Captain Marvel

For every movie, and for every person watching that movie, there's what you might call a "line of involvement". A movie's goal is to get you to cross that line – to forget that you're watching actors reciting dialogue in front of a camera and to invest yourself in the story and the characters.

Despite my own experiences as a filmmaker, such as they are, I'm not at all jaded about the movies. I usually have no problem crossing that line and getting wrapped up in a film. With Captain Marvel, however, I found myself unable to do this. I just couldn't get past the artifice of watching costumed performers posing before the lens.

It pains me to write this, with Captain Marvel being the first Marvel feature (co-)directed by a woman, and the studio's first solo outing for a female superhero. God forbid I should appear sexist just because I found the film mediocre. (Hey, I liked Wonder Woman!) But I can't deny that I did find the film mediocre, and much of that has to do with its star: Brie Larson.

When Larson became a household name – her breakout feature Room garnering one Best Actress nod after another – I found myself strangely unable to remember her face. It's a pleasant face, to be sure, but somehow generic. Combined with Larson's mousy voice and her paint-by-numbers approach to acting, that does not make for a compelling superhero. Her character's pluckiness seems forced; her depth nonexistent.

Again, I feel bad writing this, because Larson seems like a nice person and she worked very hard to make Captain Marvel soar. Nevertheless, I felt zero protagonist-audience chemistry with her, and since the story mostly follows the usual Marvel plotting – some good guys turn out to be bad, some bad guys turn out to be good, etc. – the film must derive what personality it can from Larson's charisma.

And don't get me started on how disappointed I was with the film's use of the Skrulls, the ugly, shapeshifting aliens who have infused many a Marvel comic with fright and deception. They had so much big-screen potential, as did their endless war with the arrogant race known as the Kree. But here the Skrulls come across as the sort of actor-in-a-mask aliens you'd find on a 1990s Star Trek series. (In fact Captain Marvel costume designer Sanja Milkovic Hays held the same position on Star Trek: Insurrection, the most TV-like of all the Trek films.) As for the Kree, headlined by a shiny-eyed Jude Law and a crafty Annette Bening (the only cast member to deliver a genuinely meaty performance), the film offers no real development.

Did I hate Captain Marvel? No. It's not hatable. It's just bland. In contrast to most other Marvel films, it feels like a minor effort, with dull villains, jokes that fall flat, and a heroine who, for reasons intentional and otherwise, we never get to know.