Higher, Further, Faster

Captain Marvel remains my least favorite film in the MCU. As the twenty-first installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain Marvel finally decided to introduce Carol Danvers. It only took 11 years and a major event like half of all life being snapped out of existence. Much like Ghostbusters (2016) or Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I’ve been dreading this review for a long time. Similar to Black Panther (which I enjoyed), you can’t seem to criticize Captain Marvel without people getting defensive about it. I’m so glad Wonder Woman came out before this, because that’s a female led superhero movie done right. Rather than make a Black Widow solo movie that fans like me were expecting, Marvel Studios went with a yet to be seen character. Although the name was Captain Marvel, I knew they meant Carol Danvers instead of the original Captain Mar-Vell. He’s a very complicated superhero with an unusual history in Marvel comics.

Long story short, the true Captain Marvel name belonged to Fawcett comics up until 1953 when DC comics sued them for similarities to Superman. The superhero later known as Shazam became part of DC comics, but in the meantime Marvel comics took advantage of the opportunity by creating their own Captain Marvel. The name does match their company after all. The alien Kree warrior Mar-Vell was never that popular ever since his 1967 debut in Marvel Super-Heroes #12. It was really his female counterpart Ms. Marvel who greatly surpassed her predecessor. Carol Danvers debuted in Marvel Super-Heroes #13 before headlining her own trend-setting series in the 1977 Ms. Marvel #1. Apart from a handful of animated appearances, I knew the MCU had been trying to work her in ever since Avengers: Age of Ultron. Although I was optimistic after her tease at the end of Infinity War, I grew nervous with every passing trailer, casting announcement, and interview…

44. Captian Marvel

Captain Marvel in a field

Captain Marvel begins with a touching tribute for the late great Marvel comics creator Stan “The Man” Lee in place of the usual Marvel Studios logo. This was sadly the first MCU movie released after his untimely passing. I cried for several minutes after I heard the news, but I knew I could still appreciate any remaining cameos he had left. It’s pretty much all downhill after the tribute. Okay, I wouldn’t go that far, but Captain Marvel is a major disappointment for me. It all started with the name. I was introduced to Carol Danvers through her original identity as Ms. Marvel. Arguably the Marvel equivalent of Wonder Woman in terms of being a trailblazing female superhero. The Ms. moniker was meant as a response to the 70’s feminist movement and her Women’s magazine profession reflected that. Although I personally have no problem with her original more provocative red & black scarf ensemble, her second black leotard costume with a giant lightning bolt is my favorite look of hers. Ms. Marvel was powerful, sexy, smart, and a vital member of the Avengers when she joined in Avengers #183. I liked her appearances in X-Men: The Animated Series and Super Hero Squad, but really it was Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes that made me fully appreciate her.

My problems only arose when she took on the mantle of the long deceased Captain Marvel. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t really care for any of the many changes that have happened in Marvel comics all throughout the 2010’s. So I was never a fan of feminist writer Kelly Sue DeConnick giving Carol the Captain Marvel name and replacing her outfit with a less than iconic jumpsuit. A look that’s barely a decade old, but audiences will forever associate her with since the movie completely bypasses her Ms. Marvel identity. Joss Whedon nearly included Carol at the end of Age of Ultron as part of the new Avengers, but that wouldn’t have made sense. Marvel Television even considered including her in the first female led Netflix series Jessica Jones. Since Carol was the best friend of Jessica in the comics. Instead, a solo movie constantly shuffled around Phase Three until it wound up one month before Endgame. Just so it could be released on International Women’s Day. Captain Marvel being so close to the next major event movie is frankly the main reason why it grossed over a billion dollars. People who didn’t want to watch it had no choice since seeing it on DVD or Blu-ray would’ve been impossible.

My opinion only started to sour with the casting of Brie Larson as the titular hero. I thought Larson was great in her Oscar winning role from Room, and one of the only bright spots in The Glass Castle. Both of which were dramas, but apart from genre films like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World or Kong: Skull Island, she was yet to headline her own blockbuster. Something that irreversibly shattered how I thought of her. Brie Larson is just not the right fit for a superhero role. Let alone a charismatic quipster like most MCU heroes. She barely emotes, her attempt at banter feels forced, she’s not physically imposing, and the plot structure makes it even harder to relate to her. Larson practically let the role get to her head in interviews where she bashed half of the mostly male audience. I just wanted to see the next Marvel movie, but attaching anything to it will always make the experience less fun. Producer Kevin Feige didn’t make it better when he said Captain Marvel was the strongest hero in the MCU. Which I would’ve been on board with if not for heroes like Hulk, Thor, Scarlet Witch, and the fact that she hadn’t even been introduced yet.

