Over the course of 10 years, we have all slowly been indoctrinated into the cult of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We have simply come to accept that seeing a Marvel movie is part of the yearly routine – or as of late, part of the seasonal routine. I accept it willingly, myself. Even at their worst, the MCU has been able to produce 21 movies that are quite entertaining. Some are great, some are Thor: The Dark World. Regardless, Groot, Thanos, and Doctor Strange have all become household names thanks to the MCU.
The beauty of these films is that they can be very rewarding for the fans of the original comics, who gasp at the sight of a character they never thought they’d see on a movie screen, who they recognize immediately from their childhood. And they’re able to do this without it being a turn-off for the general audience who don’t make those immediate connections, and who may have never heard of the characters.
Having watched all of these movies upon release, and then multiple times after, I have become inundated with the knowledge of things I didn’t think I would care about. But ever since Avengers: Age of Ultron, something has been lurking in my mind that I like to call ‘Marvel Fatigue’ (noun): Extreme tiredness caused by an excessive amount of Marvel movies, over, and over, and over.
So let’s discuss Captain Marvel.
For those who manage to not stay into the know of every happening within the making of all of these movies, Captain Marvel takes place in the 90s. And if you didn’t know this before going into the movie, you’ll definitely know it by the end.
Don’t get me wrong, stylistically/culturally, the 90s is one of my favorite eras, so I’m ready for all the Nirvana and frosted tips you can give me. But I legitimately lost count of how many times the audience laughed at this movie for simply saying “Hey remember the 90’s? That was weird, huh!” It’s a minor gripe, sure, because it doesn’t really have much to do with the story, but it happened so many times it started to drive me crazy. I’m talking Blockbuster, Nine Inch Nails, Radio Shack, Payphones, Pagers, etc. all within the first act. To be fair, one could point out that the Guardians of the Galaxy films center on very late 70s and 80s culture. The difference is that Guardians is funny.
This feeling of being overcome with the same joke over and over again is how I feel with the MCU as whole. As of Marvel, I have seen 21 movies that all tie together with all of these very different characters. But the feeling of seeing new characters tie into a universe we already know things about can only last so long. The routine grows old eventually. Captain Marvel, to me, never seemed to find its place amongst these self-love reveals and the groan-worthy amount of 90s references.
Sure, I already mentioned people laughed, so obviously people managed to find it entertaining. That’s the point of all of the references. But it makes for lazy writing. Yeah, you can have a movie that just feeds off of audience members reacting positively to things they recognize, but if it needs all those references to survive, what will the lasting impact of the movie itself be? This was truly the Emoji Movie (or the Ralph Breaks the Internet) of the MCU: story aside, it thrived solely off of people recognizing the pieces of pop culture which it seemed to toss together into a collage of empty nostalgia.
Another glaring issue I had with Captain Marvel, was that it looks like it tried to be a ‘female empowerment’ movie. Whether or not this is what it actually was going for is something I may never know, but it’s certainly the impression I got from the trailers. Some parts of the movie still tried to be like this too, with random throwaway lines about how women can do anything. Which they can. But it definitely felt very very forced in this movie.
The Captain Marvel comics were not about female empowerment at all, at least from what the little research I have done after seeing the movie seems to indicate. Originally Mar-Vell is a man, and when, in 2012, the character of Carol Danvers (who we follow in the Marvel movie) takes over the role of Captain Marvel, it still is not about female empowerment. She simply takes over the mantle when Mar-Vell dies, because Captain America believes it’s what he would want.
My problem with this is that when 2016’s Wonder Woman came out, there was a sort of rallying cry around the empowerment aspects of it, because it was truly well done. While I still had other problems with Wonder Woman, I thought that arc they tried to convey really payed off. I think it’s pretty common knowledge that in the original comics, Wonder Woman is rubber-banded between being almost laughably stereotypical and being far superior to the men who hold her down. When the movie completely shatters all of those previous tropes, it comes across a lot stronger because it has a meaning behind it, and the story is almost directly linked to this point specifically.
When Captain Marvel attempts this, it feels as if executives saw the success of Wonder Woman, remembered they had a movie with a female lead in the works, and decided to try to replicate it when there wasn’t really anything there.
The last thing I’ll say about this issue was that in the end, shoe-horned in or not, the empowerment they tried to achieve wasn’t good at all. While I could easily say “Hey get yer darn feminist views out of my cool superhero movies!!”, the arc that was in the movie wasn’t even ‘feminist’ in any sense of the word. If Captain Marvel was played by a guy in this movie, the story could actually be exactly the same, because Danvers never battles any overpowering male force holding her back. In a way, it’s a human empowering story. She realizes that as a human, she can still be great, even if she thought she was something more.
I think it’s very okay to just have an ‘empowering’ movie. Not specifically female empowering, not specifically minority empowering. Both of those are obviously great, and super important. But I also think that a movie can just be empowering, and give anyone hope or a purpose or a voice or a way to see themselves on screen when they feel like they’re alone. Captain Marvel does a great job at this. But it does so after selling itself as something it is definitely not.
So where do we stand? From what I’ve already written, it’s clear I didn’t like some major aspects of the story the way it was told – but did I like the movie or not? The answer is I really don’t know.
I think I appreciate what the movie tried to do; it tried to rewrite the book on how origin stories are told, by telling it How I Met Your Mother style. (She already has her powers, but where did they come from?) It tried to fill in what tiny gaps are left in the Avengers story we already know. It tried to serve as a lasting memorial to it’s infamous creator Stan Lee. But while I think it certainly did do some of those things, I also think that they alone did not justify it being a successful movie.
In a word, Captain Marvel was unmemorable – perhaps the worst fate for a movie that carries such importance. The 21st in a saga; the final film before a climactic ending 11 years in the making. And it was just forgettable. Captain Marvel was certainly an entertaining way to spend 2 hours. What $150+ million movie wouldn’t be? Visually it rivaled Guardians at some points. The performances were good, and Samuel L Jackson in particular was great as always. There were definitely some moments where I thought it was funny, or cool, or interesting, but not the whole thing. I could name any scene in Infinity War, or Ragnarok, or Doctor Strange, but walking out of Marvel – and still while writing this – I didn’t remember every character’s name.
So why? Why are those movies good and this one bad? Other than the issues with the story that I already pointed out – which already left a bad taste in my mouth, this one just felt bland. In a world where we already have an Infinity War, and even a Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse, it’s hard for a Captain Marvel to truly leave a mark. If this was released before either of those, I think I would’ve let it slide as much as I let Ant-Man slide. But the release date of this turned it into the film-equivalent to eating dessert before dinner.
It should be noted that Marvel is not the first film in the MCU to leave this poor of a taste in my mouth. I think both Ant Man’s are boring, and I already joked about Thor earlier. It’s easy for a movie to just not be interesting at all when its sole purpose is to fit as a tiny piece into a much larger puzzle. Marvel Studios or Disney doesn’t need this movie to even be good because they know everyone is going to see it anyway. We have to do our homework and sit through the Marvels of the world so we get to enjoy the Avengers’. A film like Captain Marvel can often worsen the effects of Marvel Fatigue. The doctor recommendation is instead a healthy dose of Infinity War or Spiderverse.