My reaction to Captain Marvel, the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, was oddly split. On the one hand, I found the beginning of the film one of the dullest opening sequences of a Marvel movie in a while. The plot and overall structure was reminiscent of the earliest films in the franchise, to the point of feeling generic. The big set pieces were predictable and there was never really much of a sense of danger, even when Earth was at risk of being carpet-bombed from space. I fully understand the reviewers who consider Captain Marvel thoroughly mediocre Marvel fare.
And yet, I came to enjoy the film much more than its constituent parts would have led me to believe. In fact, I left the cinema with a big grin on my face.
Captain Marvel had a difficult job in more ways than one. Like Ant-Man and the Wasp, it comes between two Avengers movies and after the biggest snap of them all. While the film introduces us to a new hero, it is something of a prequel to the MCU and we already know what happens to the couple of characters we know from other films and that they’re safe… for now. It is also the first of the Marvel films whose lead is a woman, and the film comes after the sole DC film that was received well by both critics and fans, Wonder Woman (though Mege was a bit more ambivalent about it than most), the other big female-led superhero movie.
You could say that Captain Marvel plays it safe, not least by following the template used by Marvel to introduce its heroes almost to a T. It doesn’t deliver the big, world-shaking momentousness of Infinity War. But there is an easygoing charm and confidence there that takes a while to emerge but that makes the film more compelling than its individual parts would make it seem at first. Like its lead character, Captain Marvel doesn’t need to prove its worth, and it doesn’t need to prove that women can be heroes deserving of their own film, whatever her Jude Law-looking mentor and a few thousand loud, angry dudes on the internet might say.
And in that respect its ’90s setting is quite fitting, because Captain Marvel‘s vibe reminded me of nothing as much as of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Not necessarily the big, heavy, angsty story arcs, but the standalone early episodes where a highschool cheerleader defeats the growly bad guys, no sweat. Where being underestimated by the world because, heck, a cute blonde is who you save, not who you’re saved by, is a constant – but so is the fact that in the end it’s the cute blonde and her friends, the geeks, the dopes and, yes, the girls, that are the heroes. Even before Carole Danvers becomes Captain Marvel and destroys a big friggin’ spaceship by flying through it, because why not, she’s a hero. Her best friend, a single mother, is a hero without needing glowing fists or power armour. And if the dudes around Carole think she doesn’t smile enough, she’s too ruled by her emotions? Well, they’re the ones losing out.
For the future adventures of Carole Danvers, I hope they will develop her character. I will want there to be something more specific than charming-as-heck-and-twice-as-powerful heroine. I don’t want her to solve every problem and save the world just by punching stuff and shooting lights from her fists, because that, the archetypical business of being a superhero, is what I find least interesting about superhero movies. But for now it’s more than cool that Captain Marvel doesn’t have to overcome herself and her flaws in order to find her inner hero. I mean, damn, she’s got Samuel L. Jackson as a sidekick, and there’s all the evidence you need that the new Captain in town is fun, she is cool, she is powerful, and she damn well doesn’t need to prove anything to us.