2019 has potential to be Disney’s biggest year at the box office ever, and it starts this weekend with Captain Marvel. The movie is far from being Disney’s biggest release of the year (hello Avengers: Endgame, The Lion King and Frozen 2), but Captain Marvel is somewhat of an event in and of itself.
The movie will be the first solo female-lead entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s 20+ title catalog, the first solo female superhero movie since Wonder Woman released in summer 2017. Perhaps one of the best things about the movie, though, is it doesn’t self-congratulate and draw attention to the fact its central hero is a woman. It features a hero embarking on an adventure to overcome external and internal threats, and the character just happens to be female.
With that out of the way, the movie will satisfy fans of the character and the Marvel universe, but won’t do much to win over those unfamiliar with the character. Brie Larson plays the titular hero, a human living amongst an alien civilization known as the Kree, which are essentially human beings who have fancier guns than we do and sometimes their skin is blue. Larson’s hero, known initially just as Vers, has a case of amnesia that’s conveniently wiped out every memory of her life on Earth, leaving the events that lead to her joining the Kree militia largely a mystery.
After a mission on a nearby planet backfires, she finds herself stranded on 1990s Earth with memories of her previous life slowly returning. The ’90s allusions are a bit heavy-handed (she crash lands through the roof of a Blockbuster, and makes a trip to RadioShack to craft communication gear), but it’s important to establish this is a prequel in the grand universe it’s set in. Also on Earth are Skrull, an alien species that infiltrate planets by shape-shifting into perfect replicas of that planet’s inhabitants (in this case, poor old ladies on the subway), and Captain Marvel meets up with characters familiar to the universe to defend the planet.
It’s important to look at Annie Boden and Ryan Fleck’s movie in standalone terms, even though it’s lodged between two full-scale Avengers movies and its predecessor left off on one of the biggest cliffhangers in the modern blockbuster era. So in the self-contained sense, Captain Marvel will give viewers everything they want. They bought the ticket expecting to see Brie Larson being sassy and blowing up aliens spaceships, and they’ll get that in spades.
But the script, written by Boden and Fleck and Geneva Robertson-Dworet, rarely calls for anything beyond what we’re used to seeing from these superhero movies crowding theaters. Larson is really only given two beats to play – overly cocky when she’s fighting aliens, and dour/sad when she’s piecing together the mystery of her past. She does a fine job, but there’s not a lot of room to make her a truly memorable character.
If the movie had released during the ’90s era it was set in, it probably would have been a classic. But in 2019, it’s all stuff we’ve seen before. Even the design of the Skrulls (complete with lime green skin and pointy elf ears) looks like something you’d find in a 1996 horror movie. Of course, the movie has fun moments – the fighting choreography is fun, if choppily edited, and you just know there’s something up with the cat named Goose who keeps appearing in the background (and trust me, the payoff is worth it). But ultimately what Captain Marvel delivers is a ’90s movie in 2019, in more ways than one. ••