The arrival of Captain Marvel may have finally have heralded the arrival of the MCU’s first fully female lead and another massive step toward equality in roles in big budget filmmaking, but all the representation in the world isn’t going to mean a damn if the film in question is no good.
We’ve been here before, of course, with Halle Berry’s woeful Catwoman and Jennifer Garner’s dull Elektra absorbing body blows for awful scripts and terrible movies but over the last few years, things really have started looking up for the female led superhero movie with DC finally getting Wonder Wonder to take flight and other characters such as Charlize Theron’s Furiosa being a standout in Mad Max: Fury Road, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow scaling the ranks of the MCU and Evangeline Lily’s Wasp sharing top-billing with Ant-Man. However, Marvel were still to break that glass ceiling when it came to a solo film with a woman running the show, but thankfully, their 21st film, Captain Marvel holds itself up to the usual standard of the studio’s usual output, matching the gold standard the genre has to offer while boasting enough thrills and spills necessary to make it in this crowded genre.
Vers is a soldier in the Kree army, an alien race that is currently locked in a war with the shape-shifting Skrulls who employ terrorist style attacks and multi-faced subterfuge to further their nefarious goals and despite being a damn good soldier, she’s also got a few other things that set her apart from the rest. Offsetting her amnesia that’s plagued her for the last six years, Vers also has the ability to unleash powerful energy blasts and is also unnaturally strong but in order to control this, the superiors, including her exasperated commanding officer Yon-Rogg, insist she wears a power inhibitor on her neck. However, when a mission against a Skrull nest goes sour, Vers finds herself first captured by the Skrull leader, Talos, who tries to read her mind for vital information and then stranded on a backwater planet where she meets a burnt out member of an agency called SHIELD who aids her in her mission.
The planet is, of course, Earth; the agent is a two eyed Nick Fury and the year is 199 and after some Skrull-shaped run-ins Vers starts to match up some of her scattered memories enough to piece together that she’s led a previous life on Earth. But if this is true and she’s actually human, why has the Kree Supreme Intelligence and Yon-Rogg been lying to her and where did her immense powers come from?
As she searches for answers, she manages to find out her real name, Carol Danvers and track down her best friend and fellow pilot Maria Rambeau and together with Fury the three try to unravel exactly what the hell is going on with this so-called Kree/Skrull war?
A big part of Captain Marvel’s success is, unsurprisingly, Brie Larson. Marvel Studio’s greatest strength over the last ten years has undoubtedly been it’s casting; hiring bright, likeable talent that make their characters instantly land with audiences and Larson, with her oodles of charisma fits the bill rather nicely. Her Carol Danvers is unapologetically smart and confident with a refreshing impish, jocular humour despite being saddled with a standard amnesia plot, but the script also side-steps such dated, patronising tropes as feeling the need to “sex” up the superhero costume (the only skin showing here is Larson’s face) or drop in an unnecessary love interest to appease preview audiences. Some complained during the time of release that Danvers’ rather full-on attitude to her own abilities made her somewhat abrasive and unlikeable; but then I put it to those same people that it didn’t seem to be a problem when Tony Stark or Stephen Strange did it. Danvers carries with her zero doubt in her abilities for the entirety for the film that also includes flashbacks to her childhood and airforce training, no dodgy plot thread has her plagued with neurosis or clumsiness and the only reason she hasn’t achieved her full, space-ship destroying, potential is that she’s being gaslighted by her superiors. In fact, the scene that plays out Captain Marvel’s intent most clearly is a climactic scene involving Yon-Rogg (a hissably charming Jude Law) convincing Carol to hold back on her zappy powers in order to best him in physical combat only for her to blast him arse-over-tit because she has not a single thing to prove.
Ably aiding Larson in this perky, sci-fi romp is an impressively digitally de-aged Samuel L. Jackson to give proceedings the welcome tang of buddy-team action movie and in fact turns out to be Jackson’s finest outing as super spy Nick Fury since the second Captain America film. Easily equaling him is Ben Mendelsohn; buried under a ton of Skrull make up and allowed to use his real accent, he not only make Talos one of the best characters in the film but it’s also the best of his seemingly never ending run of “villains”. Add incredibly strong support from Annette Benning and Lashana Lynch (who manages to give the latter end of the movie a real emotional punch despite spending the first half of the movie seen solely in flashbacks) and you’re all set to go.
The look of the film is reassuringly familiar and colourful which takes many direct visual cues from the cosmic setting of Guardians Of The Galaxy, sharing similar designs for title cards while also giving some back story to a villainous character or two (a fond welcome back to Lee Pace’s Ronan The Accuser and Dijon Hounsou’s Korath The Persuer) while the earth stuff manages to ape the style of a 90’s action movie well while hurling multiple massive nods to the universe at large (Quinjet prototype! Younger Agent Colson!).
The flaws of Captain Marvel are somewhat harmless as they are merely irritating and not detrimental to the point of disaster but will definitely need some ironing out once the inevitable sequel arrives. The first problem is the same that Doctor Strange suffered a few years earlier in that any origin story that’s dumped in the arse end feels slightly out of place in the MCU’s go-for-broke third phase (Black Panther and Spider-man avoided this problem thanks to their head start in Civil War). Placed along side such epic cosmic-fests like Infinity War and Thor: Ragnarok the good Captain feels like it’s underachieving slightly but this really isn’t anything that won’t be cured by future appearances but it means that while it neatly takes care of it’s drama here of terra firmer, it chooses to leave one too many space-based questions unanswered by the time the credits roll with major conflicts left to play out in future installments. With at least three multiple threats barely handled and numerous plot points left hanging, Danvers’ triumphant flight at the end of the movie is marred somewhat by the jarring feeling of unfinished business; but if you’re a seasoned MCU fan (like myself) nothing negative I’ve just listed is going to matter a worth a damn in the long run.
Along with the usual Marvel quirks (surely Lovecraftian, extra-terrestrial pussy Goose is a lock to return) and sweet ribbing of the time period (loading screens!), it’s endlessly refreshing to have a huge film that doesn’t resort to the usual stereotypes some female led movies fall back on in order to make their character play better to a wide audience with unnecessary clumsiness or jokes about giant lady-pants in order to be “relatable”.
This is where Captain Marvel finds her true strength; treating it’s title character with the respect she deserves. A great first effort but here’s hoping her subsequent appearances are, in fact, higher, faster, further.