HOT TAKE: Captain Marvel is Only OK…and I’m Alright With That

HOT TAKE: Captain Marvel is Only OK…and I’m Alright With That March 30, 2019

Comic book and superhero movie fans were all a-Twitter long before Marvel’s first movie featuring a female lead, Captain Marvel, hit the theatres.  Rotten Tomatoes changed their policy of allowing fans to put up their reviews before a movie dropped, in order to quell the inevitable trolls that began giving the movie bad scores before anyone had seen it.  But now that Captain Marvel has proved itself a financial success, and critical darling

What does your favorite Pop Feminist think?

Query Marvel

Decent Films critic, Steve Greydanus summed up much of my feeling, artistically about Captain Marvel:

If this review skates on the surface, that’s because, really, the movie is all surface: all about the what, not the how. Captain Marvel is a perfectly fine Marvel installment that I can’t fathom deeply loving or hating, although I’m sure many viewers will manage to do both. (Read full review.)

Conversely, my roommate who is an ardent feminist and comic books guru was absolutely giddy over the portrayal of one of her favorite characters, explaining that the movie stayed pretty true to Carol Danvers’ personality which tends to be less quippy and more action-oriented.

For myself, I went to see the movie after a particularly good day, in a perfectly fine mood, and treating myself to some damn popcorn.  Which is to say: I went in with mild happiness, almost no knowledge of the character, and conflicting reports as to the quality of the film.

So let’s break down what I saw:

The Good

Things that I especially appreciated include:

  • Carol Danvers having no erotic coupling with anyone on the screen.  She didn’t need Chris Pine, like Wonderwoman, to ensure butts in seats and give us unnecessary kissing mid-battle.  Instead, we had platonic romances with her mentors, with her friend and her friend’s daughter, with her own burgeoning abilities, and perhaps most delightful with a “young” Nick Fury.

It’s important to portray non-erotic relationships women can enjoy in storytelling.  Love is more than marriage.  Romance comes in many forms, including friendship.

  • I loved seeing Samuel L. Jackson show off his comic chops as his younger Nick Fury self.  The way he bounced off of Brie Larson’s Danvers was a delight, and the CGI de-aging was truly impressive.  (Coulson’s de-aging, by comparison, was…er…plastic.  And I’m not entirely sure necessary.)
  • The cat.  I’ve since read up on the lore, which is just comic-book bonzers (all good stuff), and I’m delighted to have something truly nuts on the screen.
  • “Just A Girl” for part of the fight scene.  I was forewarned that the movie went all-out for the nostalgia factor, and I was prepared to roll my eyes when this song came along, but I found myself wanting the audio team to TURN THE VOLUME UP once No Doubt’s classic song came on.
  • I’m always a fan of Jude Law, so while he wasn’t used to his fullest potential, I’m never going to be terribly unhappy when he’s on the screen.
  • The switch for the Skrulls to have a more nuanced storyline about the dangers of “othering” and genocide was a welcome alteration from the comics, and bodes well for future Captain Marvel movies.  Plus, I’m always a fan of watching actors act like other actors acting them.

The Eh to Ugh

  • Let’s be honest: this was three movies crammed into one.  The story structure didn’t do anyone many favors, and I found myself bored during the “movies” I wasn’t connecting with as much.  For my money, I was more interested in her work with the Kree and the Skrulls going very art-house into her memories than I was with the various Earth-bound shenanigans.
  • As mentioned before, Coulson was poorly used and worse de-aged, which is a shame since Clark Gregg is one of my favorite actors from way back when he was doing bit parts in all my favorite cinema.
  • The dialogue.  The dialogue.  Now, granted, there’s a reason I prefer Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail over Raiders of the Lost Ark, and it’s because I’m a language gal more than I’m an action fan.  Once again, I’ve been told by my guru roommate that Danvers doesn’t quip…but her lack of dialogue made it difficult for me to connect with her.  And then what dialogue she did have was, uhm, very on the nose.  Get a better writer and structuralist, please.
  • Sorrowfully, I found this film mostly forgettable.  I’m glad to know the major plot points, but coming at this stage of the MCU – after we’ve had Black Panther and Infinity War – both of which asked big questions and used the medium as allegory for real-world events – I am done with perfectly competent origin stories, please and thank you.

The Great

  • Brie Larson’s sheer joy every time she did something superheroic.  YAS.  More of this, please.
  • The costumes!  Yes!  FUNCTIONAL CLOTHING!  High necklines!  Fully clothed thighs!  I didn’t have to worry about Wonderwoman’s inevitable skinned knees or why Black Widow took the time to do her hair while being interrogated.  Way more of this, please.
  • The improvement on the series finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with the montage of Carol Danvers falling down multiple times over the course of her life…and then getting back up again.  More of this, please.

Captain Marvel is Only OK…and I’m Alright With That

Ultimately, though, I came out of the theatre saying to myself: “Well, now, I’ve seen that.”

This should be seen as a good thing.  Let me explain why:

For the past decade or more, the general complaint has been that there are no female-led superhero movies, despite there being female-led superhero books.  As a consequence, the amount of pressure that was put on movies like Wonderwoman was astronomical.  When there’s almost nothing, and you’ve been told you’re preferred story is not financially viable, the first time someone gives you anything, it had better be good.  It’s the same pressure that was on for Black Panther – and which I daresay that movie more than lived up to, even exceeded.

A good watershed movie is important.  Barrier breaking is important.

But barrier breaking is not sufficient alone.  What’s needed is for needed ideas to become the norm.  “Black lives matter” or “Women are people, too” needs to become the norm.  And normal is quiet.  Normal is boring.  Normal is waking up and pouring yourself Cheerios and grabbing some protein because long ago you discovered those were good for you, and so you’re not constantly surprised when you eat Cheerios and protein.

Captain Marvel is a perfectly competent movie.  It’s not a great movie.  It’s not a watershed movie.  I doubt it will ever be my favorite movie, or my personal favorite heroine.  (I kept wishing it was Buffy the Vampire Slayer on the screen, frankly.)

But: I think that Iron Man, Thor and Dr. Strange have perfectly fine, not extraordinary origin movies.  I don’t begrudge them their stories, although they didn’t connect with me.  I’m not worried that a simply competent outing will cease the creation of straight, white, able-bodied male superhero movies.  They have leeway to be no more than “So, now I’ve seen that.”

In the same way, I’m thrilled that Captain Marvel stands on its own.  Carol Danvers doesn’t need to be Princess Diana.  This was a fine movie, it filled in the plot pieces I’ll need for Avengers: Endgame.  I’m not angry I saw it.  I don’t know that I’ll see her future adventures.  I might, I might not.

But female-led and diversely anchored superhero movies are here, and I hope they stay.  The good, the bad, and the perfectly competent.

Just get better writers, please.  Everyone: get better writers.

Photo courtesy of Marvel.

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