“Captain Marvel” of MCU: Woman but No Wonder in series supper hero

It takes a long time for “Captain Marvel” to focus its force fields, and for Brie Larson’s dauntless pilot, Carol Danvers, to find her true identity. Her authentic superpowers and a reason we should care about her convoluted adventures.

As the jumble-shop plot starts to unfold, her identity is that of a warrior in training with an elite group of Kree. That is an advance civilization on a far-off planet. Making her way to the vicinity of our humble globe, she hurtles down from outer space and crashes through the roof of a Blockbuster store. It’s 1995 on Earth—where she notes without comment a videotape of “The Right Stuff.

This 21st exploration of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has a singular distinction

It’s the first to be led by a female superhero without help from a superguy. Yet the film doesn’t give Ms. Larson enough good stuff to fulfill her role’s potential. Her Captain Marvel is an appealing character who becomes an impressive one, wrapped in a shimmering aura of blue and white energy. What’s missing, though, is what help make “Wonder Woman” an exemplary figure of female empowerment two years ago: Unforced warmth, along with strength, and flashes of delight.

The extended preface offers reason to expect better, given the lectures the heroine gets from her Kree mentor. A martinet named Yon-Rogg ( Jude Law ): “There’s nothing more dangerous to a warrior than emotion,” he tells her at one point. “Control your impulses,” he says at another.

That sounds like definitive male arrogance to Carol, just as it will to female members of the audience. Who’ve come up against the persistent notion that women are too emotional or impulsive to do jobs best left to stable, reliable men. Yon-Rogg’s advice provides a perfect setup for his student to go her own way and define her femininity fully. And soon enough she’s struggling with mysteries and challenges that should elicit exactly the sort of quicksilver feelings Ms. Larson conjure so memorably in “Short Term 12” and in her Oscar-winning performance in “Room.” (Her directors here were Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. )

For openers, Carol isn’t sure who she really is.

She believes herself to be a Kree fighter, name Vers (a remnant of Danvers that’s pronounced “verse”). But she’s beset by fugitive memories of being someone else in another life. She’s suppose to be fighting Skrulls, vile shape-shifting creatures that destroy our planet and threaten the entire galaxy. But their shapes shift bewilderingly—by now you may have seen the trailer in which Ms. Larson, in full Kree battle regalia, punches out a sweet-faced granny on the subway. And their vileness comes into question along with everything else Carol thought she knew about herself and the world around her.

In other words, this woman is a candidate for genuine heroism. Yet there’s a fundamental dissonance between the depth of her plight and the shallow disorganization of the script. Which is credit to the directors and Geneva Robertson-Dworet. In sequence after sequence. “Captain Marvel” settles for extended stretches of conventional action tropes, intersperse for a while with unsurprising flashbacks—of Carol as a little kid who likes to go fast on go-karts. As a young woman who goes fast on her motorcycle; and as a young Air Force pilot. Who must endure male jet jockeys saying dumb things like “You’re a decent pilot but you’re too emotional. You do know why they call it a cockpit, don’t you?” (Captain Marvel as a woman isn’t a radical concept. She descends most notably from the comic-book character Carol Danvers, a superheroine who was known as Ms. Marvel before attaining, in 2012, her captaincy.)

Some of the action is spectacular

It’s a Marvel production, after all, and Marvel knows how to do things in a big way, or, in this case, in a way that looks bigger than it feels. (Huge as its revenues will be, “Captain Marvel” is essentially a bridge between last year’s “Avengers: Infinity War” and next month’s “Avengers: Endgame.”). And Ms. Larson does as well as the material allows, meaning that she’s bright, brisk, pleasingly wry and touchingly trouble until she is finally—finally—transform into Captain Marvel, a galactic protector without peer.

At that point the movie should reward her, and us, with at least a moment of sheer joy, but it does not. It does, however, get occasional lifts from a funny cat, Goose. Who coughs up a hairball to end all hairballs. And it benefits greatly from the presence of Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury—not the mature and formidable mastermind he has play in previous Marvel movies. But a young Nick who will one day become director of the counterterrorism agency S.H.I.E.L.D.

Since it’s the 1990s, S.H.I.E.L.D. is only a modest task force, not the power it’s destine to be, and Nick is only an underling who, assigne to investigate reports of an alien invasion. Becomes Carol’s buddy and her partner in anticrime. Mr. Jackson is the beneficiary, by the way, of digital technology that has youthened his features quite astonishingly. This could be the beginning of a beautiful new career.

INFO:

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive language)
Genre: Action & Adventure, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Directed By: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Stars: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn
Written By: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Geneva Robertson-Dworet
In Theaters: Mar 8, 2019 Wide
On Disc/Streaming: Jun 11, 2019
Runtime: 128 minutes
Studio: Marvel Studios

Richard Brody
The problem is with the corporate anticulture that controls these productions-and the fandom-targeted demagogy that they’re made to fulfill-which responsible casting can’t overcome alone.

Peter Rainer
Lacking the wit and graphic oomph that sometimes rescues the Marvel franchise from terminal fatigue, “Captain Marvel” is yet another origin story for yet another superhero.

Mark Daniell
Does it work? The short answer is: yes. There’s enough to keep both diehard Marvel fans and newcomers engaged.

Anthony Lane
Superhero cinema has lectured us, ad infinitum, on the responsibility that is conferred by extraordinary gifts. Praise be to Larson, for reminding us that they can be bringers of fun.

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