Captain Marvel ★½

Marvel's Phase III has been surprisingly enjoyable, with the studio reaching into some B-tier heroes and also turning over some marquee slots to idiosyncratic filmmakers to deliver a handful of tentpole blockbusters that genuinely stretch Marvel's restrictive templates. Captain Marvel is a brutal regression to the mean, the worst hero-specific MCU film since Civil War. Like that film, and the Phase II works before it, everything here is ruthlessly functional, an arrangement of chess pieces made so, so much worse by the split attempt to stress the importance of this character.

Brie Larson has spent years throwing away her god-given charisma on a Bono-like quest to emphasize the meaning of the roles she takes, and Carol Danvers is her blandest statement yet: a blank cipher whose character arc is an easily reduced, mass-market feminist parable about how emotions make you unstoppably powerful. It's totally understandable that a comic-book film would have a fablelike moral, but after watching Taika Waititi and Ryan Coogler present shockingly developed critiques of (post-)colonial politics and imperial complicity that do not pull their punches. Here, Carol is not unlike Captain America in Winter Soldier, a pawn who realizes too late that the proxies for American imperial militarism are rampaging fascists even as Marvel's open cooperation with the genuine article results in reassurances that our real military force is Just and Good. Carol's bland arc of empowerment is actively undermined by this tension, to say nothing of how awfully Larson overemphasizes each bit of dialogue that stresses Carol's independence and inner strength just so us dummies won't miss it. (also s/o to what was obviously a re-shoot for the Stan Lee cameo wherein Larson warmly smiles at him for no utter reason other than aw, goodbye Stan.)

To top it off, movie looks like ass, simultaneously shiny and dull, no sense of movement and action direction/editing that appears to adhere to Boggle principles. Fleck and Boden are not good filmmakers; they made one above average mid-'00s indie and since then have produced simpering, artless work predicated on social importance that mistakes a lot of close-ups for humanism. That makes them perfect for this perfunctory exercise in corporate feminism, and a woeful backslide into the sloppy Marvel house style. Not the worst MCU film by any stretch, it's nonetheless arguably the perfect distillation of everything the studio does badly.