With Avengers Infinity War and Endgame undeniable in the force of their cultural dominance, the risk of alternate Marvel entries falling into the cracks is real. Ant-Man and The Wasp was a casualty last year, and Captain Marvel is another unfortunate.
Sandwiched between titanic film releases, the culminations of years of setup and creeping development, Captain Marvel is, shockingly enough, yet another origin story. Its hero, Brie Larson’s Vers, is a sprightly and zippy presence, a nice foil to the serious tone of the main Avengers strand, but her narrative is so familiar in its beats as to be entirely dull by now.
A mysterious crash buried in her memory haunts Vers, who’s seemingly a member of the alien race called the Kree. Her compatriots, principally meaning her mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), are engaged in efforts to win a bloody war against the green-skinned shapeshifters called Skrull, led in turn by Ben Mendelsohn as Talos. Mendelsohn is thankfully allowed to use his native Australian accent for once, and Jude Law his own British, and the two figures are both relatively well-played, even if their roles unfold fairly predictably.
Crashing around this conflict, and eventually crash-landing on Earth, is Vers, Larson quipping and side-eyeing left, right and centre. She’s a great central performer, and bounces off a de-aged Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury nicely. Her rarer moments of genuine depth, though, come in sequences with an old acquaintance, Lashana Lynch’s Maria, and these scenes are conspicuous by their rarity.
This element, the film’s classy decision to swerve away from traditional, dismaying romantic subplots and focus on female companionship, is laudable and right. It’s sadly also under-baked and underexposed. Instead, throughout most of the runtime, we are subjected to overlong action sequences and an opening act that is as long as it is unimportant. Knowing, as almost all audience members do, that the meat of the film will take place on Earth, a long mission on a remote planet begins to feel like knock-off Star Wars and/or Trek far too soon.
When Captain Marvel hits its stride, making canny decisions relating to the story’s direction, it is capable of the Marvel average. Fun action, light quips, a remote but occasionally affecting sense of threat, and not a great deal more. A cat that seems more than a cat, Goose, is a cleverly-used, though completely unexplained, device, and once certain cosmic powers are activated, the film’s climax does punch and wallop its way to relative satisfaction.
For all of Captain Marvel’s huffing and puffing, though, the biggest eyebrow-raise comes at the inevitable mid-credits scene, and its tee-up for Endgame. It’s a shame that this phase of the Marvel behemoth’s endless rumble toward financial dominion has left a few left-field projects at the wayside. It will be interesting to see Larson’s integration into the fold in time, but for now her first outing is just another superhero film in the age of superhero films.