Movie review: 'Captain Marvel' is just OK, not quite marvelous

David Dizon, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 05 2019 10:04 PM | Updated as of Mar 06 2019 04:23 PM

Captain Marvel ditches her Kree colors for something red and blue. Marvel Studios

MANILA -- It had to happen sometime. 

Captain Marvel, the newest superhero movie from Marvel Studios and the precursor to "Avengers: Endgame" is just okay. Not marvelous, which is something you might expect from a movie with the word "Marvel" in the title. 

True, we've had similar lower-tier Marvel movies in the past -- "Ant-Man" and "Doctor Strange" spring to mind -- but not like this one. "Captain Marvel," a slight story given an A-level push before "Avengers: Endgame," feels like a letdown. Let me explain. 

Set in the 1990s, "Captain Marvel" tells the story of Carol Danvers (Brie Larson), Air Force hotshot who becomes one of the MCU's most powerful heroes. Danvers plays a pivotal role in the Kree-Skrull conflict and even has some history in the creation of the Avengers. 

Danvers has a rich (and somewhat wonky) history in comic book lore. First introduced as a character in the 1960s, her origin is accurately portrayed in the movie except for one character's gender change. A controversial comic book plotline involving rape has been rightfully vilified and forgotten by present comic book writers. Danvers has also cycled through several name changes, from Miss Marvel to Warbird to Binary before finally inheriting the Captain Marvel mantle. 

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SPOILER ALERT

The movie skips most of that history by going back to the drawing board: Danvers as top gun pilot who gets caught up with some alien tech hoo-ha. Except that isn't the only story the movie is telling us. 

The movie actually starts in Hala, homeworld of the Kree race where Danvers (given the name Vers), is undergoing training with Kree commander Yon-Rogg, played with wily fierceness by Jude Law. A Kree Starforce mission to save an intergalactic spy goes awry due to an attack by the Kree's enemies: the shape-shifting Skrulls. The ensuing conflict rips away the veil on Danvers' story and makes her a major player in the Kree-Skrull war. 

The Skrulls have come to Earth. Marvel Studios

Several things bog down this movie. Tonally, Captain Marvel is all over the map -- starting off as an intergalactic Dirty Dozen ala Guardians, then a John LeCarre infiltration thriller with a central mystery, then a message movie and finally a comicbook movie. And while Marvel has done well in the past mixing and matching genres, this one loses its balance too early.

The 1990s setting gets several nods -- a grunge look here, a Blockbuster video there, some obvious music clues -- but is mostly inconsequential. The introduction of Nick Fury as a digitally de-aged Samuel L. Jackson skirts uncanny valley territory; thankfully, they fix it since Fury is in this movie a lot. Brie Larson as Danvers does nothing wrong here: she does solid work in a movie that makes mediocre choices. 

What we do get is a standard origin story -- how she got her powers, how she uses said powers to fight for the oppressed. Except there's too much filler, too much lazy storytelling, too much checking the boxes from a list, not enough cowbell. Want to know how Nick Fury lost his eye? Check. What about the origin of that badass pager? Check. Wait, how come nobody knows Captain Marvel if she was a superhero in the '90s? Check. Is the cat cool? Checkkk.

It also takes too many narrative shortcuts to implied empathy. The advantage of watching several Marvel movies is that you start seeing past the skew. As an audience member, implied empathy for Carol Danvers is a given because she's the hero. But think about the dramatic spadework they did in the first Captain America movie: weakling Steve Rogers jumping on a grenade to save his buddies only to discover it's a dud -- a heroic act before he even gets the supersoldier serum. Carol doesn't get that hero moment until near the end -- instead it's off to the races to fight the Skrulls, discover her origin, develop SuperSaiyan powers. 

Captain Marvel joins the Kree Starforce. Marvel Studios

The concatenation of events leading up to her big supercharged moment feels too little, too late. Even the humanizing effect of Danvers' relationship with Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) and her daughter Monica is given short shrift. 

It's not all bad though: Carol's "prison break" where she tries to fight despite depowering gloves is one of the more interesting scenes in the film and the payoff on her origin works well. 

Also spectacular: Ben Mendelsohn as the Skrull big bad Talos and how he gives the story its biggest twist. As a concept, the Skrulls are rife with possibility -- think Bodysnatchers without a kill count: a doppelganger army that can take over the highest echelons of government. This ain't that story either. 

So what's the verdict? For Marvel completists, "Captain Marvel" is required viewing. For those who want to know how Carol fits in the Endgame crunch, you have to stay till the end-credits. 

Captain Marvel's biggest flaw is that it plays without ambition, never deviating from the Marvel master mold. Coming from a year that brought us "Black Panther," "Avengers: Infinity War," "Aquaman" and "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse," Captain Marvel feels underwhelming, a step down. 

And it coming before Warner Bros. "Shazam" (starring a character that was originally named Captain Marvel) may feel like comeuppance. We'll see.