The Marvel Formula Has Reached Its Limit

So, I just found this mostly-finished post in my unpublished drafts. Since I’m about to write about Avengers: Endgame, I might as well put this up, too. 

Spoilers ahead for the latest Marvel outing: Captain Marvel.

MCU, blah, blah. Ten years. Blah, blah. Twenty-one movies. Blah, blah.

I have long been fascinated with the enormity of the interconnected universe crafted by Marvel Studios under the guiding hand of ur-producer Kevin Feige. But I’ve already talked myself to death surveying its dimensions, its peaks and valleys.

Captain Marvel feels like a flat plane in that landscape. In telling the story of Carol Danvers, Air Force pilot cum intergalactic superhero, the film takes few risks and mostly just pulls the trigger on Marvel’s tried and true formula: Action, check. Witty banter, check. Um…geez is that the whole formula?

By now, that formula is pretty darned familiar. It’s worked well in most of those twenty-one films, and even in some others. By now, the DC comics universe, such that it is, has shifted away from its dour and glum early films toward following the same playbook. The much ballyhooed Wonder Woman was basically a pretty standard fare Marvel movie. I haven’t seen Aquaman, but it seems like it was on script, and the upcoming Shazam’s trailer definitely suggest it’s a paint-by-numbers Marvel clone, too.

Captain Marvel doesn’t have anything like the emotional depth of Black Panther, nor the ideas at work that made Winter Soldier a stand out, which is a shame. There was a lot of room to build in both, really. By making Carol a neophyte in the Kree military, the script misses the chance to make her more complicit in the horrors of war–something that could have added more dimensions to her discovery of their betrayal and of the real nature of their conflict with the Skrulls. The Skrulls, too, are handled poorly. Their leader’s conversion from potentially insidious infiltrator to misunderstood good guy wastes an opportunity to paint the duality of warfare with any nuance, as does Jude Law’s character’s overt about face toward cartoon villainy at the end.

Marvel movies are always at their worst when they are serving the gargantuan MCU itself instead of their own stories. Iron Man 2 was one of the low points of the whole enterprise because it was more interested in setting up SHIELD and the Avenger Initiative than anything else. Age of Ultron was okay at best because it was overcrowded with character introductions and dangling plot threads.

So, too, with Captain Marvel. This movie isn’t really about a character named Carol Danvers who is abducted by aliens and given super powers only to discover her true identity. No, this movie is about putting another piece on the board for Avengers: Endgame. It’s entertaining–mostly–and gives the fans what they want–and then some. But, ironically, given Carol’s tagline, it may go fast, but it doesn’t take us any higher and it doesn’t go any further than it needs to.

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