Major red flags started to arise when Captain Marvel went through 5 predominantly female writers and spent a long time looking for a director. It came to a point where Feigie didn’t even care if they were familiar with the comics (which is a bad sign). Eventually they ended up with the mostly unknown directing duo Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck. Apparently they were hired for their character driven storytelling. Unfortunately, their vision for everything else was very bland. Although Brie Larson is a big part of it, she’s not the main reason why I dislike the movie. Captain Marvel is almost a complete insult to Marvel fans in terms of comic book accuracy. Their first mistake was mixing up her origin story for no reason. It’s also set in my birth year 1995 just to work around the Infinity War problem. The movie starts with a brief flash of Carol Danvers getting her powers before cutting to her on the home planet of the Kree Empire, Hala. The blue skinned warmongering alien race actually made their debut in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. before appearing theatrically in Guardians of the Galaxy. They’ve made an impression since then, but I never expected Hala to look so dull. It’s basically a golden city with a normal skyline.

Captain Marvel is very powerful with her super strength, flight, and photon energy, but unlike Superman, she doesn’t have a story to back up her being that strong. She already has superpowers, so we don’t go on a journey of her learning to embrace them. At least Thor had the excuse of being born a god. It doesn’t help that they use the cliché of referring to her as Carol DanVers for a majority of the movie. The whole amnesia subplot was never a major part of the character in the comics. It’s not like Wolverine, who at least had an ensemble to support him. We really should know the identity of the lead superhero in their starring film. Instead, “Vers” has her powers reduced by the Kree and is told to suppress her emotion. Another cliché that’s barely relevant to the story. Their next mistake was the treatment of the original Captain Mar-Vell. Ms. Marvel never had the most recognizable supporting cast, but Mar-Vell is a major part of her origin. Captain Marvel was created as a science fiction version of the much more magical DC superhero. He was a Kree spy turned human scientist Dr. Walter Lawson who became a hero for his adopted home planet.

Carol Danvers was just an Air Force Security Chief who was caught in a Kree explosion that gave her powers. They were once a romantic couple before Marvel’s first graphic novel where Mar-Vell permanently died from cancer. Captain Marvel completely ditches a romantic subplot for the first time in an MCU solo film. Although they had a perfectly good Jude Law already cast, he plays the lesser known non-blue Kree Yon-Rogg. In the comics, he was a villain partially responsible for Carol’s origin, but not someone anyone’s gonna remember. Yon-Rogg spars with “Vers” and trains her in his Kree ways. Like the comics, the Supreme Intelligence is at the center of the Kree Empire. Unlike the comics, it’s not depicted as a giant green head. Instead they make the lackluster decision to have the person a Kree most admires be who they see. In that case, Annette Benning is the Supreme Intelligence who talks to “Vers” about her powers. I love Benning as much as the next guy, but her duel performance was another decision that I really didn’t like.

Decades worth of material was thrown out just to make Mar-Vell a female mentor to Carol renamed Dr. Wendy Lawson. It doesn’t help that Benning’s performance feels very off in both roles. Another change was having “Vers” be part of Starforce. A lesser known supervillain team made of Kree that barely make an impression in the movie. Their matching green jumpsuits that Captain Marvel wears for most of the first half is a big reason why they don’t stand out. Nevermind the fact that they’re mostly blue. At least it gave Gemma Chan a fighting chance in Eternals. The team is made up of Minn-Erva, Att-Lass, Bron-Char, and Korath before he was a pursuer. I was excited to learn that the 1995 setting meant appearances from deceased MCU characters, but all that went away when I saw them in the movie. None of the returning characters do anything memorable. At least Djimon Hounsou’s appearance was one of many bizarre connections to Shazam! Despite being an intergalactic superhero adjacent to the Guardians of the Galaxy, alien planets are very unimaginative. The first action sequence is set on Torfa which is barely visible, because it’s constantly shrouded in dark fog.

