A computer-generated Samuel L. Jackson baby-talks to a computer-generated cat as a computer-generated Brie Larson shoots fire out of her hands while flying around a fleet of hostile alien spaceships, some ’90s song playing on the soundtrack.
This is what we call cinema in 2019 — the sacred art that Steven Spielberg is trying to protect from Netflix.
The 21st film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “Captain Marvel” is neither much better nor much worse than the baseline for one of these movies. Though it distinguishes itself in a few ways:
1. In its 1995 setting, which quickly grows tiresome with its glut of cutesy references. When our hero, Vers/Captain Marvel (Larson) crash-lands in a Blockbuster Video in the first act, it’s funny. By the time she’s having her third-act brawl with a bunch of blue aliens while No Doubt plays on the soundtrack, you’re just ready to go home.
2. In its feminist streak, which is winning but perhaps a little cynical (societal progress sold back to us as stale popcorn).
Captain Marvel is the first female superhero to lead a movie in the MCU, and she’s markedly more powerful than any Avenger. She’s also kinda boring. Or maybe it’s the movie that’s boring? In any case, I am bored.
“Captain Marvel” opens with an exposition-clogged series of scenes concerning an intergalactic war between two alien races: the Kree and the Skrulls.
Vers is a human living amongst the Kree. She has a convenient case of amnesia regarding her former life on Earth, but the Kree have still let her into the elite Starforce squad led by Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) and guided by a “Supreme Intelligence” in the form of Annette Bening.
And ... somethin’, somethin’, somethin’. The early goings are video-game cutscenes revolving around mission objectives. Something goes wrong, the Skrulls capture Vers, she lands on Earth, remember the ’90s?!
Look at that cardboard cutout of “True Lies” at the Blockbuster Video. There’s a poster of “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.” There’s Brie Larson dressed grunge while doing an AltaVista search at the Internet cafe. Hole and Garbage and Nirvana and “Street Fighter” and I grew tired of this fast.
Vers hooks up with S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, in an impressive feat of digital de-age-ification). They banter like a couple of buddy cops in a 1994 action-comedy, then go off to save the universe and so forth.
Vers’ past is revealed via a CD-ROM-aided flashback. Foes become friends. The plot eventually hinges on our heroes obtaining a magic MacGuffin, as all these movies do.
Nothing about “Captain Marvel” is especially bad — just bland, run-of-the-mill, passably mediocre.
It’s a Marvel movie, so of course the action is choppily edited and decidedly not exciting. The story has a few potentially interesting things to say about war, empire and the refugees created in their wake, but any ideas are undercut by the fact that we’re talking about green aliens vs. blue aliens here. Larson and Jackson have a decent comedic chemistry, but the script mostly wastes it.
The film was written and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who made the small, tremendous dramas “Half Nelson,” “Sugar” and “Mississippi Grind.”
They’re just the latest indie filmmakers to be swallowed up by the studio franchise monster. If you squint, you can see flickers of the warmth and intelligence that marked their earlier films pop up now and then in “Captain Marvel.” But then it’s time for another space battle or for a character to explain the convoluted plot or for a post-credits scene that previews “Avengers: Endgame,” coming to theaters just seven weeks from now.