You may be lining up for, or are already in line for “Captain Marvel”. The superhero who soars through the sky surrounded by flames like a newly lit match. But this time there’s a twist. Captain Marvel (pronounced Mar-Vell, like the poet) is a woman. But she’s more than just a woman with powers, she’s a glowing symbol for female empowerment. A righteous, if at times self-righteous, evocation of girl power in a genre defined by the toughness of men.
“Girl power” might as well be the theme for Marvel Studio’s latest blockbuster. Especially when much of the ass-kicking plays to the punk-rock themes of No Doubt and Riot Grrl. These tracks are admittedly fun, and they play great with the dingy 90’s setting. (Why Hollywood all of the sudden has decided to resurrect our most boring decade is beyond me). There’s pagers, doughnut shops, a heightened admiration for the Air Force (thanks to Tom Cruise and his aviators), and of course, Blockbuster Video stores, in which we see our heroine (Brie Larson) crash through the roof of.
Coincidentally, she lands next to a VHS tape of “The Right Stuff.” We learn that she too is a charismatic member of the Air Force, or at least was. Now she’s an alien named Vers, and a resident on the “Blade Runner”-like planet of Hala. So how did she end up at a Blockbuster in Los Angeles? Long story short, she is there with her fellow Kree–a race of baronial warriors–in hopes to track down the shape-shifting bad guys that go by the title Skrulls. They’re the usual take-over-the-world type, with Goblin features and a chilling leader played by Ben Mendehlson. But Vers’s battle isn’t intergalactic so much as it is interdimensional.
Who is she? Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck have scaled the film to monumental proportions, and yet, the idea here is simple. It’s about a woman finding her identity. Flashbacks tell us that she had a lovely life on earth flying planes with her friend Maria (Lashana Lynch). Still, she also seems to enjoy life as an alien, photon blasting energy out of her fists while saving the worlds with her mannered mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). The answer to her identity crisis is in her mind (isn’t it always?). There’s just one problem. Although her brain holds more secrets than a Bob Ross painting, she can’t seem to access them due to a supernatural force.
Instead, the movie decides to let the secrets slowly trickle out of its muddled script. You will sit impatiently through the origin story bits. An hour of poorly paced exposition proves to be the pictures arch-nemesis. And the slow motion! Every frame places it’s characters symmetrically walking in half speed, with a fan just outside the frame blowing wind through their hair. It will look damn good for the posters, or maybe for a Carl’s Junior commercial, but it slows an otherwise brisk pace.
Thankfully, the pace picks up when she meets a pre-eye-patched Fury, played dutifully by a computer generated Samuel L. Jackson. This is when it’s at its best. Abandoning the “Star Trek” vibes for an effervescent buddy comedy, this space opera became music to my ears. Larson and Jackson both bring energizer bunny energy to their roles–the two are best friends off screen. And it’s that chemistry that brings life to such a dull affair.
The movie is big, with spaceship battles and explosions. But where’s the magic? And where, dare I say, is the message? Larson is a superlative woman warrior, and it’s entertaining to watch her unleash her powers in the third act. (Thanos has another thing coming for him in “Avengers: Endgame”). Yet, the screenplay would rather see Larson be stoic than human. She has a movie-star’s squint and a charisma that melts the screen, but the character, despite amiable virtue, isn’t particularly relatable. She can take out villains in droves with a clench of her fists, and yet, there’s nothing super about her. The same can be said for the film.
PS: It’s a cat that steals the show here. You have heard of cool cats before, but with superpowers–one of which is puppy eyes– and a knack for being at the right place at the right time, you might leave the theater with a new favorite superhero. Trust me, if for nothing else, see it for the kitten.