3.5 out of 5 stars.
Warning: This review contains some plot details from “Captain Marvel.”
In “Captain Marvel,” Carol Danvers is the hero of her own story. Despite being a mere month and a half away from “Avengers: Endgame,” “Captain Marvel” is the rare MCU film that stands on its own, and doesn’t have any major implications for the world (or at this point, the galaxy) at large. That proves to be both a blessing and a curse for what is an important milestone for Marvel movies.
“Captain Marvel” throws it back to the mid-90s, before the Avengers, before there were even known superheroes on Earth, and just as S.H.I.E.L.D agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is beginning to ponder assembling a team of heroes. But the story begins on the planet Kree, where Starforce soldier Vers (Brie Larson) is struggling to control her emotions during her training with commander Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), and suffering from strange, recurring nightmares. During a mission against the Skrulls—a shapeshifting race of aliens the Kree have been fighting for centuries—Vers is captured by their commander Talos, who probes her brain and digs up some fragments of memory from a past Vers doesn’t remember having.
The film leading up to this scene is a slow and rather uninteresting affair, but the implication that Vers is another person entirely stirs up intrigue. She eventually ends up on Earth, teams up with Nick Fury, and uncovers her true identity as Carol Danvers. The sort of buddy cop relationship that Carol and Nick strike up is fun, even if a lot of the jokes are corny and don’t always land (although any scene with everyone’s new favorite Marvel character, Goose the cat, is a winner). The movie doesn’t have the big explosive plot we’re used to in Marvel movies, and is actually a lot more pensive. The different feel of the film likely stems a lot from its directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, a filmmaking duo with a background in indie film. The actual conflict Carol becomes involved in isn’t as big and epic as what we’ve seen in more recent Marvel movies, and the lack of excitement makes that part of the film come off as a bit of a letdown. While the villains are fairly typical and unthreatening, the plot does prompt the audience to ponder what and who are really good and bad, and the climax manages to not devolve into the usual CGI bombardment, while still unleashing the full extent of Carol’s powers.
“Captain Marvel” is the twenty-first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and yet it is the first of those movies in which a female superhero is the main protagonist. Despite it taking so long for the MCU to finally get here, the movie does a good job with portraying women and relationships between women in a positive light, and really allows them to make their own stories. There’s no romantic interest for Carol in this movie. Rather, we see the genuine love and friendship between her and her best friend Maria (Lashana Lynch), a daring pilot and a single mother with a young daughter, Monica. Monica in turn openly looks up to Carol, in many ways the onscreen representation of the young girls much of this movie was made for. And the core of the story isn’t so much about the conflict between the Kree and the Skrulls as is it about Carol discovering her true identify, and gaining the self-confidence to be the hero she is. There are several scenes as well as a couple of montages depicting Carol being constantly told by men throughout her life that she can’t do something because she is a woman. While this movie lacks a definitive hero moment, the scene in which she falls, only to pick herself up again, as determined as ever, is even more moving.
“Captain Marvel” is a film that has several strengths as well as flaws. Larson imbues her other-worldly character with a likeable, down-to-earth personality, but other characters, like those played by Ben Mendelsohn and Annette Bening, aren’t explored quite as much. The film does serve as a fun sort of prequel to the MCU as we know it, and it’s nice to spend so much time with a younger Nick Fury, as well as to have Clark Gregg back as Agent Coulson. Overall, it isn’t the most memorable Marvel movie, but it does have many memorable moments, and it sets up the origins of a character that I think we’re going to see a lot more of in the future—and hopefully we’ll see a lot more female heroes from Marvel in that future alongside her.
Runtime: 124 minutes. Rated PG-13.