Their Starforce mission is to track down the Skrulls. As a longtime Marvel fan, I’d been wanting to see the Skrulls on the big screen for many years. Much like their enemy the Kree, the green alien shapeshifters had an early start in Fantastic Four comics created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby. I always assumed Fox held the rights, but it was another joint ownership that nearly resulted in an appearance in Dark Phoenix. The Skrull makeup isn’t too far off and their CGI shapeshifting is convincing. There’s just a much larger problem that I’ll get to eventually. I was just happy to see the longstanding Kree-Skrull War in the MCU. Although I wish I could actually see the fight which results in “Vers” being kidnapped. Her past is finally seen in a collection of disorganized flashbacks that the Skrulls look through. Captain Marvel tries to be a feminist movie, but the sexist dialogue is unnatural and the final message never feels earned. Instead we’re left with several characters telling us who Carol is instead of learning that on our own. Most of the Air Force is seen in flashbacks along with the phrase “Higher, further, faster.”

The Skrulls are led by Talos, played by frequent villain Ben Mendelsohn. For some bizarre reason, he uses his natural Australian accent while in his Skrull form. Leading to an awkward laid back performance that’s hard to take seriously. Talos is searching for a lightspeed engine built by Lawson on Earth. “Vers” escapes captivity by fighting off Skrulls when her photon hands are bound. It should be a fun sequence, but the stakes don’t feel especially high. When the ship explodes, “Vers” is sent hurtling to Earth where she lands in a Blockbuster Video. The joke was funny the first time, but all the 90’s references feel very in your face after awhile. It’s not like 80’s nostalgia, which is a lot more well defined. It’s pretty much nothing but 90’s pop songs and references to shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. “Vers” is somehow able to contact her team using tech from Radio Shack. Yon-Rogg and the rest of Starforce are barely relevant again until the final act. Most of their scenes involve them making contact with Ronan the Accuser. Lee Pace gets a chance to wear his comic accurate green armor, but Ronan is also completely wasted.

The same goes for Agent Phil Coulson. S.H.I.E.L.D. makes a major return as they first make contact with aliens and superhuman individuals. Apart from his long running role in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Clark Gregg makes his big screen return looking a lot like he did in The Usual Suspects. But the digital de-aging process reaches its full potential by having an entire movie with Samuel L. Jackson looking like Jules Winnfield. Nick Fury is a young S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who becomes part of a bigger universe he just doesn’t know yet. Jackson and Larson already knew each other from Skull Island, but their banter is very hit or miss. Fury is pretty much the only character I really liked, but all the references to his eye are very on the nose. The Skrulls disguise themselves as surfers and start another fight sequence in the most cliché location imaginable. A train fight is really not what I imagined from the strongest hero in the MCU. Although Captain Marvel tried to distance itself from Green Lantern, it similarly ditches space adventures in favor of Earthbound action. The only highlight is Stan Lee’s cameo as himself learning lines for Mallrats. Other than that, it’s not really a good look to have the hero punch an old lady in the face. Even if she is a Skrull in disguise.

Fury learns the truth about the Skrulls when “Coulson” is revealed to be one. Mendelson also plays Talos disguised as Agent Keller. He keeps an eye on Fury when he learns about “Vers” location. “Vers” obtaining street clothes and a motorcycle would’ve been so much more cringy if they kept the alternate version of the scene. Fury & “Vers” connect at a bar where they make sure they aren’t Skrulls. He helps her find the Project Pegasus S.H.I.E.L.D. base that Lawson worked at. The sequence mostly amounts to Fury gaining clearance and “Vers” learning about Lawson through files. It’s also where Goose the cat makes an appearance. Although originally a new comic book creation named Chewie, the name Goose was chosen as a Top Gun reference. Goose is easily the best thing about the movie until the ending that I’ll get to eventually. Talos attacks Fury as Keller when the latter contacts the disguised S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. At least Coulson is trustworthy when he lets “Vers” & Fury pass. They commandeer a Quinjet that “Vers” flies along with a stowaway Goose. They arrive at the house of the only other person who keeps popping up in her flashbacks.

