Let me start with this: Captain Marvel was not my favorite MCU origin story or movie in general. It was a solid, middle of the road MCU installment probably falling in the top 15 or maybe 10. I have my reasons and will explain below.
By comparison, my 4 year old daughter loves Captain Marvel. It is no understatement to say Captain Marvel is her favorite. She emulates her by play acting a weird hybrid of Captain Marvel and Elsa, and it’s amazing. Weird, but amazing. To paint you a picture, she bounces around the house saying she’s Captain Marvel and pretending to have “frozen” power shooting from her hands.
To clarify, my daughter has also seen nearly every major MCU movie to date (except End Game). She has expressed that she likes Captain America and Spider-Man. And though she has “played” Spider-Man (again with some “frozen powers”), she has never played Captain America. Frankly, I think she mentions Captain America because he’s easy to spot.
And more recently, she has spouted off the line from Age of Ultron, “Can we talk about how the Cap just said ‘watch your language?'” Not sure if I should laugh or worry I’m teaching her the wrong thing here. But she is still the language police in our house, correcting me if I say the “S” word in front of her.
That’s right. Stupid. I can’t say stupid. “Cap doesn’t like that kind of language.” But I digress…
There is something to be said for her attraction to Captain Marvel. Perhaps a primordial level understanding that what she is seeing in Captain Marvel is very much what she can become. In other words, she sees a strong girl, one she can admire, and be like one day.
This is not a new revelation. Social advocates, like Brie Larson
herself, have pushed for more female and minority roles in the film industry for this very reason for years. And I’m hopeful, for my daughter’s sake, this is the first of several female super hero movies to come over the next several years.
That said, Captain Marvel has some notable flaws. And these flaws are ultimately what keeps Captain Marvel out of the top 5 MCU movies, if not out of the top 10.
To start, as an origin story, Captain Marvel is largely lacking in establishing a compelling “why I fight” motive – her reason to become a hero.
All the best origin stories in the MCU (and really any superhero movie) establish a compelling reason why the character transforms into a hero. For example, if you watch Iron Man back to back with Captain Marvel, you can see a stark (you may be a nerd if you see the pun there) contrast between the first MCU origin story and the latest installment. Iron Man does an incredible job showing why Tony Stark needs to become Iron Man. His character transforms from a self involved playboy that sells weapons of mass destruction to feeling responsible for his role in the mess of the world’s affairs. He’s still self involved but his self involvement almost drives him to become so consumed with guilt that he must fix it. Throughout it all, he is incredibly likeable because you see his motives so clearly. Also his spot on delivery, timing, and wit don’t hurt there either. And even in this first installment, the audience gets a glimpse into his character’s overall arc that plays out over the course of several MCU movies.
And he is not the only one with a compelling reason to fight. Bruce Wayne sees his parents murdered. Spider Man could have stopped his beloved Uncle from being murdered. Superman lost his home and now defends Earth. And yes, none of those things actually happen within the 22 movies in the MCU but I digress.
Captain Marvel’s motive is unclear. Most of the movie she fights for respect from her male companions. By the end, she no longer seeks male approval. She seeks a personal revenge. She seeks to help her new BFF find a forever home. But after that, then what?
Hopefully, her next stand alone movie will dive deeper into what motivates her and better establish her character.
Which brings me to my second reason for not liking Captain Marvel as much as some other MCU installments. Captain Marvel is very flat and one dimensional.
The director and writers spent a considerable amount of energy and screen time establishing her strength and grit. But they failed to show qualities that better establish her as likeable and relatable.
She’s a super charged bad ass that demonstrates admirable determination. And so far, she has chosen to do good. However, she’s lacking the flaws that make the other super heroes so relatable. Tony Stark has his self absorbed cockiness. Captain America is too righteous. Black Widow talks about how she’s trying to wipe out the red on her ledger and atone for past mistakes. And Hulk. Well, Hulk, obviously has stunning anger management issues.
