Captain Marvel: Because women need power-punching role models, too?
I was bored watching Captain Marvel. For a while, I thought it was because this particular Marvel movie wasn’t meant for me. The spiritually inclined had already had their outing with Dr. Strange, the same way dadless Dudebros had theirs with Guardians of the Galaxy, or idealistic patriots had theirs with Captain America, or unsure young’uns had theirs with Spider-Man, or Chris Hemsworth fans had theirs with Thor, etc. Maybe Captain Marvel was for women — in particular, women who had been told all their lives that being a woman meant they weren’t good enough, weren’t strong enough, weren’t fast enough, etc. — and so its journey of self-discovery through self-recovery was not designed, executed, and polished to a high sheen for my particular benefit.
I mean, I wasn’t bored like this during the superheroine movie Wonder Woman. And I certainly wasn’t bored like this during the much weirder superheroine movie Border, which shares an awful lot of themes with Captain Marvel. But those were films that didn’t feel like object lessons in empowerment through self-affirmation. So maybe that was it.
Or maybe the problem was Captain Marvel herself, as portrayed by Brie Larson. Brie Larson can act; I’ve known that since Short Term 12. But here, she seemed a little…bored. Consider the opening scene, wherein she wakes from a mysterious and disturbing dream — though you’d never know it was disturbing to look at her. She goes to visit her mentor/trainer Yon-Rogg (a buffed and polished Jude Law) and asks if he wants to fight, since she can’t sleep. He reminds her that there are tabs she can take that will help her sleep, and she replies, “Yeah, but then I’d be asleep.” The line is meant to convey just how harrowing that dream was, but it takes a second to register, because Larson doesn’t register as upset, or haunted, or haggard, or…much of anything. The film may be about women breaking their shackles, but the lead actress feels kept in check for much of the picture. Humor winds up being provided by Samuel Jackson’s Nick Fury, heart by Lashana Lynch’s Maria Rambeau, and pathos by…well, I don’t want to spoil anything. But it ain’t Larson or her character.
That’s all the stranger given Law’s Voice of the Patriarchy speech to her as they spar. “Nothing is more dangerous than emotion,” he warns her. “Doubt makes you vulnerable. Anger serves the enemy. Control your impulses. I want you to be the best version of yourself.” (Oof.) I guess emotion is here signified by the release of cool force bolts from her hands, as opposed to, you know, words, expressions, or anything ordinary like that. (A note of praise here amid the doldrums: much love has been lavished on the Captain’s visible manifestation of power, and it is indeed wondrous to behold.)Never mind that she doesn’t seem particularly doubtful, angry, or emotional during the fight —or much of anywhere else. (Here and elsewhere, I felt like maybe the film was actually bored with itself.)
So, the story: when we meet Larson, she’s Vers, a Kree warrior working to defend her people against the expansion-minded, shape-shifting Skrulls. A botched mission lands her on Earth (“A real shithole” in Kree estimation) — but hey hey, not in the present day. In the ‘90s! Because of the jump back in time, Mr. Jackson has to act through a CGI mask of himself, which I found considerably less enjoyable than watching Ben Mendelsohn act through the wrinkly green mask of a Skrull. Also because of the jump back in time, there will be good-time oldies from Garbage and No Doubt on the soundtrack. Also, outdated stuff: herewith, a list of ‘90s things that get played for yuks, because passage of time (avert your eyes if you want to preserve the wonder): Blockbuster Video, Radio Shack, pay phones with long-distance carriers, dial-up internet, pagers, slow computers. There are probably more; I got a little bored keeping track. (The film is also good for a bunch of Top Gun references, which is more of an ‘80s thing, but useful if you want to go after cocky machismo.) While on earth, Vers begins to uncover the mystery behind those supposedly upsetting dreams she’s always having.
What follows is deeply sloppy in the plotting department, with the film’s prequel status dictating the eventual resolution of events to a much greater degree than anything inherent in the story at hand. But then, the plot is not the point. The point is expressed by the cool-kid daughter of a single mom/jet pilot, who tells her mother that she’ll set a better example if she takes on a dangerous mission (and risks leaving her an orphan) than if she stays home and watches Fresh Prince with her kid.