In the MCU, timing is everything. Black Panther appearing just before Infinity War last year whetted fans’ appetites for more Wakanda, making the Avengers’ arrival there a cheer-worthy moment. Seeing Ant-Man and the Wasp a few months later provided a pleasant palette cleanser to wash the taste of misery from our mouths. Now, with mere weeks to go before the current phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe concludes with Avengers: Endgame, Captain Marvel–despite being a good movie in its own right–feels like a forced cul-de-sac we have to drive impatiently around to get where we really want to go.
To be clear: Captain Marvel is not a bad movie. It’s just being released at the wrong time.
On its own, Captain Marvel is a more than worthy chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Brie Larson shines as Carol Danvers, a Kree operative who finds herself stranded on 1990s Earth after a battle with the rival alien Skrulls goes awry. Danvers has amnesia, but on Earth she begins to piece together her past, with help from a digitally de-aged Samuel L. Jackson as a younger, still-two-eyed Nick Fury.
Captain Marvel is funny, but it’s not a full on comedy like Thor: Ragnarok or the Ant-Man movies. Larson appeals mostly thanks to her versatility and her general attitude; the actress seems right at home in this character, whether she’s locked in close combat with a Skrull, “borrowing” a motorcycle and a Nine Inch Nails t-shirt to go incognito on the road, or piloting a spacecraft with a cat on her lap. Captain Marvel rests entirely on Larson’s shoulders, as even Jackson plays support to the movie’s namesake, and Larson bears the weight effortlessly. The heroine is going to seem right at home among the Avengers when she inevitably shows up in Endgame.
Captain Marvel expands the scope of the MCU significantly; just as Guardians of the Galaxy added a whole universe and Doctor Strange introduced magic to the world, CM brings a long running Marvel comics conflict to the silver screen: the war between the Kree and the Skrulls. We previously met the Kree in the form of Lee Pace’s Guardians villain Ronan the Accuser (as well as in the ABC show Agents of SHIELD), but Captain Marvel fleshes them out considerably, introducing their home world, leadership, culture, and beliefs. Not all Kree are fanatics like Ronan, it turns out, although the movie doesn’t spend quite enough time establishing most of its Kree characters, besides Jude Law’s Yon-Rogg.
On the other side are the Skrulls, a race of shapeshifters who’ve played a huge role in Marvel comics over the years, including an overarching storyline called Secret Invasion in which Skrulls spent years impersonating many of the universe’s greatest heroes as part of a grand scheme. With their introduction to the cinematic universe in Captain Marvel, there’s been understandably huge amounts of speculation about who might be a secret Skrull–impersonating other characters to create plot twists is basically the Skrulls’ entire purpose over in the comics.
But–without spoiling anything in Captain Marvel–with the way things play out in this movie, one of the Avengers turning out to be a Skrull in disguise actually doesn’t seem very likely anymore. And that’s part of the problem: Most of the elements introduced in Captain Marvel seem like set-up for future Captain Marvel movies, not for immediately looming events. And if Captain Marvel isn’t set-up for Endgame, then why are we watching it right now?
Yes, Captain Marvel debuts its titular hero, who–based on Infinity War’s post-credits scene–will likely play a pivotal role in Endgame. But Carol would have been better served with an MCU introduction similar to T’Challa’s or Peter Parker’s–i.e. if we met her in the ensemble film (in this case, Endgame), then explored her origins in a standalone movie later. Instead, I spent long stretches of Captain Marvel worriedly tapping my foot in anticipation of the credits scenes, hoping for a hint of what will come next.
That’s a shame, because there’s plenty to love about this movie. Captain Marvel uses its 1990s setting smartly, but without bashing viewers over the head with too many nostalgia-baiting references (Carol does crash-land through a Blockbuster’s roof, which, come on–that’s hilarious). The soundtrack is great, with songs from Nirvana, Hole, and more ’90s grunge bands that still hold up today.
Jackson and Clark Gregg play younger versions of their present day characters, Fury and Coulson, which winds up being a lot of fun, especially when the movie plays with our expectations around certain events (why does Fury wear that eyepatch? I won’t tell–yet). The digital de-aging in this movie is a bit freaky, but it’s also maybe the best the technique has ever looked–much better than the uncanny valley of the de-aged Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer in Ant-Man and the Wasp. Ben Mendelsohn really chews on his scenes as the Skrull Talos, doing a weird accent that somehow works despite its incongruity. Lashana Lynch plays Maria Rambeau as the perfect sidekick to Danvers, one who’s blatantly set up to be the next Rhodey, Falcon, or Valkyrie, and hopefully one day take the spotlight herself (although the 25-year time jump from Captain Marvel to the present would present some challenges should Marvel choose that route).
Captain Marvel hits all the right notes, but it feels like it was released at the wrong time. There’s too much anticipation and dread right now to fully enjoy this heroic cul-de-sac. It doesn’t quite set up the twists you might want it to, and its many expansions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe feel like fodder for future movies, not the impending Endgame itself. Carol Danvers would have been better served with an explosive entrance in Endgame, then her own standalone to kick off the MCU’s next phase. Right now this movie is an obligatory addendum to the Avengers story, when it deserved to be an essential opening chapter.
When the dust settles (or coalesces, as it were) after Endgame, we’ll probably be glad for all this set-up to what will inevitably come after. For now, at least Captain Marvel has finally arrived.
|The Good||The Bad|
|Brie Larson is a fantastic Captain Marvel||Feels out of place in the MCU timeline|
|Fun in the ’90s setting||Lots of set-up that likely won’t pay off until after Endgame|
|Greatly expands the MCU with Kree, Skrulls, and more|
|Great supporting cast|
|Solid mix of action and humor|