Friday, March 8th, 2019 marked National Women’s Day here in North America. A day to honour and acknowledge the fairer sex for their contributions, as well as acknowledging their struggle for equality. To be honest with you, I wasn’t quite sure how to commemorate the day. But then the life of my mother came to mind. A Jamaican immigrant, my mother moved to Canada for a better opportunity and quality of life. A driven woman in her own right, my mom managed to put herself through college while raising a knucklehead of a son. Becoming a parent, let alone a single-parent, is a tough hand to be dealt in the game of life. My mother embraced the challenge of running a single-parent household and — until her final days — was the success story that a family in the Caribbean couldn’t possible have imagined. Barring a tattoo — a feature she despised — I wasn’t sure how to honour the memory of the strongest woman that ever had an influence on my life.

Instead, I did what most people do when faced with conundrum in 2019. I suppressed my feelings for a couple hours to watch a movie.

As coincidence would have it, Captain Marvel debuted the previous night. More likely, Marvel Films’ parent company, Disney, realized the opportunity presented to them by debuting a superhero flick before towards the end of winter. It would only be fitting that the mouse-eared conglomerate would be debuting its first female-led superhero film since the introduction of the Marvel Comic Universe.

For this scribe, it was a return to the odd familiar, watching a movie in a public setting. It was a  strange sensation after doing most of my movie watching in the comforts of my home, holding the ultimate superpower of home viewing — a pause button. Despite giving up the comfort and control, it was a fascinating social experiment to sit in a room with other people. Hearing their reaction to punchlines, and the awkward silence during the serious moments of the film, I got the added perspective that gets lost when you consume you media in solitary.  

Without giving away the major plot points, the setting for Captain Marvel takes place in the mid-90s. It bounces from one planet to another like a firefly’s glow in the night, and the settings are digitally wondrous yet simultaneously forgettable. From the opening scene, directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck focus on the characters while paying their dues associated with each Marvel film. An origin story at its core, we discover our heroine in the recognizable position of the discovery and realization phase associated with the bestowing of her powers. As an added bonus, amnesia has clouded the memories of the galaxy’s next Avenger for half the film.

Ok, maybe that was too much plot.

What’s billed as Marvel’s attempt at cashing in on the goodwill created from its past successes, Captain Marvel is presented in trailers as a strong female-driven production meant to highlight the woman as the hero as opposed to the damsels-in-distress of movies past. With DC Comics’ Wonder Woman a successful venture at the box office, it makes sense that Marvel had their own response. However, instead of an inspiring female-led thriller, the film appears to serve one too many masters.

And that’s what ultimately makes this movie, like most in the MCU universe, a venture through trial and error.

While each film produced serves as a stand-alone title, the interweaving narrative requires plenty of water and nutrition, regardless of premise. Each filmmaker does an excellent job of making this task feel flawless. As a viewer, you’re conditioned to expect certain easter eggs that have become signatures of MCU films. When the lights rose after the credits, there were about five people in the entire theatre that left before the first of the two post-credit scenes. There’s also the inevitable McGuffin that villains chase — usually obtaining it at some point — be it infinity stones, gauntlets or some shiny object of power. That pursuit usually provides the catalyst for which our hero takes on said villain… apart from the now-common destruction of the planet scheme.

I’m also of the opinion that as magnificent as the powers of Captain Marvel are in this film, who she is preceding getting said gifts is a more fascinating tale. Through brief montages, we discover that before being a “Super Woman”, Captain Marvel was already an empowered woman — and has been since she was a kid. From riding in a go-cart to performing stunts on a bike to overcoming the obstacles of joining a regiment, the life of Miss Marvel, pre-powers, could be its own movie or TV series. Sadly, we only get bits and snippets that leave you wondering what could have been.

Image: Marvel Studio

Because of the success of superhero films of late (Black Panther, Into the Spiderverse), expectations for Captain Marvel to hit on the issues that plague women in this moment in time were high. However, for every positive in this film, there’s a negative. Captain Marvel is a strong female character, yet has few female-to-female interactions — save for friend Maria Rambeau played by Lashana Lynch. The Captain’s strength, intelligence and will are unquestioned by the end of the film. However, I walked out of the theatre wondering, “Did Marvel just let its strongest female character get used as a pawn for the 2 hours!?” In a time where the objectification of women continues to be a struggle, the strongest female character in the Marvel universe was unable to overcome the issue. Viewed as a weapon by ally and foe, Captain Marvel is dehumanized, essentially becoming a plot mechanism… at least just until the premiere of the next Avengers installment, we hope!  

I’ll admit that I’m not as familiar with the lore of Miss Marvel as some others are, yet the absence of a love interest was somewhat refreshing. I wonder if this was a conscious decision. I mean Mickey and Minnie are running the show. The soundtrack of the film is a clever fusion of 90’s nostalgia with Nirvana, Salt-N-Peppa, Elastica, and Garbage scoring fun moments during the movie. For all the problematic elements of this film, music choice is assuredly not one of them.

So did Captain Marvel lead Marvel successfully into uncharted space? Not really. It has all the calling cards of any other title by the studio. Brie Larson’s performance as Captain Marvel is great. Even the CGI of a younger Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is bearable. However, if you’re expecting a feminist flag-bearing adventure, this is not the film for you. What we get is more of a buddy cop movie sandwiched by the Marvel universe. While Ant-Man and Wasp pulled it off with hilarity, Captain Marvel struggles to be more than just an origin film.

Captain Marvel is yet another economic windfall in Marvel’s domination at the box office. The film has earned $179 million since in opened just over a week now, surpassing Thor, Ant Man and Captain America among the origin film titles from the studio. Entering with the right intentions, this film meets all the checks and balances required in the MCU; however, when it comes to progressing feminism, it fails to break through earth’s orbit. For those who just want an idea of what’s in-store for Avengers: End Game premiering next month, you may just want to search the spoilers. Captain Marvel is a good film — it just doesn’t soar to the heights many hoped it would.

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