There are several moments in Captain Marvel—most of them intimate two-hander scenes between Agent Nick Fury (a digitally de-aged Samuel L. Jackson) and the main character (Brie Larson)—where the performances click, the comic chemistry catalyzes, the dialogue buzzes, and everything in this latest million-dollar superhero blockbuster seems downright ... breezy.
Now: It's a practiced breeziness. A studied breeziness. A breeziness that doesn't feel forced, exactly, but that certainly feels enforced. Because as they trade quips and cracks and grins while expositing about an intergalactic war between two alien races, you react to the quips and cracks and grins with a sense of satisfaction, as down deep in your forebrain, your unconscious knows that this right here is the part of the Marvel superhero movie where they do the quips and cracks and grins. And that they will soon get interrupted by the bad guy. And that there will then be some (quite good) fight choreography. And that some venerated veteran actor (why, hello, Miss Annette Bening!) will show up in a goofy outfit to deliver hokey dialogue at precisely 23% of their ability and stand around looking just you know wildly incongruous.
You know all this not because you saw the trailers (though the trailers give away all the best stuff, including far too much of the plot), but because Marvel has been churning out million-dollar superhero blockbusters for over a decade now. They know how to do them—and you know how to watch them. And that means knowing, for example, that when the Big Reveal shows up to kick off the third act, right on schedule, it'll be neither big nor particularly revelatory. It never is. And that's fine.
It's fine, because we have arrived at a cultural moment when audiences enter a million-dollar superhero blockbuster with a set of tacit expectations, a series of boxes to be checked, and Captain Marvel dutifully checks them. And if that sounds less than ambitious, consider the very real and substantial sense of satisfaction that a well-checked box engenders. It's not surprising, no. But it's not nothing.