There have been so many superhero origin movies now that it’s becoming difficult to put a new spin on it though Captain Marvel mostly manages to do so. Even if some of the scenarios are familiar there’s a breeziness that tacks closer to Guardians of the Galaxy than to Batman. With events unfolding at quite a speed there are not many slower, quieter moments which may be why some critics have described the results as “middling” or “generic”. In terms of the Marvel canon its far better than that even if it can’t quite reach the intelligence of Black Panther or the high octane thrills of Avengers- Infinity War. Coming in their wake it instead represents a fresh start down a new road.
Warning- Spoilers past this point.
Boldly the film opens with about 15 minutes of outer space action in which Earth is not even mentioned. We meet Brie Larson’s character as a humanoid alien called Vers, a Kree soldier on a mission against their enemies the Skrull (the nomenclature is real comic book stuff!.) The latter’s ability to shape shift will play an important role in the film as Vers is tricked and captured. During her interrogation memories she does not recognise fill her head and its here we see her as an air force pilot, Top Gun imagery aplently. Her escape ends up in a Blockbuster store in 1995. It’s a well engineered opening section that keeps you intrigued. It does feel weird for a film largely set 24 years ago to be seen as historical when you remember it but we soon encounter Radio Shack and slow loading computers! Thankfully the period detail is lightly dusted rather than overegged with a suitable soundtrack to match.
In some ways this is as much an origin story for Nick Fury as it is for Carol Danvers. The two meet shortly after her abrupt arrival and Fury (as he always likes to be known) is soon helping her escape the clutches of the Skrull who’ve followed. Samuel L Jackson is digitally de-aged to play the younger Fury in a technical triumph while the actor also gets to show his playful side as the team up produces some fun banter and a bit of cat wrangling. I’m not sure though about the loss of his eye – shown during this film- being treated so frivolously though.
As the first female Marvel lead (whatever did happen to that proposed Black Widow movie?) Brie Larson faces considerable scrutiny and delivers a successful portrayal of a resourceful, tough woman without losing her femininity or her sense of wry humour. Her powers are indeed spectacular and all the way through you can’t help anticipating what will happen when she faces up to Thanos.
There are some impressive though never overlong action sequences including one on a train that brings some humour as the shape shifters change appearance resulting in a dust up between Carol and a pensioner causing bemused looks from onlookers! A cat and mouse sequence in a records library is especially well done and the larger battles at the end packed with swift cuts and dynamic scale.
The movie’s central message that you need to have faith in yourself and your abilities is unveiled via a slightly unlikely moment of clarity though just about works. Carol’s ultimate unshackling from all the restraints put upon her provide the film’s `Wonder Woman in the trenches` moment though this movie’s message is more applicable to anyone whose been held back. The theme has already been worked through via the Skree / Krull scenario as well.
However the big twist regarding the motivations of the Skrull is itself hard to swallow after seeing how the latter have behaved. It simply arrives so suddenly it seems to contradict what we’ve seen too much. Oddly though it’s the development that turns the narrative towards more interesting places delving into less fantasy related concerns and maintaining Marvel’s best films’ ability to reflect the real world. As Skrull leader Talos, Ben Mendelsohn delivers another great performance in a role that allows him more range than antagonists often get. It is after this that the film does slow a little as Carol is reunited with Air force best buddy Marie Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) and the scale of the task ahead becomes clear taking them back into space for the finale. Despite being two people sat at a table the scene where they tentatively rekindle their friendship the scene is one of the film’s best.
Incidentally nobody calls the character Captain Marvel during the film though the origin of the name is clearly laid out during the narrative. Also we discover that her pilot codename inspires Fury to re-title the secret project he’s been planning to the Avengers. Even though another Captain has claimed the sobriquet, Carol Danvers is really the first Avenger.
This is not really the feminist story that people were expecting (DC’s Wonder Woman fills that role far better) and in some ways follows a trusted path of the doubting superhero who finds their true strength through adversity. Yet it is so full of brio and moves so quickly that it ticks the boxes that continue to bring audiences back to superhero films. Lively, engaging and often funny plus containing the most unusual cat you’ve ever seen, Captain Marvel continues a rich vein of varied films that entertain to the max.