‘Captain Marvel’ has been a long time coming. As the first female-led superhero movie set in the MCU and possible deus ex machina for Thanos’ apparent victory in ‘Avengers: Infinity War’, it also carries a lot on its shoulders. These expectations are perhaps a bit too much for what is ostensibly a prequel of the Nick Fury jumpstart to the MCU and a relatively low stakes 90s-set nostalgia play. Even with all this in the mix, Brie Larson’s star turn is a winning one, packed with wondrous sci-fi design, captivating mystery, welcome trappings of a buddy-cop movie, and some well earned chuckles.
The backstory of Air Force fighter jet pilot Carol Danvers / Kree alien warrior Captain Mar-Vell is one of the most convoluted in all of Marvel Comics. She’s had more identities than any of her male counterparts through the years, and her origin has been muddled and confusing. In more recent times, at the hands of a number of talented female writers (most notably Kelly Sue Deconnick) she has been propelled to the upper echelon of the Avengers in both reputation and power-set. The film takes an interesting path in reconciling these complexities, structured as a cosmic mystery that ends up playing out on Earth, in Los Angeles circa 1995.
It’s a choice that’s beguilingly striking, to open in media res with Larson’s ‘Veers’ seeming to be fully alien and ensconced, galaxies away, with a team of space police belonging to the Kree race (notably villains headed by Lee Pace’s Ronan in the first ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ movie). They are hunting down members of the shapeshifting alien race known as the Skrulls, reptilian-looking in their normal state but who can mimic anyone’s visage. Comic fans will recognize them right away, with their distinct ridged chins and green skin, as one half of the fabled Kree/Skrull War, a conflict that has raged for many years on the page and as acknowledged in this film, across the galaxy of the MCU. These opening scenes confidently establish a powerful, brash, wisecracking presence in Brie Larson.
The early events of the movie result in our hero being deposited on Earth, forcing interactions with de-aged versions of Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury and Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson. She arrives via crashing through a Blockbuster Video where she promptly zaps a standee of ‘True Lies’ Arnold Schwarzenegger and contemplates a double VHS copy of ‘The Right Stuff’. These nods to the culture of the Gen-X crowd, who make up a large section of MCU fandom, along with their children, simultaneously titillate and infuriate. For every blast from the past on the soundtrack that works, there is one that feels shoehorned in. For every nascent gag about backwards tech, there’s a silly ode to grunge. While it’s fun to wallow in the past, it also reminds that the basest form of conversation is ‘remember when’.
Thankfully the movie hinges on the performances and they don’t disappoint. When the script-by-committee threatens to go off the rails, there’s Ben Mendelsohn as Skrull leader Talos to chew up scenery, Jude Law as mentor Yon-Rogg and Annette Bening as Dr.Lawson to lend some gravitas, Lashana Lynch as Maria Rambeau to ground Carol, and most notably, Sam Jackson as Fury to surprisingly lighten things up (a stark contrast to the sullen, present, eye-patched Fury). Larson, who is extremely engaging here, and Jackson, are the team-up audiences never realized they needed, and their interactions are the highlight of the movie. Serious plot holes and silly nods to the MCU-to-be aside, it’s Larson as Danvers/Veers/all powerful super-woman who shines through in a movie that does what it needs to do – make audiences primed for ‘Avengers: Endgame’ care about a character they had yet to meet, who’ll likely play a critical role in hopefully wiping the floor with Thanos – if this movie illustrates anything, it’s, He. Better. Watch. His. Ass . . .
Directed By: Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck
Written By: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, & Geneva Robertson-Dworet
Running Time: 124 min.
* * * (out of four stars) -OR- B