If you’re coming in here to give me a hard time for arbitrary reasons, you can leave right now. If you are angry at a decent rating of a film you haven’t even seen yet, you might have bigger issues than a comic book film existing. If you are pleased with the awful audience approval rating, just like you willingly went into the film hating it before it even began, you are a part of the problem. A statement by star Brie Larson (which, if I see someone incorrectly claiming her to be a bad actress once more, I will lose my cool) was taken out of context. She never ever claimed that this film is for anyone but white men. She simply stated that other voices, when it comes to the critical community, deserve to be heard. As a cis white male critic, she is absolutely right. No one ever asked for white males to not be heard; they were simply asking for everyone else to be heard too. If you’re waiting for a thrashing of a film because of one political statement, a female lead, and the women behind the camera that helped make this film, you are both mistaken and not the kind of reader I wish to have.
Why am I defending an average comic book film so much? I’d say it’s because the use of the internet to arbitrarily hate things during a divided time is pathetic. Captain Marvel is no masterpiece, but it is actually the first Marvel Studios film to actually feel different. Ryan Koogler stuck to his indie roots for Black Panther, but the pairing of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck have made Captain Marvel what is arguably the first indie Marvel film (only in feel, not in terms of budgeting and studio presence). The fragmented beginning feels more like a slice of Contact more than it does Edge of Tomorrow. The cool down periods were reminiscent of Looper. The grandiose realizations during the climax felt like this film was a comic book sequel to Interstellar. These are all science fiction films made by non-sci fi specialists. These are filmmakers (Zemeckis, Johnson, and Nolan) who can dabble with science fiction conventions, but they try to make a different type of film first and foremost.
Captain Marvel is different enough, plain and simple. It still is bogged down by Marvel origin story conventions: the sour one liners, the self discovery quest, and more. However, the approach Boden and Fleck have here feels unique in such an important way: you may not always be aware that this is a Marvel film consciously. That might sound ridiculous, especially considering that Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is in a majority of the film, and other Marvel character cameos pop up. However, the heartfelt moments of Carol Danvers reconnecting to who she once was felt like, for once, I was watching a super hero film by somebody else. While this might not be enough to make Captain Marvel a better Marvel film, it at least makes it refreshing (which says a lot ten years plus down the road).
Part of this deviation comes from Brie Larson’s performance, who doesn’t come at this film like an awards season focal point that now works for Marvel (like many of the other performers, as great as they may be). Instead, Larson vows to make this performance one of an extreme caliber in her own right. Yes, I’m going to say it. Larson’s Danvers is one of the best performances in the Marvel universe; fight me. Her “lack of emotions”, targeted by clueless trolls, is an internalIzed visceral quality that is subdued by her loss of identity, and strengthened by her drive to succeed. She has her quips, too, and she passes off her jokes with the absolute confidence of the ass-kicking unstoppable force that she is. Larson was not just entertaining: she was gripping.
The fish-out-of-water parts that most superhero films absolutely demand (not on my terms, of course) actually feel a bit more tolerable here. No forced jokes. No heightened awkwardness. Danvers fights an old lady on a train (that is actually a shapeshifter in disguise), and the crew knew that this was going to be uncomfortable on its own. Instead, passengers try to stop a random Tron cosplayer from beating the daylights out of a geriatric, and they stop when they start getting theirs, too. No pauses for laughter. No stupid comments. This moment comes and goes. We get the picture: someone doesn’t quite fit in. It was pleasant to see a dead horse not being flogged for an additional half-hour.
All of the origin story elements are there, but the restructuring of every “necessity” just felt nice for once. Of course, the ending will still be predictable (especially for Marvel aficionados that know every nook and cranny of the cinematic universe). Most of the soundtrack was obvious but relevant (Nirvana, TLC, Garbage), and each of these songs fit their scenes very well, whether it was for nostalgia’s sake or for detailing the mood; the only song that was too on-the-nose was No Doubt’s “Just a Girl” coming on at just the right time. The actual score by Pinar Tobrak was actually stunning, with just the right notes selected to tear at your heart when needed. Conventions are still implemented here, but they don’t feel corny or typical for the most part; perhaps just expected.
The displaying of Danvers’ history is done in a nice way with flashbacks and cues that trigger recollections. The action is quite spectacular effects wise. There are the odd moments of unnecessary inclusion (Fury being curious about a Skrull’s girth, for instance), but what Marvel film doesn’t at least have a few of those to nitpick? The ending is understandably modest, though it might seem a bit flat in terms of pacing (just when things were getting heated). Otherwise, I only have the most minor complaints for Captain Marvel: a film that is as standard as they come when it comes to Marvel Studios, even with a little bit of a variation.
With all of the political stupidity, the mob-mentalities, and the flat out sexism (there, I said it) that have barraged this film, I will go ahead and claim this one one of the more underrated Marvel films. Like the rest, it’s far from perfect. Unlike the rest, it had an uphill battle from the start. Once the hysteria is gone, in a few years time, I think maybe we could try and be actual adults here and revisit the film, only to see that it actually isn’t so bad once you put aside your arbitrary agendas (because, news flash, Captain Marvel didn’t had one to begin with). God forbid a film made by women and featuring a lead woman exists, right fanboys? This is why we can’t have nice things.
Andreas Babiolakis has a Masters degree in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections management from Ryerson University, as well as a Bachelors degree in Cinema Studies from York University. His favourite times of year are the Criterion Collection flash sales and the annual Toronto International Film Festival.