As the Marvel Cinematic Universe spins endlessly on, one of my favorite things to observe has been watching these films take really obscure characters from the Marvel pantheon and turn them into household names. We saw it with the Guardians of the Galaxy, we saw it with Ant-Man, and now, in a big, big, way, we’re seeing it with Carol “Captain Marvel” Danvers, a character who has been a part of the Marvel Universe since 1968, but only in the last few years in the comics has found her way to the A-list.
And once again, Marvel Studios delivers with Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s Captain Marvel, a solidly satisfying sci-fi action piece that establishes the character firmly as a player in films to come, and sets the stage perfectly for Carol’s upcoming step into the spotlight in Avengers: Endgame. Basically, what this film really had to do was make viewers excited at the idea of seeing Captain Marvel pound the hell out of Thanos in seven weeks.
Well, mission accomplished.
Refreshingly, Captain Marvel throws out the usual origin-story structure and opens with our lead character having already gained her superpowers, living among the alien race known as the Kree, serving in their military and believing herself to be one of them. When a mission gone wrong leads “Vers” (her supposed Kree name) to Earth, the film really kicks into gear as she encounters Nick Fury (a digitally youthified Samuel L. Jackson) and begins a search both for alien infiltrators and her own identity.
Brie Larson is strong and appealing as Carol Danvers, especially in the film’s third act when her memories return and she’s allowed to play it a little less restrained. When you’re playing an amnesiac for more than half the movie, it’s hard to be too dynamic, but I liked her kind of wry, smirky sense of humor throughout. Especially playing against Jackson, who was much more comic as Fury than usual, showing a side of the character before twenty years of saving the world has taken its toll on him.
I’m hesitant to mention too much more about the film and risk spoiling some of the genuinely satisfying reversals and twists, which Marvel Studios managed to keep quiet in all the film’s pre-release promotion. But what I will say is that the cast is good from top to bottom, with Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law, Annette Bening and Gemma Chan all delivering particularly strong performances.
I’d put Captain Marvel up there with the good “debut” Marvel movies like the first Thor and Dr. Strange, but not as good as the Guardians films and nowhere near the epic team movies like Civil War or Avengers: Age of Ultron. It’s amazing when you realize how spoiled we’ve all become by the Marvel Cinematic Universe experiment that you can walk out a little disappointed at a “only” getting a good fun movie. I mean, no one has this kind of track record. Even Pixar made a couple flops.
I’m seeing much comparison of the film to Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, which is no surprise, with Captain Marvel being only the second big female-lead superhero blockbuster. I think it might have been a little bit of a better film overall than Wonder Woman, but it lacked that big iconic moment like Diana fighting in the WWI trenches that made the whole experience. Carol needed a Big Moment and never quite got it. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the Wonder Woman movie, and I’d definitely say I enjoyed it more. I was just a little disappointed in the third act of Wonder Woman being yet another “hero fights a big CGI villain” scene, whereas the ending in Captain Marvel had some reversals I didn’t see coming and some action beats we haven’t seen before.
I mean, this is all just splitting hairs, considering I waited 40 years for both these movies and they both wound up being really good. What are the odds of that?