In the middle of a combat training, Jude Law’s Yon-Rogg constantly tells his student Vers (Brie Larson) “I want you to be the best version of yourself.” No, Vers doesn’t reply with that famous Lady Bird quip, “But what if this is the best version?”
Sure, Marvel doesn’t have the wisdom to deal with a vulnerable woman figuring out herself. Turns out, sadly, it doesn’t have the joyous wonder of Wonder Woman (DC wins here!) either. The first female superhero from Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has a lot of action chops, and a not-so-disguised feminist ambition, but in totality, it feels like a routine excursion of a Marvel character.
Despite the regular handouts, Marvel has found invention even in its typical formula. Black Panther reclaimed black narrative, Thor: Ragnarok had welcome lunacy, and Avengers: Infinity War envisioned a scale hitherto unseen in comic book adaptations.
Captain Marvel, sandwiched between two Avengers tentpoles seems more like a regular meal. It has neither determination, nor subversion, and not even a hint of the scale we’ve come to expect from the superhero cosmos.
The action begins on Hala (Kree Empire’s capital planet) where our protagonist Vers is haunted by memories she can’t quite grapple with. A member of the Kree Starforce, she participates in a mission that goes kaput, and she gets captured by the shape-shifting Skrulls who try to probe her memory.
Her disjoined memories then take her to a planet referred to as Planet C-53, which we later learn is our mother earth. Vers’ recollections play out like those sports commercials for female athletes, that she can’t play baseball, that she can’t bike well, that she is unfit for combat training. Someone even asks her about ‘cockpit’. In case you were missing out on the message here, the movie for that matter makes it LOUD. It’s about female empowerment.
In Wonder Woman, when Diana finds herself among men, she is struck by their societal mores. Not only does her moral timbre make her journey glorious, her unexplored powers offer truly a sense of wonder. When Vers lands on earth, making a hole in a videostore, she calls herself a ‘noble warrior hero’, before her unreliable past on earth comes haunting her. She is yet to become Captain Marvel, also the human pilot, Carol Danvers. But unlike Diana’s journey, Vers is given a movie which doesn’t have enough vulnerabilities in its script (Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck and Geneva Robertson-Dworet) to make her coming-of-age truly heroic.
Larson, a wonderful presence in recent cinematic memory, tries her best to infuse the material with her genteel strength, but the writing is too busy to offer her quieter scenes. Which is why when the bombast actually takes place, it doesn’t have the payoff that makes us clap.
Director duo Boden and Fleck (Half Nelson, Sugar, It's Kind of a Funny Story, Mississippi Grind) have chosen a shifty structure to let us into the origin story of Captain Marvel. When the structure fully reveals itself (with some stunning surreal renditions), Captain Marvel turns out to be so invincible, and so without moral conflict, that she becomes a boring version of the all-powerful Superman minus his kryptonite. Unlike Diana’s fallible love for a human, Captain Marvel has nothing at stake to make her pause. In the face of her beaming power, the climatic confrontation fails to arrive, and in turn, the film loses the hope of a decent action sequence.
Did we forget to mention Nick Fury? Well, Samuel L. Jackson’s eyes and skin are restored here to his youthful days (some freaky CGI game there), and he forges an alliance with Vers who will become his first superhero experience (much before his Avengers days). But instead of Vers, it is with an orange cat named Goose that he displays some oozy chemistry.
Captain Marvel is a film made for the outrage generation. Women can’t have emotional weaknesses, even if their child’s future is at stake. Because Captain Marvel is supposed to be the walking-talking-running-flying version of female power, she is reduced to just that. A cardboard of all things awesome, minus the semblance of any flesh, blood or feelings. And when you don’t even have a villain to counter this superwoman, the minutes spent watching her turns futile. Till she is exchanges blows with the big bad purple Thanos in a few weeks, you might want to reconsider meeting her.
(The writer is a journalist, a screenwriter, and a content developer who believes in the insanity of words, in print or otherwise. He tweets @RanjibMazumder)
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