It was the best of films, it was the worst of films.
Just caught Captain Marvel today, and it was worth the price of admission. It added another brick to the structure of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and had quite a few fun moments. The acting was uniformly good, with Brie Larson playing a very believable Carol Danvers. I give it a 6/10; it’s not the best Marvel movie, but not the worst.
Why only a 6 out of 10?
Because it has no heart. Warning, some spoilers ahead.
The basic story seems to be one of rediscovery; Carol Danvers starts the movie as Vers (pronounced Veers), a highly trained Kree commando (she describes them as “warrior-heroes), engaged in a war with the Kree Empire’s enemies, the Skrull. She has amnesia, was told she was the sole survivor of some attack somewhere, but has dreams that don’t quite match up with that. She also has some kind of energy projection power she doesn’t have full control over, and her superior/mentor/trainer tells her she needs to “control her emotions.” But hey, she can still physically kick ass.
A mission to pick up a Kree agent goes badly wrong and she winds up captured by Skrull, who promptly use a device to scan her memories–in the process showing her a bunch of Earth memories–in search of something. This something is the McGuffin of the movie, and it turns out it’s on Earth. Carol escape the Skrull ship, and engages in a race with the Skrull agents to get to the device first. In the process, she uncovers her own history, meets her old US Air Force partner and BF, recovers her past, saves the day, etc.
But here’s the thing. You never feel that she has a personal stake in any of it.
Back on the Kree homeworld in the beginning, her lack of memories didn’t seem to bother her; her response to a “memory-nightmare” was to spar with her mentor. She doesn’t feel incomplete in any real way.
As she realizes her history is a life on Earth, she expresses no amazement at the revelations, no sense of betrayal that her superiors were obviously lying to her. Even her reconnection with her BF is undertaken as part of the “mission.” Sure, she looks wistfully at a bunch of photographs of her past, but it feels almost like she’s just assembling a Truth File on herself; at no point does if feel like she emotionally reconnects with the people she loved and who loved her.
Then she goes off and saves everyone who needs saving. And leaves Earth with a new, self-assigned mission.
So I walked out of the theater feeling like I’d seen a decent action-movie, but . . .
In the beginning, she should have expressed deep frustration at the loss of her past.
When by stages she learned the truth, she should have been angry. She should have become obsessed with the quest for answers. She should have had a beautiful moment of connection, full of tears and joy.
She should have been deeply pissed at her Kree superiors, and channeled that anger into determination to right the wrong she found.
In the end she should have been deeply torn, wanting to stay with the people she loved and remembered now, but needing to go to keep them safe.
As a writer, this pissed me off, mostly because it was so unnecessary. The plot itself didn’t need to change one iota; Danvers still would have had to retrace every step, have every moment of realization she had in the movie. It would have begun, and ended, in the same place. Just adding a few little scenes, giving Danvers a few real and emotional reaction beats, would have added a heart to the movie that just isn’t there.
It wasn’t an acting problem, it was a writing/directing problem.
And I think I understand; the writers/directors wanted to portray Carol Danvers as the warrior-hero she called herself, a warrior-hero built on a female USAF pilot with nerves of steel and a determination to never quit. And they did that very well. But they forgot about the person. For comparison, think about the MCU’s Captain America, Steve Rogers. He needs, deeply, from the moment you meet him. He needs to do something. To contribute. He connects with people deeply throughout the movie; Bucky, Dr. Erskine, Agent Carter, the Howling Commandos, etc., and fights for them as well as everyone else. In the end he sacrifices everything for them, too.
With Danvers, you get no sense of a driving need. Worse, in the end she makes a similar sacrifice, giving up the life she rediscovered and people she loves to protect them and others–and you get no feeling that it’s a real sacrifice. She’s just got a new mission, now.
So, 7 or 8 for the action, 2 or 3 for the missing emotional heart. A solid, but disappointing, 6/10. If you’re a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, go see it. Otherwise . . . meh. Just be aware that it’s very much a YMMV film, your mileage may vary.
Marion G. Harmon