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Captain Marvel: Critics praise Brie Larson in 'rock solid' but 'generic' super-debut

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Mar 5, 2019

After early social media buzz took off and box office predictions added a similarly loaded bit of anticipation to the Marvel hero’s debut, Captain Marvels launch looks to be the first big movie event of the year. Now that the reviews are in for the film, it looks like the MCU’s savior has a bigger diversity of opinions that last year’s critical darling Black Panther — but most agree the flick is still pretty good.

The first female-led film in the Marvel canon, Brie Larson’s take on Captain Marvel comes right before the cinematic universe closes a chapter with Avengers: Endgame, making it one of the more important and exciting solo entries in the franchise. With shape-shifting Skrull, a charming cat, and plenty of ‘90s touchstones, Captain Marvel certainly has enough eccentricity — but can it back up its hefty duty?

The film is currently sitting at an 86 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, but let’s hear from the critics:

The L.A. Times’ Kenneth Turan explained that thanks to “a luminous and powerful Brie Larson” and the creative team, the packed film manages to feel “graceful” despite tackling everything from female empowerment to the plight of refugees. The battle of Kree vs. Skrull is cool, sure, but the “hugely entertaining” film only gets that way because of the talent and effort put into making its “boggling plot twists” work.

Entertainment Weekly's Dareen Franich said the movie was basically a big, messy adventure — but still a fun one. He praised the production design, but admitted the plot gets a bit too twisty for its own good. Regardless, the film is a solid first step. He wrapped up his review noting: "Captain Marvel is Not Bad, is the unthrilling point I’ve been circling here. But Not Bad is better than where we’re coming from."

Variety’s Owen Gleiberman agrees that Larson is the strongest suit of the film, saying that the actress “lights up a Marvel superheroine film from within” thanks to her “superpower of expression.” It’s this genuine performance (that the reviewer compares to that in Logan) that pushes the film past a superhero beat-em-up and into “a desperate tale of identity.” Oh, and the ‘90s production design? It’s one of the best parts.

USA Today's Brian Truitt put the film into the wider context of the MCU as a whole. Not every Marvel movie has been a slam dunk, he notes, and Captain Marvel is a capable and fun movie that does a great job of establishing a new hero: "That said, it took three 'Thor' films for Chris Hemsworth’s thunder god to find his groove. Although Larson’s heroine is still a work in progress, 'Captain Marvel' lays a solid foundation to follow her wherever she flies next."

Angie Han over at Mashable has a cooler take on the film. Mentioning the similar tacts taken by the film to previous Marvel entries that prize flashy effects and emotional broad strokes over technical ability, Han says it all feels a bit familiar — even “the sets largely resemble that nondescript airplane hangar from Captain America: Civil War.” But, despite it all, it’s not bad. It’s just “pleasant” and not ass-kicking. Just “rock-solid.” Larson remains the highlight of the film, though the plot twists aren’t as effective or deep for Han as they were for some of the other reviewers.

And then some of those reviewers, like IndieWire’s David Ehrlich, really didn’t care for the Cap’ at all. Calling the film “generic” and “among the most disappointing Marvel movies,” Ehrlich hated Carol Danvers as an amnesiac, damning the movie for this decision. Its plot? A mess. Its closest touchstone? Edward Nortan’s Hulk. Yikes. At least he agrees with everyone else that the villainous Ben Mendelsohn is good.

Little White Lies’ Hannah Woodhead was less critical, but certainly as tepid. Explaining that the film spends so much time introducing its setting and character, it “doesn’t leave an awful lot of room for innovation.” With “forgettable” combat and only a gentle dip into feminist issues, the film instead feels more “autopilot” than groundbreaking.

Finally, The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy continues raining on the film’s parade, saying Captain Marvel is “mundane, marked by unimaginative plotting, cut-rate villains, a bland visual style and a lack of elan in every department.” He saw the plot as slapdash chaos, with perfunctory storytelling that did its characters no favors. Even Larson couldn’t win him over, as he calls her performance “fine, if not exciting or inspiring.” At least he though Samuel L. Jackson’s de-aging CGI was cool.

Captain Marvel hits theaters March 8.

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