Over the span of a decade and 20 films, Marvel Studios have completely reshaped the world of pop culture, somehow managing to meet fan expectations while simultaneously creating such a unique business model that all attempts to copy it have resulted in catastrophic failures. However, despite Marvel’s immense success, especially in turning its less popular characters into international blockbusters, the comic book behemoth has been sluggish in getting ahead of the trends when it comes to representation. That started to change with Black Panther. Now it’s about to change again with Captain Marvel, the first female-led film from Marvel Studios. Captain Marvel is bound to be another hit for the hit factory at Marvel as it features the irreverent sense of humor, spectacular action, and unique characters that have come define the comic book studio.
The directing duo of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, best known for their character-driven dramas such as Sugar and Mississippi Grind, take their first foray into blockbuster territory with Captain Marvel, and right from the start you get a sense that they’re bringing a different approach to the standard Marvel origin story. Right away, Captain Marvel takes us into the realm of the cosmic as Carol Danvers (Brie Larson), known only as Vers, is living in the reaches of the Kree Empire where she’s trained by her friend and mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). Though Vers has no memory of her past, she doesn’t spend her time wallowing in existential despair, opting instead to subject herself to rigorous training.
It’s safe to say that Captain Marvel doesn’t hit the ground running, and that’s part of the way that the film feels like Marvel is taking some chances with this movie. We’re plunged right into an alien world we’ve never seen with characters we’ve never met and the dialogue in these opening scenes is very heavy on exposition. We quickly learn that the Kree are engaged in an ongoing war with the Skrulls, a race of shapeshifters who infiltrate and destroy their enemies. Yon-Rogg leads his elite team of Vers, Korath (Djimon Hounsou), Minn-Erva (Gemma Chan), Att-Lass (Algenis Perez Soto) and Bron-Char (Rune Temte) to a neighboring planet where the Skrulls have kidnapped a Kree spy.
The mission doesn’t go as planned and Vers is separated from her team, chasing the Skrulls to Earth. Crash landing on Earth in 1995, Vers quickly becomes acquainted with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and the future SHIELD leader makes his first contact with an alien in the form of a Skrull. This is when Captain Marvel kicks into high gear. The film finds a break-neck sense of pacing as the story unfolds through action as Vers and Fury team to uncover the purpose for the Skrull invasionled by Talos (Ben Mendelsohn). Through this journey Vers is also able to uncover clues about her mysterious past, such as her former identity as Carol Danvers, Air Force pilot, when she reunited with her former colleague and best friend Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch).
The Carol Danvers of Captain Marvel as written by Boden, Fleck, and Geneva Robertson-Dworet (from a story credited to Boden, Fleck, Robertson-Dworet along with Nicole Perlman and Meg LaFauve) and performed by Brie Larson is a welcome diversion from the standard fare of strong female lead. Carol Danvers is a character dealing with past trauma, but she’s not a character defined by her trauma. She’s a character of steely toughness that doesn’t come at the expense of the character’s femininity. Larson brings a whirlwind of various emotions to the character without ever burdening the film with an overly serious nature, meaning the character can at once be filled with uncertainty and a bit of cocky swagger on a journey to discover her true self. In a genre that isn’t often taken seriously for it performances, Brie Larson delivers a performance full of depth and nuance that will stand as one of the best in the superhero genre.
It’s not entirely up to Larson to carry the burden of making Captain Marvel wildly entertaining, and she’s given a major assist by one of the MCU’s venerable presences in Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. With a bit of digital trickery, Jackson has been de-aged to look like his ‘90s screen persona. It’s not the technological aspects that are intriguing about Jackson’s latest turn as Fury but the fact that this film allows the screen legend to present a previously unseen side to the super-spy. Scenes with Jackson’s Fury and his feline co-star Goose are worth the price of admission alone.
Of course, Captain Marvel features plenty of Easter eggs for Marvel fans as well as a number of twists and turns that genuinely take the viewer by surprise. The ‘90s setting allows for some interesting needle drops (none too imaginative, though) and plenty of pop culture references to the era, though the biggest joke about the ‘90s through the lens of Captain Marvel is just how slow computers were back in the day. The ‘90s nostalgia teeters on the brink of becoming overkill without ever crossing over into tedium as Boden and Fleck have the perfect sense as when to pull back. The same goes for the nods to other MCU films, such as the appearance of Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) from Guardians of the Galaxy and other marvelous MacGuffins from other films. As always, be sure to stay through the credits for a couple of little stingers that hint at the future of the MCU.
Of course, and despite the best efforts of a persistent gang of pathetic trolls, Captain Marvel will be a hit. The question really is: Will it be an average Marvel hit or will it connect with audiences like Black Panther did last year? The fact is that no amount of online sabotage is going to do anything to slow down the pop culture force that is Marvel Studios. Captain Marvel shows just why – Kevin Feige and company have perfected a certain kind of pop entertainment, a blend of spectacular action mixed with witty humor that captures the very essence of these time-tested characters. Captain Marvel is much more weird and cosmic than the marketing for the film would have you believe. There is absolutely no reason to compare Captain Marvel to Wonder Woman as the fact that they’re comic book movies with female leads is where the comparisons begin and end. Captain Marvel will introduce audiences to a marvelous superhero for the next generation, a cosmic powerhouse that shuns well-worn character archetypes. As the MCU approaches the Endgame, it’s only the start of Captain Marvel’s story.
After a wobbly opening, Captain Marvel soars as Marvel’s latest hit thanks to a phenomenal performance by Brie Larson as the eponymous hero as well as Marvel’s trademarks of spectacular action and an irreverent sense of humor.