The release of Captain Marvel marks the last step to End Game and the first female lead across twenty two MCU films, a milestone that has been long awaited, and there was general consensus that she was a solid choice. Most of the good options from Marvel’s roster of female characters are either X-Men (or memebers of a team), villains, or female iterations of someone else, of those that remain Carole Danvers is easily the best known which, sadly, doesn’t say a great deal. DC at least have always had Wonder Woman to lean on, and they recently found some success with two thirds of a good film, Marvel have never quite had the same fortune.
Nor can we say that origin stories hold up against the big titles that Marvel has become revered for, Doctor Strange was a good enough film, Ant Man was ok, and certainly none of them are as bad as Thor 2, which I maintain still has some redeeming qualities, I’m getting off topic. The Avengers have been the films we have come to respect and love, characters are established and made strong on their own and then brought together to be stronger. A wise man attempts to build his house upon the sand, and tells us that because the house stands so tall that it will stand forever.
There Will Be Spoilers but I’m not going to lie to you here, it won’t make much difference if any at all.
Who Is Captain Marvel?
Very much the question of the entire film, as Vers (pronounced with a long “e” like there’s two of them, or maybe an “i” on one side) has no memory of who she is, except that she has spent six years being trained as a Kree soldier. We get a frontloaded microcosm of the story that is about to unfold, although most of the essential details are included with a few minor alterations to keep you guessing, the short version is she’s human, an air force pilot, had a crash that involved an attack by aliens and a respected mentor figure gets shot to death by the hated enemy, the Skrulls.
Throughout the film we’re dropped little details, little clarifications, as memories resurface and discoveries are made that help recover the truth, and more importantly how that truth was buried in the first place. We also get to see near-enough everyone in Marvel’s life tell her she’s too emotional… I suppose I could see that when talking to Yon-Rogg, alien mentor and Jude Law with bad-guy contacts, any human among aliens tends to be the more emotional, but among other humans? I’m not saying Marvel is emotionless, it just tends to be the same emotion, fixation upon a goal, ever ready with a snarky quip or a casual smile. She’s friendly enough but a soldier to the core, and always fixed on her mission, not all that emotional apart from an angry outburst which is quickly stifled. It’s a fundamental principle of story telling, show don’t tell, and we are told over and over again, Vers/Carol is emotional… we see it once or twice.
Now Brie Larson herself is a great actress, and there are many moments made better for her performance, a little comedic, warm and friendly while never compromising the demeanour of military-to-the-bone, bound by duty and honour. She has clearly swallowed the pill she’s been fed, because when discussing the Kree she reflexively corrects “warriors” to “warrior-heroes”. It telegraphs the big twist tremendously well, and a few more moments like that and it would have been far less transparent.
I mentioned… actually I made a huge deal out of the fact that Black Panther piggybacked one massive social issue onto another, in that case racial relations and responsible use of technology and weaponry on a national scale, side by side in a clever narrative, and Captain Marvel does the same. Sexism is the issue worn most blatantly, but they’re not too shy about topic B.
The Kree believe themselves to be the heroes, truly believe it, and that’s understandable, they are against a foe they have fought with for a very long time, who specialise in infiltration and subterfuge, not values we hold as particularly noble, it’s easy to paint them as the villains. Even to fans of the comic, it’s self evident that the Skrulls are the villains because… they’ve always been the villains, the whole point of Secret War is that Skrulls are cunning, deceitful and vicious.
But the Skrulls are an outmatched force fighting a losing war against an army with vastly superior fire power who indiscriminately exterminate large populations on the suspicion of Skrull infiltration, resorting to cunning and stealth where a fair fight would mean their demise. They’re now fleeing every world they call home, or even safe. And ok, they’re green shape-shifting goblins, but it’s an allegory. An allegory with an Australian accent, which… fine, I guess most aliens are either American or British, even when they’re supposed to be Norwegian.
The allegory is well composed, but it forms the backbone of the worst part of the film. When the revelation comes, there’s nowhere near enough internal conflict, one moment of pushback, and then trust is given, sides are changed, and just like that the Kree are enemy of Captain Marvel, especially the hated mentor figure and the evil AI overlord. Even when they take her best friend’s child temporarily hostage, it’s just kind of a thing that happened? The speed of the emotional turnaround feels completely undeserved, her trust is absolute, her programming runs deep, even the memories she’s lost have been suitably tampered with so that her commitment is unbreakable, and the Skrulls digging into her mind and playing around in her memories at the start of her tale give her no cause to doubt?
We can play with 90’s nostalgia now because it has been long enough for the 90’s to be nostalgic, that’s why she crashes into a Blockbuster, remember Blockbuster? And remember all the cool music from Guardians of the Galaxy?
Well, all of that music was put in place, given a reason to be there, the Walkman, a major anchor for the main character to tie him back to his roots and give him emotional resonance, rather than just “hey, we like 80’s music”. The use of 90’s classics pulls you out of the moment rather than plunging you into a decade, or into the mindset of an important character.
Nick Fury is also a comedic character, an agent fairly early in her career learning to get along with the rookie Coulson, and suddenly thrust into a universe that he is not fully prepared for. He’s a softer person, far less informed and seemingly all-powerful, and that eye that he lost “the last time he trusted someone” as it turns out the person he trusted was a cat, a cat whose narrative importance is a little overly communicated, but hey, we’re going for comedy value here, that’s why we shove the Tesseract into a Happy Days lunchbox, right?
Captain Marvel hits all three basic tiers of quality, it’s bad, it’s good, and it’s boring. How could a film series that have done such a wonderful job of bringing colourful, wonderful characters to screen suddenly do wonderful things with action and spectacle while making me feel nothing for the characters? What’s next, a DC film that’s good all the way through? The Dark Universe actually does gangbusters at the box office? I am not sold on flashy lights, adorable kitties and cheap jokes.
I think the love affair with super heroes is over. Horror’s star is on the rise, and in Alita I think we’ve seen something new on the horizon, some brave new world of science fiction born of anime fans who have made it big in the industry. The zeitgeist is shifting and End Game should really mark its passing, but already Guardians of the Galaxy and Spider-Man have their sequels queued up with Doctor Strange not far behind, and I no longer have any desire to see them.
Has Marvel lost its pull, or have we simply lost the need for Heroes, and instead we now long to hear the tales of strangers, while looking to our monsters for answers?