Captain Marvel is merely a fun pit stop to a promising Endgame
Carol Danvers (played by Brie Larson) is a game-changing addition to Marvel’s superhero canon. One wonders why the movie does not feel as momentous as it should.
There’s much to admire about Captain Marvel. It’s a cookie-cutter superhero film, but with a female lead as its primary variant. Carol as Captain Marvel is breathtakingly unique among the comic series’ women characters. Unlike Mystique, Black Widow or Jean Gray’s Dark Phoenix, there is no reference subtle or explicit to Carol’s sexuality or feminine guile.
The blockbuster passes the oddly elusive Bechdel Test with flying colours – which means there are at least two named women characters in this movie who talk among themselves about something other than men.
The film remains firmly focused on her conventionally ‘masculine’ skills and technical ingenuity. There isn’t a single human female character in this film who isn’t a pilot, scientist, combat specialist or a young girl aspiring to be one of the above. In fact, the movie improves upon its own subject matter by renaming her primary character ‘Captain Marvel’ rather than ‘Ms Marvel’ in the comics.
While this is not the first major Hollywood film to feature strong female characters, the framing of such characters in Captain Marvel may be its greatest virtue. One may recall, for instance, Megan Fox’s character as an exceptionally-skilled car mechanic in Transformers. You may have difficulty recalling this detail due to acute cinema-narrative dissonance; in which the story attempts to highlight the character’s skills while the camera insists on retaining focus on her ‘sexy’ body. All women in Captain Marvel, in refreshing contrast, are respectfully framed. No gratuitous erotic imagery is deployed for the male nerd gaze.
One cannot state that a progressive political reading of Captain Marvel would not dig out a range of problems. Like the rest of the Marvel universe, the film maintains a clear neoliberal/imperialist tilt. The fate of the world is in the hands of superior individuals who are worlds apart from the common masses – masses whose only purpose is to point towards the skies and cheer for their benevolent saviours.
A film, however, must offer more than a feminist commentary on what women are capable of. This is where Captain Marvel fizzles down to a way station on the path of something great, instead of becoming an icon as it deserves.
Captain Marvel’s storyline follows a classic action-adventure template with a gender-swapped lead. The plot is predictable with moments of despair or triumph that can be seen coming from miles away. There is an argument to be made that the film is formulaic on purpose, because it wants to do for a female superhero precisely what it did for the endless series of male ones. But one is tempted to compare this to Black Panther, which was also a politically significant superhero film. Black Panther did not just showcase a race-swapped superhero, but outstanding set and costume designs, eye-popping visual effects, and nuanced villains.
Captain Marvel is politically important, but adds nothing original to the other components of good cinematography. The movie features uninspired visual effects, low-energy choreography, good-enough acting, acceptably decent editing, and a standard superhero plotline.
There are some meme-worthy quirks that are fairly entertaining. The subplot involving the “cat” is both adorable and hilarious. There’s solid chemistry between Carol and Nick Fury.
Captain Marvel, as a whole, is the movie equivalent of Bhera – a motorway way station between Lahore and Islamabad. It’s a useful spot that cuts the boredom of the long wait and helps you stock up on essential supplies for the remaining journey. There is, lamentably, nothing particularly unforgettable about this entity in itself, and there’s little reason for visiting it if you’re not already on your journey towards Avengers: Endgame.
All photos: IMDb
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