The other super charged bad ass in the MCU? Thanos. While Thanos is the biggest enemy the MCU has seen so far, he also shared similar qualities. Only he sought to destroy half of all life in the universe as a “savior.”
But Thanos had depth, far more than Captain Marvel. We learn he loved his adopted daughter Gamora. We saw he showed some remorse towards how he treated his other adopted daughter Nebula. We see he respects honesty and admires bravery. Thanos was motivated by a sense of righteousness and truly believed what he was doing was for the good of the universe. At times, the audience is almost on his side because of how much he believes in his mission’s outcome.
By comparison, Captain Marvel is a flat hero. No, she doesn’t need to be perky or smile more. She just needs to show that behind her super abilities and hard ass grit, she is human, she’s flawed, and she has a reason to care. And, more importantly, that the audience has a reason to care about her.
And unfortunately, the attempt to establish a “caring” side fell flat. At one point, she tries to connect with the daughter of her friend. Though this scene is supposed to be heart warming and show a softer side, it ultimately fails. The dialogue and delivery is stiff. The connection feels forced and non genuine.
In fact, Captain Marvel gave more backstory and development to Nick Fury than to Captain Marvel herself. For the first time in the MCU, the audience got to see Fury (the director of SHIELD) as an almost regular, down to Earth guy. He’s funny. He has a soft spot for cats. He’s something more than just a shadowy figure pulling strings in the background.
In fairness to Captain Marvel, this is not the first origin story in the MCU to struggle with establishing a hero’s flaws and likability. For as much as I enjoy Thor now, his origin story also lacked the relatability factor that Captain Marvel lacks. He was over the top powerful and arrogant. Thor lacked likeability. It was not until Ragnarok that the audience really got to see Thor as a much fuller, well-rounded, and likeable character.
So there is hope later MCU stories of Captain Marvel will also add some relatable, likable qualities to her character.
In addition, Captain Marvel’s overall world is largely forgettable. There really aren’t elements to help connect the audience to her.
For example, Tony Stark has Stark Industries. He’s a billionaire turned hero. He has a love story with Pepper Potts, his long time assistant. Thor has Asgardian myth and legend, which adds a sense of lore to him. He also has a magic hammer and controls lightening. Dr. Strange mastered the mystic arts, protects people’s realities, and so on.
The point is, each character is surrounded by a world, elements, myths, and lore to give them room to grow as characters. And more importantly, these elements make it easier for people to want to care about the character.
Captain Marvel does not have a larger, rich world. Instead, Captain Marvel relies heavily on the MCU as a whole. Separate her from the MCU, and there is not much left. It is doubtful that on its own, without a broader connection, as many people would have gone to see it.
Then there’s the issue of humor, or lack there of. Again, Larson played the character as expected based on the comic book sources. Captain Marvel is supposed to be a no nonsense bad ass. The funniest parts of the movie were not anything to do with Larson. Instead they were largely driven by situational nostalgia and comic moments with other characters.
But look what that did to Thor. Without some banter and whim, characters become less entertaining, less engaging, and, ultimately, forgettable.
Captain Marvel did have a couple memorable lines, as Thor did, but I can count them on one hand. Guardians of the Galaxy and Iron Man have too many to count. The element of humor makes them that much more memorable and quotable. Attempts at humor in Captain Marvel often fell flat with the funniest scenes often involving Fury or other supporting characters.
Still, Captain Marvel was not a terrible installment in the greater MCU. For a superhero movie, it has adequate twists and some unexpected surprises. Seeing Fury and Agent Colson in their earlier careers is also quite interesting, even if it ultimately stole some of Captain Marvel’s thunder.
The fight scenes were overall well done. At one point, she fights to the soundtrack of “I’m Just a Girl” which is fitting given the movie’s strong female empowerment message. And the overall soundtrack is second only to Guardians of the Galaxy with plenty of 90’s tunes that spark nostalgia for anyone who grew up during that time.
Captain Marvel is going to have a big role going forward in the MCU. Hopefully, as she is in new movies, her character will flush out and audiences will see a much more interesting and dynamic character in Captain Marvel.