Review: ‘Captain Marvel’ fails to launch

Illustration by Sarah Hofstedt

“Captain Marvel” is a superhero film centered around a woman, an inherent political act that is simultaneously the film’s greatest merit and detriment.

Of course, there is always a degree of excitement with seeing a woman finally breach a space largely dominated by men. This is the greatest argument for this film’s existence: to expand the realm of possibility for what kind of subject matters and characters these kinds of films can approach. As long as one young woman sees this film and finds in it inspiration for the future, any criticism of the film is ultimately futile.

The central problem of the film, however, is that its efforts begin and end with the concept of creating a central female protagonist.

There is almost nothing interesting or well-crafted on screen. The narrative is cookie-cutter, the visuals are generic and the performances range from passable to wooden. The movie is about a woman, but beyond that, it is the same story you have most likely experienced dozens of times.

If you have seen a Marvel movie, you could write the entire plot of this film based on rough estimates. There is a degree of non-chronology to the narrative, but other than that, the film boils down to this: a “normal” person experiences something “abnormal” that transforms them into a superhuman. There are mustache-twirling villains, goofy sidekicks, poorly-written jokes and at best adequately-choreographed action sequences (further marred by what appear to be half-finished digital effects).

I’ll avoid fine details so as to leave the experience to the viewer, but suffice to say everything could be summed up in less than a paragraph. Aside from a central twist, you probably know how it ends, too.

Then there’s the problem of creative direction. The team of Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden has never entered the field of genre cinema before, coming from a background in small-scale independent drama pictures. It shows.

There is a distinct lack of style, a greyscale hands-off approach to the aesthetic of “Captain Marvel” that makes it difficult to keep one’s interest. There are one or two strange and jarring turns into handheld photography, but other than that every non-action scene (the majority of the film) is shot and blocked in essentially the same way, making the film look like a particularly disaffecting episode of a television sitcom.

This would be less of a problem if the production design, writing or acting in the film could alleviate some of the directorial and cinematographic stress but alas, the movie is lacking here as well. The settings are drab, the screenplay is produced by an uninterested committee and most of the performances are phoned-in.

In a post-“Wonder Woman” world, it seems that the presence of a female protagonist is seen as enough to justify a film’s existence. I do think women deserve generic action narratives of their own, but I don’t think such a film should be touted as anything more than that.

I also don’t believe action, science fiction or superhero films should ever be written off as less than, purely because of their genre. Genre film has just as much capacity to produce great art or entertainment as any other kinds of movie, if not more.

Unfortunately, “Captain Marvel” isn’t doing anything more than the bare minimum to push film (or even superhero film) forward. I’d go so far as to say it’s boring by the standards of its own genre.

The problem with this film is that it could have been something much more. There is fun to be had, but at the end of the day, it is a product above all else.