Captain Marvel – fun for kids, swill for adults

by Fabius Maximus

Summary: Captain Marvel is an amazing film, revealing much about America, and showing that Disney can churn out films of any quality and make a fortune. Tell us a film is great, appeal to our tribal loyalties, give us action and CGI – and we will pay for the product. Why are we so desperate for entertainment that we accept this?

"Captain Marvel" poster

Teens – boys and girls – will love Captain Marvel. Lots of action and heroics, a few surprises, accompanied by loud rock music. And, as always for modern Hollywood, top quality cinematography plus beautiful and imaginative CGI. But nothing intellectually challenging; it is as shallow as a pools of water on my sidewalk after the rain.

Captain Marvel has a mystery, whose answer would reveal much about America: why do so many critics consider this to be a great film? The dialog is leaden. The pace, between blasts of CGI and the fights, is glacial. The script is consistently sloppy; much of it makes no sense. The fight scenes run by the rules of Saturday morning cartoons: blasts from ray guns, lasers from the Captain’s hands, bashings against walls — then everybody gets up for the next dance. The tonal shifts are random, even within scenes. Even within fights – at an invisible signal, everybody stops for silly quips.

Captain Marvel has similarities to but overall compares poorly grade B films made with microscopic budgets, such as 1930s westerns and 1950s science fiction. It has ambitions to be like Ray Harryhausen’s films (e.g., Jason and the Argonauts), but its director-writers (Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck) are not that good.

A tough Captain Marvel

It opens with a long boring montage of flashbacks, massive dumps of exposition, and …a long car chase. This prepares the audience for what is to come: it will be a long 204 minutes. It is a collection of scenes copied from better films, poorly glued together. For example, it has many scenes (repeated later) of her failures as a child and young woman (e.g., crashing her go-cart, falling off the climbing rope) – equivalent to scenes from the good days of Steve Rogers’ (Captain America) childhood.

Ms Marvel
An earlier version.

The film’s greatest weakness is Brie Larson, who is horrifically miscast. She does the small scenes well, projecting a warm person with a nice smile. But physical power and ferocity are outside her range. The effect is like watching John Wayne in romantic comedies like North To Alaska. She looks and sounds like someone dressed for cosplay, but stiff. Like 1988 presidential candidate Mike Dukakis in the tank. She affects either a wooden demeanor or a smarmy smirk, and delivers her combative lines like someone stretching her boundaries in film class.

Samuel Jackson does a great Nick Fury, as always. There is a long scene with him buddied up with Larson. He gives it all, working harder at the role than in any of the other Marvel flicks – sometimes going over-the-top. But even he cannot breathe life into those scenes.

The film has some of the sloppiest writing I have seen from a major film in many years. Every fifteen minutes or a leap of illogical or glaring oddity would wreck my suspension of disbelief. One of many examples: the Captain can identify a shape-shifting Scrull by sight in the early part of the film, then can’t do so later. My favorite: an alien scientist stranded on Earth without tools, without so much as a handkerchief, quickly converts a 1990s airplane into a spacecraft able to successful duel with a space fighter from a star-faring civilization. That is as if a modern “scientist” (biologist, chemist?) were stranded in stone age Tahiti (e.g., 1700), and modified a canoe to fight off an F-18. Things like this happen several times in the film.

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We learn how Fury lost his eye: a stupid, meaningless incident.


Captain Marvel evolves from a powerful warrior – given superpowers by the usual kind of accident – into a goddess. A flying Jesus, like Superman. She will become, rightly, the center of the Marvel Film Universe and leader of the Avengers. After all, she is as powerful as everybody else, combined. This will create the opportunity for fruitful dramatic tension, since in this film Captain Marvel displays little intelligence, judgement, or self-control. Perhaps all that came with her apotheosis at the end of the film. If so, in future films the role for the others will be to follow.

A role model for our time

A question for those how have seen or will see the film: if Captain Marvel was a man, would they have to change a single line of dialog? What does that mean for her as a role model for girls? Is it progress that girls as well as guys grow up loving power fantasies – films about domination? Unlike those written for boys, these written for girls focus on domination of boys.

Many of the reactions to the film are strange, showing America’s increasingly inability to distinguish reality from fantasy.

Goose, the cat

The cat – “Goose” – is a major character in Captain Marvel. It’s a weird extraneous element in the plot, sloppily written by writers desperate to fill its two hour running time with its sketchy content. I doubt they anticipated the impact it would have.

As the number of unmarried and divorced middle-aged cat ladies increases, they become an attractive market for Hollywood. They love all mentions of cats, as seen in the ecstatic mentions of “Goose” by reviewers. Cats to women desperate for affectionate relationships. It has over 7 million hits on Google.

