The fate of the universe lies in the balance.
It’s the central conceit of any galactic space opera or bombastic superhero adventure.
But rarely does it feel more true than with “Captain Marvel,” the new feature from the indie writing/directing duo of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck that just also happens to be the 21st entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
The weight of the whole MCU – painstakingly choreographed to this moment over more than a decade of movies – now rests on the shoulders of Brie Larson, indie darling turned Oscar winner upon whom the mantle of “first female Marvel hero to earn a solo movie” was thrust.
By audiences, film critics and the studio alike, expectations for “Captain Marvel” have climbed higher, reached further and compounded faster than any Carol Danvers origin story probably deserves.
And all that’s before mentioning the three Oscars won a few weeks back by “Black Panther” – first in the history of the MCU – or “Wonder Woman,” the 2017 DC Comics movie “Captain Marvel” will be unfairly be permanently linked with.
Try as they might, Boden and Fleck don’t quite hit the excessively high mark and yet, somewhat surprisingly, “Captain Marvel” is a largely enjoyable couple of hours.
In its attempt to serve many masters, “Captain Marvel” carries a clunky, burdensome story filled with a war between noble Kree warriors with literal blue blood and sneaky Skrull shapeshifters, an amnesiac Air Force pilot, the origin story of famed “Avengers” hero Nick Fury and a Calico cat.
Kree warrior Vers is dropped on Earth circa 1995 for a fish-out-of-water tale that feels eerily reminiscent of other superhero origin stories, which is probably due to the fact that “Captain Marvel” is a bloated amalgamation of MCU origin retreads and riffs on era-appropriate movies like “Terminator II” set to a “Now That’s What I Call The 90s” style soundtrack of bands like Nirvana and No Doubt.
Like the movie as a whole, Larson is much better in the smaller, more personal moments on Earth as opposed to the grandiose, yet largely frivolous space adventures Vers encounters throughout the film.
Given more time outside of an amnesiac state, Larson could be quite effective moving forward as the title character, though her Captain Marvel form feels rather perfunctory by comparison to other MCU heroes with richer backstories.
Larson’s best work in the film comes opposite original “Avengers” star Samuel L. Jackson, who receives ample room to entertain audiences while furthering his own character development as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury.
There’s a large segment of the film with Larson and Jackson that evokes 90s era buddy cop movies, especially when paired with the scene-stealing cat Goose who provides the film’s best moments ala Groot in the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies.
To orient audiences through the minutia and give credibility to the outlandish galactic space war between Kree and Skrull, Marvel employed the talents of Oscar nominee Jude Law and Academy Award winner Annette Bening to deliver lengthy soliloquies about emotional control, the superiority of the Kree nation and eliminating the illegal invaders at any cost.
Both deliver serviceable efforts, though it’s veteran character actor Ben Mendelsohn who gives the most interesting and dynamic effort of the space-faring members of the “Captain Marvel” cast as Skrull leader Talos with a layered, emotional performance that outshines the “Star Trek” TV show gloop that his alien makeup resembles.
In a larger sense, “Captain Marvel” buckles under the weight of unrealistic expectations.
There’s far too much burden on the film to be the definitive “female Marvel superhero” movie and to carry at least five different storylines while also building towards “Avengers: Endgame,” the culmination of more than 10 years of MCU films.
Far from a failure, though, “Captain Marvel” is a good movie.
It will inspire young girls to strive for the best versions of themselves and entertain countless moviegoers.
It just isn’t something audiences have to fight through crowds to see. Simply catch “Captain Marvel” sometime before “Endgame” reimagines the entire superhero landscape on April 26.
Twenty-one films into cinema’s largest, highest grossing franchise, it’s okay not every single entry into the MCU changes the world.
“Captain Marvel” is a perfectly adequate, just fine movie and sometimes that’s enough.