We hurried to the darkness of the theater even as the sunshine beckoned. We hurried, compulsively, because the newest Marvel movie, Captain Marvel, had finally been released for our eager consumption. We hurried without much contemplation for this was just the latest piece in an expanding narrative. I wonder when I will stop hurrying to MCU movies. I have watched them with my sister, my friends, even dragged my parents along to some. It used to be that such communal experiences would thrill me. Each movie spawned a conversation, one of the few that encompassed my entire community. Yet, I find myself balking now, twenty-one movies later.
This is, of course, not entirely due to Captain Marvel, itself. It is a perfectly serviceable movie that has a perfectly acceptable mixture of action scenes, inspirational montages, and banter. But Captain Marvel was never going to be judged entirely on its own merit. No Marvel movie can separate itself from the overwhelming pressure of living up to greater expectations. Each must reach outside of its own story to connect to its predecessors as well as serve as infrastructure for future entries into the pantheon. Perhaps it is here, where Captain Marvel stumbles the most. Set in the 90s, the movie is situated in an era far before the one most Marvel films take place in. Due to the difference in time period, it is often tasked with being a prequel to the rest of the cinematic universe. This is most evident in the excessive incorporation of Nick Fury (Samuel Jackson) into a movie that is ostensibly about Carol Danvers (Brie Larson). Instead of being an origin story for one character, it is the origin story for Nick Fury, and for the MCU in general.
With much to accomplish, it is Carol’s story that gets shortchanged. It takes half of the runtime even for her true name to even be revealed. She is instead introduced as Vers, a warrior for the Kree race in their war against the shape-shifting Skrulls. Vers is a dedicated soldier whose quips are as sharp as her blows. But beyond the occasional sarcastic turn-of-phrase, not much of her character is revealed. Brie Larson plays this initial version of Carol with a discomfort that doesn’t quite fit with the character’s brash confidence. It is, indeed, difficult to see her as a cocky, but selfless hero. It is a strange combination that the movie fails to justify with further backstory. Instead, the movie substitutes character development for easy montages and deus ex machinas. It allows Carol to fly before we even see her learn to run. It is a movie out of sync, which is ironic, for one that seems so concerned about continuity.
It is those that are invested in the Marvel Universe that will benefit most from this movie. We will be the ones that ‘get’ the references, the ones that understand the significance of Captain Marvel in a greater narrative. But as a movie unto itself, it does not understand the characters at its heart.