Starforce member Vers has a hard time of it on the Kree planet of Hala. Much like her human female counterparts on Planet C-53, if the slobbering exhortations of Captain Marvel’s male critics are a useful yardstick in measuring what women must bear here on Earth, Vers endures a constant barrage of nonsense from men. Her mentor, Yon-Rogg, for instance, repeatedly reminds her to tame her emotions—how familiar must that particular refrain be for female earthings? Even the Supreme Intelligence, Kree civilization’s AI ruler, feels it necessary to drive this point home. The use and abuse of emotion, then, is the thematic lynchpin of Captain Marvel, the twenty-first entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sad it is, indeed, that the film ultimately fails in its thematic objectives by unsuccessfully evoking the very depths of feeling it seeks to explore.
Opportunities abound for the film to achieve some sort of emotional resonance but all of them fall flat. The affecting personal narratives we’ve become accustomed to in recent superhero movies—whether it be T’Challa’s juggling of tradition versus change or Miles Morales’s adolescent struggles towards adulthood—are completely lacking here. Vers’s personal story, to begin with, is emotionally lusterless. Introduced as a sarcastic joker, Vers completes her story as much the same person despite ample plot points that should have provoked some sort of character arc within her. She discovers, for instance, that she is not Kree but, actually, a human, an Air Force pilot named Carol Danvers. She also reconnects with her old Air Force friend Maria Rambeau in what is likely the movie’s most disappointing and underdeveloped relationship because here the filmmakers lack the courage to make the gay subtext text. Perhaps the problem is with Brie Larson’s performance which is leaden and unconvincing. She is constantly upstaged by Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury and Ben Mendelsohn’s Talos.
What really disturbs the film though is its egregious music soundtrack. The selections are so on the nose and unimaginative it’s laughable. When Danvers visits the Supreme Intelligence and comes to fully understand who she really is, for example, Nirvana’s “Come as You Are” fills the background. Even worse is that the big climatic fight scene in the big feminist movie is played out under the conspicuous tones of No Doubt’s “Just a Girl.” Come on, man. This is more Captain Obvious than Captain Marvel. So when Danvers realizes it’s her human nature that empowers her to rise up again after falling down I fully expected Chumbawamba's “Tubthumping” to blare out in all its frivolous bunkum. Thankfully, we’re spared that fate and left ready to enjoy the final battle sequences.
These battle scenes are where the film shines. True to form, Marvel does not disappoint and directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck deliver a series of masterful audiovisual spectacles magnificent in concept and superlative in execution. Bioluminescent space flight, exciting martial artistry, Captain Marvel has it all. In fact, these fight scenes are enough to save the film from total disaster and they must be enjoyed in a movie theater which is probably why Captain Marvel is such a box office success.
If only Danvers’s inner turmoil could have matched her outer struggles.