There’s a point in Captain Marvel where our titular hero is told by a male biker to crack a smile. A suggestion which she swiftly treats with the contempt it deserves: a hard stare and the theft of his motorbike. If only the seeming hordes of manbabies who spent actual time from their actual “lives” reacting as though a female-led Marvel film were a personal attack on their existence could be served up an equal measure of retribution; the comic book movie fandom would certainly be a better place for it. Still, no amount of pre-release negativity and post-release review bombing from certain corners of the “fanbase” will change the fact that Captain Marvel is, undoubtedly, a success. Part sci-fi action movie, part paranoid thriller, part buddy comedy, it’s a twisting and turning introduction to the newest member of Team Avengers.
It’s on Hala, the homeworld of the Kree Empire, that we meet Brie Larson’s amnesia-suffering Carol Danvers. Quick-witted, skilled in combat, and in possession of an untapped wealth of power which her mentor, Jude Law’s Yon-Rogg, is helping her to master. Through his teachings, we learn of a war between the Kree and a shapeshifting race of aliens known as the Skrulls, a conflict which is threatening to boil over. Larson/Danvers acts as an effective audience surrogate, guiding us through the film’s opening portion, wherein it does the vast majority of its heavy lifting. It’s throughout this stretch that it not only expands the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) into some of its most dense science-fiction territory to date, but also has to simultaneously slowly reveal the memories of Carol’s past to us, and to her.
Larson conveys Danver’s struggle to piece together her identity with an insular and subdued early performance. It’s a tone which is matched by the rest of the film, an emphasis on self-discovery, scene-setting and laying the foundations of the Kree/Skrull war serving to lower the energy levels somewhat during the first act. It’s once Danvers crashlands on 1990s Earth (a real shithole) and really starts the process of puzzling out her past that we truly kick into gear. Teaming up with young S.H.I.E.L.D. operative Nick Fury (an impressively de-aged Samuel L. Jackson) to ward off the Skrull threat (led by Ben Mendelsohn’s terrific Talos) the banter commences – it is a Marvel film, after all – and twisty body-swapping sequences come into play. The tempo rises, Danvers grows in confidence and self-understanding, and Larson truly gets to shine; quipping and kicking ass with the best of them, she’s properly heroic, immediately feeling at home in the MCU.
Solid though the set pieces are, when it comes to action there’s nothing here that gets near to the destruction levels of Infinity War, or to the perfection of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Right up to its firework display of an ending, it instead remains a film whose strengths lie in its characters. Nick Fury, a man at the very beginning of his journey towards assembling Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and Captain Marvel herself, a woman setting out on a path that will lead her to Thanos in Endgame. And, of course, not forgetting their furry companion, the adorable cat Goose, who I would love nothing more than to see starring in his own spinoff: Captain Meowvel.
Rating (out of 5):