Film review: Captain Marvel

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Friday, March 8th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.

I bet you’re wondering about the Podswag!

REICHARD: You’re a mind-reader! Where is it!?

EICHER: So here’s the deal: On Tuesday, the prototypes arrive and our quality-control team lead by Jonathan Woods out in Asheville, NC, is going to check ’em out, make sure they are up to snuff and up to spec, and once we confirm all is well, we’ll place one big order.

So really we’re down to the last few weeks before we start shipping these out to you faithful spreaders of the word who’ve introduced three friends to The World and Everything in It.

REICHARD: Yes! Our research gave us an idea how many of these to order, and right, as you say, we’ll make one big order, and we think there’ll be enough travel mugs to last roughly to the end of the month. So, we’ll fulfill those, and when they’re gone, they’re gone. And after those run out, we’ll roll out Podswag 2.0, and it’s going to be a nice, ceramic coffee mug, and that’ll be the next in our swag series.

EICHER: Exactly, that was the result of the survey we did. We had lots of good feedback on what kind of swag you’d like, and the ceramic mugs are next on the list.

There’s something about listeners to this program and coffee. I wonder why?!

REICHARD: Something having to do with morning, perhaps? Needing some ambition to get going?

EICHER: Some fuel, right. And speaking of ambition to get going, don’t miss what we said about one big order of the travel mugs. It means it’s a limited supply before we move on to the next in the swag series. So get sharing.

REICHARD: Right, introduce three friends to the program and then let us know you’ve done that by visiting We need your name and contact info so we can ship the swag.

EICHER: Alright, extra credit question for you if you can remember what the acronym SWAG stands for?

REICHARD: Swag. Stuff we affectionately give, right?

EICHER: You are Captain Marvel!

REICHARD: Yeah, well, Captain Marvel is a new film hitting theaters today. And let’s just say, if you follow Megan on social media, you’ll know, she’s NOT impressed.

EICHER: Not impressed. This is gonna be spicy.

REICHARD: You better hang on for this.

CLIP: So Skrulls are the bad guys. And you’re a Kree? A race of noble warriors? Heroes. Noble warrior heroes.

MEGAN BASHAM, FILM CRITIC: There’s a moment in Captain Marvel where the girl-power pandering is so over the top it makes the rest of the movie pointless.

Carol Danvers—aka “Vers”—finally discovers the full-range of her superpowers. So to the never-so-subtle strains of Gwen Stefani’s “Just a Girl” she proceeds to single-handedly pummel a battalion of alien bad guys. Her abilities prove so dominant, there’s seemingly nothing she can’t do—be it fly to farthest reaches of space without protective gear or destroy intergalactic war-heads with a single blow.

Thus does the cause of female empowerment lay waste to old-fashioned storytelling notions like tension and surprise, otherwise known as…reasons for the audience to stay interested in what’s happening on the screen.

You almost wonder why Nick Fury bothered assembling all those other Avengers over the years. Why not just keep paging the one-woman wrecking crew?

Clumsily draped around this one-note moralizing is a backstory that’s equally sanctimonious and dull. Played by a wooden Brie Larson, our heroine starts out as a strong, valiant Kree warrior who keeps having flashbacks to another life on another planet.

When the Kree’s ancient enemies, the Skrull, take Vers captive and start digging around in her memories, she begins to realize she once had a different identity.

CLIP: Where’s your head at? In the clouds. Where’s yours? On my shoulders. About to show these boys how we do it. You ready? Higher, further, faster, baby. That’s right.

It turns out, before becoming a tough-as-nails fighter pilot in outer space she was a tough-as-nails fighter pilot on Earth. Thankfully the experience teaches her the importance of being a woman who’s tough as nails.  

Beyond Carol Danvers’s lack of even elementary-level depth or growth, Captain Marvel fails on basic plotting as well. Anyone who saw Guardians of the Galaxy is going to see the major twist coming in the first few scenes.

There is a bit of fun to be had once we enter Earth’s atmosphere—but this is in spite of the movie’s titular character, not because of her. We get a thrill seeing the early days of S.H.I.E.L.D. We get some laughs from seeing how Nick Fury lost that eye, and a Blockbuster cameo coupled with a few 90s songs provide some pleasant nostalgia.

CLIP: You want to get personal. Where were you born? Huntsville, Alabama, but technically I don’t remember that part. Name of your first pet? Mr. Snoofers. Mr. Snoofers? That’s what I said. Do I pass? Not yet. First job? Soldier straight out of high school. Now? Been riding the desk the past six years trying to figure out where our future enemies are coming from. OK, now it’s your turn. Prove you’re not a Skrull. (laser sound)

But beyond that, the story is almost solely a hectoring reminder to hear women roar. Which would be a lot easier to do if not for the fact that there’s not a character in the film who isn’t able to upstage Carol on the personality meter, including the cat.

To put it bluntly, it’s insulting that Marvel felt simply making its first leading woman “one tough chick” would be enough to placate female fans. All the male Avengers origin stories feature character flaws, physical weaknesses, and romantic interests who complicate their missions. Captain Marvel has none of these things.

It’s impossible not to compare her to DC’s leading lady, Wonder Woman, who proved so winsome, warm, and witty that she alone breathed life into the flailing Justice League franchise.

Diana Prince’s Amazonian strength and agility combined with her traditionally idealized feminine traits like innocence and beauty creates a nicely complex mix. Her chaste romance with self-sacrificing soldier Steve Trevor only compliments her loveliness. Over the course of the story, Steve helps her learn some hard lessons about her own naiveté that ultimately makes both of their heroics more meaningful.

In contrast, Captain Marvel has nothing to learn beyond discovering that even those supposed flaws some man-mentor kept yammering at her to restrain are really strengths. Every challenge she faces is because someone with an XY chromosome is trying to box her in. She overcomes them by throwing off her male-forged shackles.

CLIP: Tell me about this dream. Anything new? No. You have to let go of the past. I don’t remember my past. It’s causing you doubt and doubt makes you vulnerable. Control it.

So Wonder Woman willingly leaves the Eden-like perfection of Themyscira to grapple with humanity’s capacity for evil and weigh whether their fallenness still makes them worthy of her sacrifices.

Captain Marvel returns to Earth on a journey of self-actualization to struggle with the idea that she’s even more awesome than she thinks she is.

Which one sounds like a real role model for girls?

For WORLD Radio, I’m Megan Basham.

(Disney-Marvel Studios via AP) This image released by Disney-Marvel Studios shows Brie Larson in a scene from “Captain Marvel.” 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

Like this story?

To hear a lot more like it, subscribe to The World and Everything in It via iTunes, Overcast, Stitcher, or Pocket Casts.







Pocket Casts

(Requires a fee)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.