Marvel Studios unveils the Ace up its sleeve, finally showing the audience the secret weapon they have to stop Thanos: Captain Marvel. After seeing the film, I find myself resonating most with a phrase I heard earlier this weekend: “It feels like a Phase One movie.” I truly think there is no better way to describe the entirety of the movie than simply labeling it as “Phase One material.” Of course, Phase One was awesome and without it being so beloved, we wouldn’t be in the final chapters of Phase Three. Still, compared to other Phase Three films, and even most of Phase Two, Captain Marvel comes up a little short.
Since 2012’s The Avengers, we’ve only had a few origin stories: Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, and Doctor Strange, which were released in 2014, 2015, and 2016 respectively. Now, in 2019, we have another. However, this sort of gets a pass from me for two reasons: it can stand entirely alone, and it’s more than just a hero origin story. This film can be watched in Phase One, and it’s sort of an origin story for the entirety of the MCU, not just for Captain Marvel. Some may say that 2008’s Iron Man or 2011’s The First Avenger, or even 2012’s The Avengers were origin stories for the MCU but they were more passive origin stories while Captain Marvel does everything it can do answer as many unanswerable questions that may or may not have arisen over the past 20 films.
And it’s that alone that makes this film seem so routine: 20 films have come before this and there is very little that this film does to stand out. At this point, some things are expected in Marvel films (and superhero origin movies) to happen regardless of the subgenre or character that have become more basic tropes than what you’d find in the Hero’s Journey. Recently, I believe we’ve grown out of the phase of superhero films that rely on such beats as we’ve seen the release of Black Panther, Thor Ragnarok, Civil War, and Infinity War which have all made large impacts in the Comic-Book Movie world and even become cultural and critical icons. In the face of adversity, however, Captain Marvel backtracks and plays it safe.
I suppose if Captain Marvel is supposed to be the sort of “Superman” of the MCU, and the leader of the Avengers in Phase Four and beyond, that her introductory film should be made for the widest audience possible and it certainly feels as though this was. This movie was a popcorn-munching crowd pleasure for sure, but after that crowd drives home from the theater I expect they’ll feel rather underwhelmed and be hard pressed to recall many specific moments during the film itself. I’m not saying that this film is bad in any way (aside from two reasons I’ll get to), but I am saying that it plays it too safe, becoming routine, bland, and underwhelming in many regards.
While Thor Ragnarok was an absolute breath of fresh air for a character we’ve loved for 6 years, Black Panther was a cultural icon and Best Picture nominee, Infinity War was one of the most emotionally impactful, beautifully rewarding, and relentlessly epic films of this generation, Captain Marvel is…a Marvel movie. Yeah, it’s good. But that’s about as enthusiastic as I can get about it. There are quite a few funny parts but I only remember laughing, not what exactly I was laughing at during my screening. The jokes felt paint-by-numbers and the exposition was so crammed into the dialogue that I was taken aback a few times during the opening minutes of the film. And some things brought up in dialogue directly set up a sequel – statements that require a sequel in order to be explained – and that’s something Marvel has always been good at avoiding. The last minutes of this film felt more like The Mummy (2017) than the 20th film in the highest grossing franchise of all time. I feel as though important lessons were forgotten.
It still stands among the Pantheon of Marvel movies as a good time at the theater, one that is surely worth admission but one that I can’t see myself gathering around a living room with a bunch of friends chanting to watch. It’s a serviceable flick that’ll give you a chuckle and make you excited for Endgame but other than that, it’s one that can stand to be missed. With the writing being rough and the action being underwhelming until the end, I can’t help but feel this was either rushed or played too safe and either way, I feel as though it is eclipsed by the greatness of the other Phase Three films. My advice: watch it before 2012’s The Avengers if you’re going to have a marathon. That way, it fits in with the other films in terms of quality and scale, and it’ll make the ending of Infinity War more of a cheer-worthy moment than a “What? Whose pager is that?”
I’d probably say a 70% is where I have this movie now. I still love all Marvel movies because they fill me with childlike wonder so I can’t hate too much but I can’t help but wish for more.
As always, thanks for reading and I’ll see you soon!