There’s a lot riding on Captain Marvel. It’s the first time we’ve had a Marvel movie with a female lead. It’s also Brie Larson’s first starring role since winning an Oscar. It’s a big-budget debut for directors that have only previously worked in micro-budget indies. And, perhaps most important to fans, it’s the last one of these movies before the big one, Avengers: Endgame. Well, it’s about time there was a female-led Marvel superhero movie (Scarlett Johansson is also about to have her day in the sun), but that’s hardly the reason to go see Captain Marvel.
Vers/Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Larson) is an all-powerful Kree on the alien planet Hala. Her mentor (Jude Law) has trained her to be a warrior, but she has always been consumed by memories that may or may not be hers, specifically time with another mentor (Annette Bening), an important figure she can’t quite remember. The Kree are at war with the Skrulls, a shape-shifting alien race and after a fateful fight, Vers crash-lands into a Blockbuster Video (it’s 1995) and meets Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Together, they must stop the Skrulls before it’s too late, and Vers learns more about her past, who she truly is, and what her true power holds.
As a general rule, I’ve always found the first entry into a new Marvel character to be the weakest of that bunch. The Captain America movies get better, Thor: Ragnarok makes the first Thor seem awful by comparison, and Ant-Man and the Wasp is leagues better than the first. This isn’t always the case (I’m lookin’ at you, Iron Man), but normally the first solo character film can muddle itself in mythology and exposition and become less entertaining to a casual fan as a result. This is true here, but it isn’t. Captain Marvel is wildly entertaining. There is a lot of table-setting for future movies here, however, but I had enough fun with it to hope this character sees a long future in subsequent Marvel films.
As our introduction to Carol Danvers, Brie Larson gives a performance that reminds you why she won an Oscar on her first try. She’s charismatic enough to make even the simplest throwaway moment special. I have seen it mentioned that perhaps Carol Danvers is thinly written in this installment, which I would disagree with. The entire plot of this film is about a woman who has always been told by men to keep her emotions in check, finding out who she is, and learning how to take control of her own power and ultimately breaking free from shackles literal and metaphorical. And Larson makes this journey monstrously entertaining.
Arguably the best part about Captain Marvel is the chemistry between Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson. This basically plays like a buddy cop movie. The two are so entertaining together and have very sharp comedic timing. I hope to see them reunite in future Marvel films. Ben Mendelsohn is also excellent as the big-bad, continuing the trend of Marvel villains that subvert audience expectations, and do something interesting with previously established tropes.
Annette Bening is a godlike figure that shows up to offer Carol advice, but of course, there’s more to her. I wish the film left more of an open door for Bening to return to future MCU films. She’s one of my favorite actresses, a screen presence who always adds to what’s on the page. We also have Djimon Hounsou and Crazy Rich Asians standout Gemma Chan, neither of whom have anything interesting to do. And I can’t say much about Goose, the scene-stealing tabby cat, but keep an eye on him. That cat’s going places.
Writer/directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck make this thing look beautiful, and it has a bouncy, breezy pace that makes the two full hours fly by. It’s not perfect, but it’s very entertaining, well-acted and has a great soundtrack. Carol Danvers is a character who may deserve a better introduction, but by the end, you’ll just be glad she’s finally here because we’re gonna need her. Thanos is shaking. Captain Marvel is gripping storytelling, combined with the humor, excitement, and the visual Marvel spectacle the viewer is used to. As usual with Marvel movies, stay until the very very end. The last credit scene, in particular, is a terrific note to end with. The countdown to Endgame is on.