Captain Marvel

Year: 2019
Production Co: Disney
Studio: Marvel Studios
Director: Ryan Fleck/Anna Boden
Producer: Kevin Fiege
Writer: Anna Boden/Ryan Fleck/Geneva Robertson-Dworet/Nicole Perlman/Meg LeFauve
Cast: Brie Larson, Samuel L Jackson, Jude Law, Anette Bening, Ben Mendelsohn, Clark Gregg, Djimon Hounsou

If the people at Marvel are smart (and they've proven they are), they'd know they could throw a handful of cat sick at the screen and this movie would be critic proof.

After a few years of racial awareness had overtaken Hollywood culminating in diversity investigations and Oscars so White hashtags, Black Panther couldn't have had better timing to become the perceived vanguard of everything entertainment needed to get right about race and representation. That it had the billion dollar Marvel formula behind it made it all the better – audiences loved it as much as Hollywood chardonnay socialists.

Though a lot of the same conversations about female empowerment and diversity had already taken place about Wonder Woman a few years back, Marvel has done it again by launching a female-driven superhero movie in the post Weinstein era where the future is truly female and everyone's scrambling desperately to be on the right side of history.

Though I'm not suggesting the company wasn't really trying with Black Panther, the actual movie was kind of mediocre. In Captain Marvel that disconnect between the quality on screen and the progressive flag waving going on about the movie's existence is even more exacerbated, because they have in fact thrown a handful of cat sick at the screen. Captain Marvel is a dumb movie with an abysmal script that's full of stupid cliches.

Most disappointing of all is Brie Larson. She was fantastic in a pretty mild movie (Short Term 12) for her breakout role and she was sublime in Room, her best actress Oscar completely deserved. Here she's so wooden and devoid of expression all I can think is that a special effects movie with such a thin characterisation doesn't give her enough to work with, or maybe that directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden (Half Nelson) or even Marvel itself didn't care much, knowing the movie couldn't fail.

And then, as if to further tempt fate about how hoodwinked you are that they've thrown cat sick at the screen, one of the few great scenes in the film is actually about cat sick, whereupon a cat jumps onto a desk and throws up a huge shiny blue cube – the Tesseract that will form the backbone of the rest of the MCU. It's the perfect metaphor for the movie itself; here's something shiny, distracting and devoid of any depth or humanity some corporate machine has spewed up for your enjoyment.

Vers (Brie) is a warrior of a race called the Kree on some shiny CGI planet somewhere that's half Coruscant, half Asgard and where the characters are not only curiously human looking but share a lot of our linguistic tics and emotional nuances too. Why members of a far off race roll their yes and say 'seriously?' in a plaintive voice like they're teenagers from Iowa is never explained.

She's being trained by her superior (Jude Law, and I can't even be bothered looking up his ridiculous alien name) to cut off emotion and thus be a better fighter, hotheadedness that seems to manifest in fire she can generate out of her fists and shoot at enemies (we haven't seen that anywhere else in the MCU, surely...!). But when Vers is captured during a mission by the Kree's enemies, the lizard-headed Skrulls, they have to look into her memories to find the MacGuffin that will let them take over the galaxy.

It's a handy way of showing Vers (and us) that it seems she's actually a human from Earth and once had a life with a best friend and a career as a hotshot fighter pilot. She comes to Earth to search for the truth where it's 1995 and she meets a young Nick Fury (a de-aged Samuel L Jackson, and isn't the VFX vendor specialising in that software getting a fuck-ton of money these days?) who hasn't become the SHIELD director or formed the Avengers yet.

I won't spoil the surprise about the true nature of the Kree and the Skrulls, but it's one of the hoariest of old tropes about authority figures and empires and you'll spot it a mile off if you've watched any movie at all in the last half century.

Like Black Panther it's an overbearing orgy of flashing CGI lights and colours to assault your senses, all of it hoping you won't notice how thin and ill-defined the story is or how drab the script and performances are.

Ben Mendelsohn has settled firmly into his new role as Hollywood's go-to bad guy, probably adding another level to a house in Malibu from the proceeds of this film without even having bothered to change his accent – is there anything that sounds as wrong as a pointy-eared, scaly-faced alien speaking in broad Strine?

A pitiable Annette Bening and Jude Law also show up to collect their cheques – they might well have liked the script and/or enjoyed themselves, but the fact remains that aside from Netflix series for grown ups there's simply no other game in town left for them after such storied careers.

Marvel has a storied career too, but a lot of it rests on the same origin story train ride, and Captain Marvel also makes it obvious how much is due to socio-political luck and perceived rather than actual quality. The first class flights on the press tour and all the dresses for red carpets must be lovely, Brie, but please don't abandon character-driven indies altogether. Along with almost everyone else in the cast, you're much better than this.

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