It’s not even the summer yet, but the Marvel Cinematic Universe is once again upon us. “Captain Marvel,” the latest entry, is also among the most anticipated, largely because it’s the first Marvel movie to headline a female superhero.
This is an important sociological phenomenon, I suppose, but I find it difficult to get excited about the movie – as a movie. Directed and co-written by the husband-and-wife team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck – whose previous work, including the fine “Half Nelson” and “Sugar,” is all in the indie realm – it’s a lackluster piece of Marvelized engineering. Lacking the wit and graphic oomph that sometimes rescues the Marvel franchise from terminal fatigue, “Captain Marvel” is yet another origin story for yet another superhero.
Brie Larson plays Vers, the amnesiac Kree inhabitant of the planet Hala and an elite Star Force pilot under the command of Jude Law’s Yon–Rogg. She has unexplained superpowers (never clearly defined) and is plagued by flashbacks to an earlier life she can’t decipher. Her backstory is the origin story.
Caught in an enemy ambush by the shape-shifty Skrull, she escapes and lands on Earth circa 1995, where she connects with future SHIELD agent Nick Fury, played by Samuel L. Jackson in a de-aged digitization that makes him look a good 25 years younger. The effect is mighty creepy, though I don’t think it was meant to be. (If this sort of thing catches on in Hollywood, we may never see actors acting their true age again.)
The filmmakers have some fun with the ‘90s setting – Vers accidentally crash-lands into a Blockbuster Video store, she peruses a VHS of “The Right Stuff” etc. – but a little of this wink-wink stuff goes a long way. And the early revelation that Vers was Carol Danvers, an Air Force test pilot on Earth, isn’t exactly earth-shattering.
As usual in this franchise, a lot of actors who are too good for their roles turn up, including Annette Bening as a scientist with an invention both the Kree and the Skrull are slavering to possess, and Ben Mendelsohn, as the Skrull honcho Talos. And what of Brie Larson? She’s acceptable, which is more than I can say for most of the leaden dialogue she’s asked to deliver. It’s fun to see her zooming into the stratosphere like a human fireball, but I hope that the actress who was so startlingly good in “Room” and “Short Term 12” will not be deserting us.