Captain Marvel ★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

While Marvel is no doubt viewing CAPTAIN MARVEL as a stride forward in the representation department - this movie is scientifically designed to appeal to those particular values - it's a massive step backward in terms of formal technique and fooling folks that these MCU pictures are anything more than feature length installments in a television series that will only end once humans have scorched the earth and there is no signal on which to transmit these products of the Industrial Cape Complex. It's not quite Phase One, THOR level flat, but there's a rather pronounced lack of visual flash about our initial introduction to Carol Danvers, Air Force pilot and alien smasher of the patriarchy. All the criticisms that've become cliche when discussing the MCU - the "house" style, multiple pre-viz'd CGI set pieces, narratively relying on all that came before (as opposed to crafting stand alone entertainments) - apply here in spades. Fleck and Boden can't even seem to apply a personal touch to any of the "dramatic" scenes, which is kind of baffling, given their established knack for elevating rote material (HALF-NELSON being an indie darling iteration of the after school special).

But the movie's biggest problem is that Danvers is barely a character. Any backstory we're given on her is perfunctory and almost purely expository, rather than adding any sort of emotional depth. Instead, Marvel's opted to make her a walking gif for plucky girl power; all NIN t-shirts, blonde swagger and a broad sense of heroism that's really never delved into beyond the movie relying on the fact that we've already seen Nick Fury send out a last second distress call to his '90s girl right before disintegrating into ash during the grim finale of INFINITY WAR. In fact, CAPTAIN MARVEL's manufactured nostalgia is really what folks are probably going to remember most (well, that and the super cute kitty), as Danvers crash lands in a Blockbuster, on the nose needle drops from bands such as No Doubt are layered over middling fight scenes, and Fury uses a pager to keep the rest of the boys at SHIELD updated. It's peak boardroom cinema, to the point that it feels like an oversight that the uncanny valley comprising Young Sam Jackson's face doesn't spit out Ezekiel 25:17 just to remind us that, hey, remember PULP FICTION? That came out in the '90s too!

At the risk of sounding like one of the MRA/Incel dolts who've been threatening to bomb Rotten Tomatoes with negative reviews because the very thought of a girl being tough and heroic is a challenge their flimsy excuses for masculinity, the representational elements in CAPTAIN MARVEL are almost as much a byproduct of gross capitalism as the movie's winking sense of time and place. When I interviewed Danny McBride for HALLOWEEN last year, he told me that - while penning a slasher movie during the #MeToo era - he and his co-scribes didn't look to any specific survivors for inspiration; rather, it was remembrances of the strong women who raised him that made McBride want to explore Laurie Strode's traumatic evolution in the years since Michael Myers butchered her high school Haddonfield friends. Their movie just landed at a rather opportune time, so Blumhouse/Uni retroactively leaned into themes that seemed ripped from the headlines (and rightly allowed Jamie Lee to take the reins and become the slasher revival's progressive spokesperson).

On the flipside is CAPTAIN MARVEL, which is actively courting audience members who're looking for a "representation forward" form of filmmaking, forsaking any sort of meatier character development by hitting rather stock sexism tropes that feel more fit for a self-important piece of Awards Season bait (see: ON THE BASIS OF SEX, or one of its paint by numbers ilk). Danvers is taunted by male cadets in the Air Force that she doesn't have the goods to survive training (presumably because "she's a girl") and is even told to "smile more" during the movie's rather blatant nod to TERMINATOR 2. But we never really learn why she wants to be a pilot, play baseball, or save the galaxy (for that matter). Instead, we're gifted a meme-ready montage of Carol "getting up" from every one of her male oppressors' take downs and dusting off her shoulder, as Marvel knows that the sequence will undoubtedly make its way to the feeds of Woke Twitter users in the same fashion that excerpts from WONDER WOMAN's "No Man's Land" sequence did. To wit, it's the thigh jiggle without any clear illustration or understanding of what made those moments so important to individuals desperate to see their own image projected onscreen. All we're left with is a product, market tested to the nth degree and ready for those already in the bag for this sort of bullshit to eat it up and spit it onto social media while the machine keeps churning out plastic action figures when it should be delivering flesh and blood human beings for folks young and old to idolize.