brought nuance and complexity to his “evil” roles, but Captain Marvel’s script gives him more material than usual to work with.
I’ve noticed that some viewers object to the movie’s decision to reinterpret the Skrulls as persecuted refugees, viewing it as a waste of potential. While the change does deemphasize the moral ambiguity of the comic book version of the Kree/Skrull War, it doesn’t discard it entirely: Talos freely admits that he’s hardly innocent, having committed his share of sins in the name of his noble cause. Yes, the motives of all involved parties are simplified; when condensing a long-running, multi-issue storyline into two hours, such streamlining is sometimes necessary.
On a related note, if you’re upset by the notion that the Skrulls’ alignment shift will prevent the Marvel Cinematic Universe from adapting Secret Invasion, just watch Captain America: The Winter Soldier again; it covers similar thematic ground, and it’s significantly more compelling than that shallow, gimmicky, sales-driven event.
Finally, while we’re on the subject of villains: one of the film’s most glaring genuine weaknesses (as opposed to my fanboy nitpicking) is that it lacks a strong central antagonist once Talos joins the side of the heroes. Several of “Vers’” former allies (The Supreme Intelligence, Yon-Rogg and the rest of Starforce, Ronan and his fellow Accusers) become obstacles, but none of them have the presence, gravitas, and screen time required to serve as true heavies; rather, they all represent the vague, nebulous concept of Kree tyranny, which is too abstract to anchor the action. It doesn’t help that none of them even comes close to challenging Carol on a physical level, meaning that her triumphs don’t feel particularly… triumphant. Her greatest struggle lies in overcoming her uncertainty over her allegiances, which could have been a powerful and engrossing character-driven conflict… had it, too, not been resolved so quickly and easily.
Despite my reservations concerning certain eye-related plot developments, for the vast majority of his screen time, Nick Fury is one of the film’s major highlights. The S.H.I.E.L.D. director has always been the foundation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and over the past decade, we’ve grown accustomed to his stern, inscrutable, unflappable demeanor. So it’s both refreshing and exciting to see a younger, more vulnerable (and more human—before he was capable of staring down super soldiers and literal gods without blinking, it turns out that Fury preferred petting cats and singing along with The Marvelettes) version of the character. Best of all, the story never depicts him as incompetent; he repeatedly demonstrates his skills as a spy, and his handful of blunders only occur because he’s navigating a situation in which he’s totally out of his element.
Speaking of the grand tapestry of the MCU, I’m not terribly fond of how Captain Marvel needlessly complicates the role of the Tesseract in the franchise’s overarching narrative. Previously, its trajectory was pretty clear: Howard Stark recovered it at the end of Captain America: The First Avenger, and it eventually ended up in S.H.I.E.L.D. custody (hardly a stretch, considering the industrialist’s involvement with the organization since its very inception), where it remained until Loki tracked it down in Avengers’ opening sequence. The studio attempts to expand upon that mythology by revealing that, at some indeterminate point, the rogue Kree scientist Mar-Vell managed to intercept the cube and harness its energy in order to successfully power an experimental faster-than-light engine… which only raises further questions—not the fun “let’s speculate on the deeper implications behind this twist” kind, but rather the “this new information is difficult to reconcile with the established lore” kind.