Expect to see many more cats at in future films, in larger roles.

Summary: instead of Captain Marvel, go see a better film

For another perspective on this film, see Ian’s brief note in the comments. I agree with his recommendation: skip Captain Marvel and see Alita, Battle Angel. See his review of it.

Some great reviews. Some unintentionally fun reviews.

Most reviews by professional critics include boilerplate denunciations of Marvel for not doing a women-led superhero film years ago. The RT rating was 83% “fresh.” Most were boring boilerplate. But a few had interesting things to say.

Despite its often over-the-top go-grrl message, many criticize the film for being insufficiently feminist (“80 minutes into this formulaic Marvel flick, with surprisingly, barely a hint of progressive feminist attitude…”).

“Larson – an Oscar-winner …has little to do beyond mug for the camera and spout third-rate one-liners to any of the men who get in her way. …There’s an emotional core in there somewhere, but the movie doesn’t find it. Not since Edward Norton’s Hulk has the MCU offered such a two-dimensional title hero (compared to Danvers, Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk might as well be a Dostoyevsky character). …Nothing here is as plastic as the subway fight at the end of “Black Panther,” but that’s only because Boden and Fleck lack that degree of ambition. …Despite never being vulnerable, Carol learns that her vulnerability is not a weakness. Despite never being weak, Carol learns that she doesn’t need permission to be strong. Despite never being unique, Carol learns that she’s just another Avenger.” — David Ehrlich at IndieWire.

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“Just to be completely, unerringly, let’s-bubble-wrap-the-universe safe, Boden and Fleck decided to make Danvers stronger than strong, fiercer than fierce, braver than brave. Larson spends the entire movie being insouciant, kicking butt, delivering her lines in an I-got-this monotone and staring down everything with a Blue Steel gaze of supreme confidence. Superheroes are defined by their limitations – Superman’s Kryptonite, Batman’s mortality – but Captain Marvel is just an invincible bore. … {it} presents us with Brie Larson’s Carol being amazingly strong and resilient at the beginning, middle, and end. …Carol looks up an old friend, a fellow feminist fighter pilot …another Mary Sue, boringly capable, flawless, and stalwart. Rambeau is a single mom with a daughter, but when she considers leaving the planet to join Carol’s war with the aliens, the idea of abandoning her kid is played for laughs, not drama. The directors …don’t realize that treating every potential obstacle as no problem whatsoever makes for a very dull movie.” — Kyle Smith at National Review.

SJWs lie: “Weeks before its release, Larson’s portrayal of Captain Marvel was attacked by trolls on Rotten Tomatoes who hadn’t even seen the movie. (Their dumb-ass vitriol prompted Rotten Tomatoes to remove, for the first time, the option for users to rate a movie before they’ve even seen it – which doesn’t answer the question of why anyone should ever be allowed to rate a movie he hasn’t seen, but whatever.)” — Stephanie Zacharek at TIME. RT did not ask for reviews or ratings; it allowed people to say if they intended to see the film (allowing theaters to forecast demand).

“{T}he emotional high point …comes when Carol’s best human friend Maria (Lashana Lynch) convinces Carol that she was an invincible warrior even before she got her powers. …it’s still a beautiful connection of sisterhood and strength, and I did cry.” — April Wolfe at The Wrap.

“I {hoped} that the cheap-looking sets and costumes and the hokey dialogue were an homage to syndicated genre TV shows of the 1990s, the decade in which the movie is set. The labored exposition …would have been right at home on an episode of, say, ‘Stargate SG-1.’ …the action sequences {are} sluggish and muddled. Every punch thrown feels about as ham-fisted as the movie’s allegory about political refugees being treated as terrorists.” — David Bax at Battleship Pretension.

Fourth wave feminism is the quest for superiority, not equality. To test for it, reverse the genders. If the result is sexist, its 4th wave.

  • “For most of Captain Marvel it’s the female characters who save the day (fine!), while the male figures are either dressed down or neutered…” — Christian Toto at Hollywood in Toto.
  • “Carol’s discovery of her power and besting over the men in her life is good.” — Kristen Lopez at Fansided.

Some critics forget that this is fiction: “given that she’s the first woman to be charged with the duty of saving this cinematic universe, I for one totally support her avenging.” — Dana Stevens at Slate.

Some critics forget that Hollywood is about making money, not producing inspiring propaganda: “A great superhero origin story hobbled by the corporation using it for their own selfish purposes.” — Kristen Lopez at Fansided.

A much read – the ur-review of Captain Marvel, telling you all you need to know about it: “‘Captain Marvel’ Is A Towering Artistic Achievement” by Matt Walsh at IndieWire.



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