Suitable effort: Captain Marvel strikes a balance among hero flicks

Captain Marvel stars Brie Larson as Carol Danvers, who becomes an intergalactic superhero through a journey of self-discovery. Image courtesy Walt Disney Studios Captain Marvel stars Brie Larson as Carol Danvers, who becomes an intergalactic superhero through a journey of self-discovery. Image courtesy Walt Disney Studios

Films by or about women don’t need to be masterpieces in order to have the right to exist. It’s a point that should be obvious by now, but sadly needs to be made every single time some group with nothing better to do decides that X movie is the next battleground because God forbid a woman straps on a proton pack, a performer has a real-world opinion, or a director uses her platform to make a point. Remember Iron Man 2? Tony Stark is still beloved after that movie didn’t land. Thor had two full releases to get wrong before Ragnarok. Captain Marvel has a balance of strengths and weaknesses, but the desire for it to preemptively fail, the enjoyment in wanting a superhero story led by a woman to fall on its face is, in a word, sexist. In three words, it’s really fucking sexist. Get over yourselves and let someone else try to have fun—it’s not ruining yours.

Captain Marvel tells the story of Vers/Carol Danvers (Brie Larson), a Kree soldier in the interplanetary war against the shape-shifting Skrull. At least she thinks she’s Kree; brief flashes of a life she can’t remember point to a different origin. The Kree chase the Skrull to Earth in the 1990s, where Vers must locate the infiltrators while discovering the truth about herself, and the mentor in her visions (Annette Bening), and questioning the wider context of a war she believed to be so simple and justifiable. She is joined by S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury (a de-aged Samuel L. Jackson), who has not yet started the Avengers Initiative and is not even aware of the existence of extraterrestrial life, though he’s quick to catch up.

Captain Marvel

PG-13, 124 minutes

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX, Violet Crown Cinema

A major current that runs through Captain Marvel is the notion of discovering your inner strength and reaching your full potential. While this is common in almost every movie with a hero and a villain, Vers’ struggle is distinct in that she’s trying to reclaim power that she has been deprived of, and she is controlled by others. Her commanding officer (Jude Law) trains her to combat without using the energy that blasts from her hands, which can be turned off remotely by an implant on the back of her neck. “What has been given can be taken away,” he likes to remind her—but the question arises of whether it was someone’s right to take it away in the first place. People don’t need to prove their inherent worth to anyone but themselves; if you believe in someone and support their journey, you both benefit. If you scorn and manipulate, you may as well get out of the way before you’re left in the dust. It’s a good message, especially for young women, and it is gratifying to watch Larson stuff it back in her opponents’ faces when her time comes.

As a movie, Captain Marvel is fine. The good: the chemistry between Larson and Jackson is wonderful. Larson is aware of the weight the role is carrying but is not afraid of the fun that superhero movies provide, and Jackson clearly needs to be cast in more comedies or let loose more often. A climactic reveal regarding civilians who suffer in wartime makes the film weightier than most Marvel movies have been, at least pre-Black Panther. The not-so-good: the action can be limp and unclear. A key fight near the end should have brought down the house. The script and dialogue do no favors to the committed performers. The ’90s aesthetic is joyless, content to take potshots at easy targets (Blockbuster, pagers, Alta Vista), and punctuated by a tacked-on Now That’s What I Call Music soundtrack. Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, better known for dramas like Half Nelson, lean too heavily on subtext and charisma, leaving potentially exciting moments to die on the vine.

To be clear, there are worse things than a not-great movie. It never condescends, it never berates, and the worst thing about it is that it’s not as good as Black Panther. Most superhero movies aren’t. Captain Marvel is not as good as it could have been, but that’s true of lots of blockbusters whose sequels go on to do interesting things.

See it again: Brave

PG, 93 minutes

The Paramount Theater, March 17

Local theater listings:

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema 377 Merchant Walk Sq., 326-5056

Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213

Violet Crown Cinema 200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000

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