review round-up

Captain Marvel Review Roundup: Maybe They’re Bored With It, Maybe They’re In-between

Brie Larson as Captain Marvel
Brie Larson in Captain Marvel. Photo: Marvel Studios

Disney has lifted part two of its embargo on Captain Marvel, and the reviews are generally less spicy than the troll campaigns would have you believe. Considering that this is Marvel’s first woman-led (and female co-directed) project out of [checks notes] 21 films [lights notes aflame because that can’t possibly be right] there’s a lot riding on Carol Danvers’s super-suited shoulders. Most reviewers have noted that the film by indie duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck is relatively low-key for a superhero blockbuster, although they differ on whether or not that makes it refreshingly relaxed, or just dull. Reviewers are also fairly divided on whether or not Brie Larson’s effervescence extends beyond that CG alien glow. You can read the reviews here:

“So, in a way, the Marvel Universe can be seen at this precise moment as resting on the shoulders of a woman — and a relatable, down-to-C-53 woman, whose manner is as ordinary as her power is extraordinary. Larson gives a breezy, buoyant performance that often reminded me of Patty Duke as ‘Patty’ in The Patty Duke Show, which might be the highest praise I can bestow. A badass Patty Duke is a marvel of evolution.” —David Edelstein, Vulture

“All-in-all it’s fine, but nothing to get too excited about. And it could have and should have been so much better: The cast was there, the cool directing talents, the budget and the ‘brand’ goodwill. Halfway through most Marvel movies I don’t often find myself dreaming up some other Brie Larson, Jude Law, Annette Bening, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn and Gemma Chan movie (oh right Gemma Chan is in this as a glorified extra), but it happened in ‘Captain Marvel.’” —Lindsey Bahr, Associated Press

“The raw material is all there, but filmmaking itself does not yield any truly thrilling, resonant moments. The action sequences are rote, at times almost muddled. A CGI set piece toward the end looks downright retro, and not in a cool, ‘90s way. But, hey, there have been plenty of male Marvel stars have gotten totally serviceable vehicles — why can’t that be acceptable for a woman?” —Esther Zuckerman, Thrillist

“Larson is far too eager to play her own action figure, and that proud approach doesn’t leave Carol anywhere to go once her memories inevitably return. So she settles for quips and second-hand glimpses into whatever life she used to live. There’s an emotional core in there somewhere, but the movie doesn’t find it. Not since Edward Norton’s Hulk has the MCU offered such a two-dimensional title hero (compared to Danvers, Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk might as well be a Dostoyevsky character).” —David Ehrlich, IndieWire

“‘Captain Marvel’ is only the second major Hollywood movie to feature a female superhero at its center, but it’s a savvier and more high-flying fantasy than ‘Wonder Woman,’ because it’s the origin story as head game. Larson’s Vers is like someone trapped in a matrix — she has to shake off the dream of who she is to locate the superwoman she could be. And that makes for a rouser of a journey.” —Owen Glieberman, Variety

“I wasn’t thinking, Wow! Instead, I heard the voice of my own inner superhero, Peggy Lee, whispering in my ear: Is that all there is? The most heinous supervillain of all is Boredom.” —Stephanie Zacharek, Time

“The problem is everything is so low-key, so calculatingly underplayed, that the stakes are never convincingly heightened. Larson spends the first part of ‘Captain Marvel’ almost in a narcotized haze, which is fitting. But once she comes into consciousness, she never finds the sweet spot between muted impassivity and the kind of compelling machisma her alter ego warrants.” —Ann Hornaday, the Washington Post

“In Fleck and Boden’s interesting proportions — they themselves are largely independent filmmakers — Larson does a surprisingly muted riff on superhero dynamism. She’s arch and clever and very strong, but she’s also quiet, a mellow presence that sometimes gets drowned out by all the clamor surrounding her. It’s not an unsuccessful performance, exactly, but it is a weird one, a downbeat choice that gives the movie an intimate, sometimes too laid-back timbre.” —Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

“It would have been nice had one of those writers told Larson about the comedy shifts. The talented Oscar winner looks uncomfortable during the lighter moments, lacking that necessary glint her eye. She killed it in 21 Jump Street and Trainwreck. She can do comedy without being the female version of Robert Downey Jr.” —Mara Reinstein, Us Weekly

“I wanted a clearer, more central story for Captain Marvel’s emergence on to the stage, and in subsequent films — if she isn’t simply to get lost in the ensemble mix — there should be more of Larson’s own wit and style and, indeed, plausible mastery of martial arts.” —Peter Bradshaw, the Guardian

Captain Marvel’s biggest strength lies in its central relationship between Carol and Air Force pilot Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch). Like Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes, Carol and Maria are bonded by a shared past and a deep friendship, even if Carol can’t remember it. Captain Marvel is the rare Marvel character without even a token love interest, but Larson has described Carol and Maria’s friendship as ‘the love of the movie …’” —Shana O’Neil, the Verge

“You could carp at about how the plot is too convoluted by half, the pacing’s too casual, it’s retro style too flat in the light of the usual MCU fireworks. But the time that Boden and Fleck use to underscore how lives get lived between the not-always-rousing action sequences may be what keeps Captain Marvel in our memories.” —Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

“’Captain Marvel’ mostly takes place in the mid-1990s, and feels like it was made then, too, in terms of its technical prowess and emotional depth. This is not a compliment. As for the former, perhaps that was intentional — yet another example of wallowing in period nostalgia alongside the grunge chic and girl-power anthems. The prolonged intro in space and the big action sequences have a cheesy, retro feel to them that can be amusing but also inscrutable.” —Christy Lemire,

“Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s take on the Carol Danvers origin story jettisons subtlety in its messaging of female empowerment and anti-imperialism to varying degrees of success. At times, the film has all the makings of a wildly effective Nike commercial.” —April Wolfe, the Wrap

“What’s lacking is humor, a hint that she might get off on the action and violence, or the indication of a deep desire or spark to ferret out evil and right the world’s wrongs. The performance is fine, if not exciting or inspiring.” —Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter

“Co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck can’t really find a coherent tone, going on kinetic autopilot as the fights veer back-and-forth through the stratosphere. In pure MCU terms, this is a step down from the demented toonscapes of Guardians of the Galaxy or Thor: Ragnarok, but a step up from the tech-corridor blandeur of something like Ant-Man and the Wasp or any movie where various Avengers hang out in offices.” —Darren Franich, Entertainment Weekly

Critics on Captain Marvel: Refreshingly Relaxed, or Dull?