Tuesday, March 5, 2019

A less-than-marvelous ‘Captain Marvel’

Marvel's female superhero tries to work her way out of a frenzied movie.
Brie Larson is up to the task of playing Captain Marvel, a welcome female entry into Marvel Comics’ galaxy of superheroes. But -- and this is a major "but" -- the rest of Captain Marvel is a scattered, frenetic effort that jams action and backstory together without a great deal of finesse.

Even the movie's attempts at humor -- which arrive in the form of retro flashes from the 1990s -- tally only mixed results when it comes to brightening the proceedings.

One never entirely knows the reasons a movie goes wrong, but judging from a preview screening of Captain Marvel, I'd speculate that this effects-laden helping of Marvel mania was co-directed by a couple of filmmakers (Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck) whose indie cred from movies such as Half Nelson and Sugar didn't easily transfer to a major studio production.

Summarizing the plot poses a challenge for reviewers because any such attempt must be extracted from the bric-a-brac that sometimes feels tossed at the screen. Larson portrays a former US fighter pilot who will -- over the course of this origins story -- emerge as Captain Marvel, a hybrid of human and Kree (i.e., alien) biochemistry.

Jude Law portrays Yon-Rogg, a Kree who tries to teach Larson's character how to harness energy that she fires in undisciplined bursts from her fists.

There's conflict, of course. The Kree, it seems, are battling the Skrull, a rubber-faced collection of aliens who travel to Earth under the guidance of Talos, a heavily disguised Ben Mendelsohn who brings a bit of winking humor and happily jaded line readings to his role. I say "winking," although I'm not sure the heavy make-up allows much by way of facial movement.

As the plot leaps from battle-to-battle, Larson's character also lands in the U.S. where she picks up an ally, Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury, a familiar figure from the Avengers movies. Larson's Carol Danvers also reunites with her former best friend, another fighter pilot played by Lashana Lynch. A single mom, Lynch's Maria Rambeau has a daughter (Akira Akbar) who, at a crucial point in the plot, cheers Carol on.

Carol, who reaches Earth during the mid-90s, has lost any memory of having spent time on beleaguered earthly soil before awakening on the planet where the Kree hang out. Eventually, we'll learn how she got from to the good old USA to the home of the Kree, but the question doesn't exactly compel intrigue.

Minor pleasures arise. It’s of some interest to discover more about Jackson's Nick Fury, who in this edition displays a tight cap of hair. Annette Bening turns up as a character called Supreme Intelligence. I'll pass on any attempt at a joke. Too easy.

One of the movie's problems involves the abrupt way it handles its back story, introducing Carol's past in intermittent flashbacks that can prove as disorienting as they are revealing.

As is the case with many comic book extravaganzas, the movie leans heavily on effects -- albeit, in this instance, with the approximate elegance of a drunk seeking support from a lamp post. Many of the effects seem to involve flashing bolts of energy. At various times, the characters chase a device known as the "energy core,'' which is hidden in a lunchbox boasting a picture of the Fonz from the Happy Days era.

This energy core emits great power; perhaps it's responsible for discombobulating the story and keeping the movie's action sequences from cohering in any way that might be called thrilling.

Captain Marvel tries to zip and zap its way into the pop-cultural canon dropping jokey references to such bygone stalwarts as Blockbuster stores along the way. Some, I suppose, will enjoy the frenzy, but for me, the point turns out to be inadvertent: Incessant movement doesn't necessarily get you anywhere.

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