Thu, 21 Mar 2019
Captain Marvel (12A)
Running time 2hr 4 min
CAPTAIN Marvel makes for a very peculiar (and very uneven) addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Whereas this franchise was, in its early years, unwilling to reach into the more obscure corners of the comic book mythos, 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy showed that there was a market for less well-established heroes and heroines; this new film is intended as a kinda-sorta-companion piece to the former, but the billing does it absolutely no favours – lacking Guardians’ overall sense of chutzpah and self-parody, it nevertheless expects its audience to have immersed themselves fully in the lore, making it an unforgiving sell to those who can’t tell their Kree from their Skrull.
This is a full-throttle blockbuster, never slowing to let us chew our popcorn; if it’s now possible to speak
of a ‘Marvel format’, this is an unabashed case study, packed to the brim with world-building silliness and volatile set pieces. Though its second half is considerably more solid and nourishing than the first, it’s hardcore Friday night entertainment, a for-the-fans joyride which demands a quiet sit-down and a cup of tea once the dust has settled.
Casual viewers are best-advised to watch Captain Marvel as a Brie Larson action jaunt – the queen of the box office is on reliably punch-y, explode-y form as Vers, an amnesiac space-warrior invested with immense superpowers. Lured to Earth by visions of her past, she finds herself plonked slap-bang in the middle of an idealised version of the mid-90s, all bulky PCs and whiny grunge hits (by the time the soundtrack cranks up Hole and Nirvana numbers, anyone who survived the era will begin to feel their hair turn white). Mere mortal Dr Lawson (Annette Bening, underused here) has drawn the unwanted attention of one Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), an extra-terrestrial mutant-orc-thing cut from the same cloth as virtually every other Marvel villain (fans will know his kind from the first Guardians movie); he’s looking to harness a technological MacGuffin the good doctor’s been working on for his own nefarious purposes. Vers sets out to protect it.
As you’d expect, it’s all quite exhausting – Larson does battle not only with Talos, but with the sheer blandness of her own character. The film is an origin story, but its attempts to flesh out Vers feels half-cooked, as if the frequent fights didn’t leave space enough for a three-dimensional portrait; flashbacks to her human past (including a contrived harsh-father subplot) are ineffectual. Then along comes Nick Fury (a spectacularly de-aged Samuel L Jackson), who injects a semblance of substance and pace into proceedings – his buddy-cop dynamic with Vers is great fun, allowing us an all-too-brief glimpse at the fish-out-of-water pseudo-comedy the movie otherwise struggles to be. This critic will always have time for a female-fronted superhero flick and Captain Marvel’s shameless, ballsy commentary is a gleeful punch above the trite moral messaging of DC’s Wonder Woman. But you’ll need a map to navigate its intricacies and for little in the way of a payoff.