Maria Rambeau is the mother of Monica Rambeau who uses her daughter’s superhero call sign “Photon.” Lashana Lynch was recast as Maria after the previous actress left. Let’s just say she’s acting a lot harder than Larson in most scenes where she discovers her best friend is alive. Although really it’s child actress Akira Akbar who won me over more. Even though Monica is only there to use Auntie Carol’s nickname Lt. Trouble and to provide more exposition about her past. Unlike her comic counterpart who really became the second Captain Marvel. I’ll admit the only scene with Larson I thought was funny was her thinking a neighbor was a Skrull, but it’s immediately followed by the most insulting decision in the movie. Skrull Talos arrives wearing a suit jacket and sipping from a fast food cup in order to strike a deal with “Vers.” It’s cringy, but Goose being referred to as a Flerken at least made up for it. Until Carol remembers her entire past an hour into the movie. Her powers resulted from her crashing a plane with Mar-Vell carrying her lightspeed engine.

Yon-Rogg is revealed to be the enemy when Danvers blows the engine, receiving her power. Resulting in her amnesia that Yon-Rogg used to make her “Vers.” The insulting part is the Skrulls being revealed to not be terrorists, but poor alien refugees searching for a home. It’s a major slap in the face to the villainous Skrulls that almost permanently ruins their reputation. They track the ship in orbit where the Skrulls plan to use the engine to find a home. But not before Carol changes the colors on her suit with a coloring device that the suit has for some reason. The 11 year old Monica is somehow able to operate the device that she uses to make it more comic accurate with the red, blue, and gold design (along with her mohawk mask). Carol, Fury, Maria, and Talos fly into space in a modified Quinjet that they use to get to Mar-Vell’s lab. After seeing Thanos place all 6 Infinity Stones in the Infinity Gauntlet, I really couldn’t care less where the Tesseract was in the 90’s. It’s on the ship that also houses poor Skrull families including Talos’ wife and daughter. Did I mention I hate this direction. Well it gets worse for me when Yon-Rogg arrives as the only aggressor in the movie.

The wasted Kree-Skrull War would’ve been so much better if both sides where villains and Captain Marvel was the only chance of stopping it. Instead one side has to be the good guys. The only time I laughed out loud was when Goose revealed his Flerkin tentacles in order to swallow the Tesseract and eat the Kree. Carol is held by the Supreme Intelligence who inspires her to stand up and remove her power suppressing device. Captain Marvel going Super Saiyan, I mean binary should be a powerful moment, but it’s just like the rest of the film. The problem is not giving her a villain of equal or greater power to fight. It doesn’t help that Carol fighting her former teammates is set to “Just a Girl” by No Doubt. Carol easily defeats her teammates and immediately learns to fly after falling from the ship. As Fury & Maria shoot down the rest, Carol tears through Ronan’s armada of ships with hardly any effort.

What’s presented as the final fight between Captain Marvel & Yon-Rogg is undercut with a joke I saw coming from a mile away. Carol blasts her mentor and sends him back to Hala. What follows is another major insult to fans that undercuts a badass moment for the sake of a joke. Nick Fury seriously lost his eye when a cat scratched it. Now anytime we hear Fury’s line in The Winter Soldier about the last time he trusted someone, we have to think about that. After that it’s Carol sitting down to dinner with the Skrulls and promising to find them a home. She also gives Fury the emergency pager from the Infinity War mid-credits scene. Being in space is somehow supposed to explain why she hadn’t appeared during the Battle of New York, Battle of Sokovia, or anything else in the last 23 years. At least The First Avenger had the excuse of Captain America being frozen in ice.

The final insult was Fury getting the name of the Avenger Initiative from Carol’s “Avenger” callsign. Even though her call sign was “Cheeseburger” in the comics. By then I was too checked out to care about the change. After a spacey credits sequence, the only other part worth seeing is Steve Rogers, Natasha Romanoff, Rhodey, and Bruce Banner dealing with the fallout of the snap and monitoring Fury’s pager. Black Widow is especially eager to know who they’re tracking when she suddenly comes face to face with Captain Marvel. Carol’s straight blonde hair and modern costume looks admittedly better than her 90’s look. Then they make us sit through the entire credits just to see a cat throw up the Tesseract. I love the MCU, but Captain Marvel made too many changes for me to accept any repeat viewings of it. Can’t say I was surprised when audience scores on Rotten Tomatoes were significantly lower than critic reviews. There are worse female led superhero movies made before this one, but in terms of the MCU, Captain Marvel wasn’t the best lead in to Avengers: Endgame.

45. Captian Marvel

Captain Marvel goes binary

Followed by: The Marvels

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