Captain Marvel is the 21st film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the first headlined by a female superhero. It’s been a long time coming, to say the least, but Earth’s Mightiest Avenger has arrived and she is glorious.
Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (from a screenplay they co-wrote with Geneva Robertson-Dworet), Captain Marvel is an unusual origin story in that it opts for a non-linear telling of Carol Danvers’ journey from U.S. Air Force pilot to Kree warrior-hero to mighty Avenger. Audiences learn how Carol came to wield her incredible powers as she does, and it’s an effective means to both convey Carol’s complicated origin and involve viewers in the discovery. Captain Marvel is a unique spin on Marvel’s tried-and-true formula, presenting a fun action romp that establishes Carol as the most powerful Avenger since Thor and the most deserving hero since Steve Rogers.
On top of introducing audiences to Carol Danvers, Captain Marvel explores an unseen chapter of the MCU (set in that most totally awesome decade, the 1990s) and serves as something of an origin for SHIELD agents, Nick Fury and Phil Coulson. The film is also the final MCU installment before the climactic Avengers: Endgame, serving as the last piece of setup before the Avengers again face off against the Mad Titan, Thanos. By now, the MCU is a film series that expects its viewers to be familiar with each film that came before, and Captain Marvel is every bit as important to Endgame as Infinity War. Needing to juggle these duties along with recounting Carol’s origin can, at times, weigh the film down, but Captain Marvel manages to muster more than enough excitement for its titular hero and her future adventures.
Brie Larson perfectly embodies Carol’s nerve and wry wit. Larson’s Carol is strong and determined but she isn’t macho; she’s committed and loyal but not so blinded that she can’t see the truth once it’s exposed. She’s funny in a way that feels uniquely her own, never too silly or excessively sarcastic. The film itself may at times fumble the tone, but Carol is always Carol and that’s a huge credit to Larson.
The rapport between Larson and her co-stars is spectacular, but without a doubt, it’s the tag team of Larson’s Carol and Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury that’s a real highlight of the film. Not only does it give Carol someone familiar to bounce off of, but Jackson gets to play a different side of Fury, before the eye patch and years of secrets. Before Fury, though, Larson’s Carol has a convincing though not nearly as dynamic relationship with her Kree mentor, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). It’s as good as it needs to be, but that’s about it. Later on, Carol strikes up an interesting relationship with Ben Mendelson’s Talos – leader of the Skrulls, a shape-shifting alien race who are full of surprises – and it’s one of the most enjoyable in the film. Mendelsohn is also just excellent as Talos, adding yet another memorable role to his geek cred.
While on Earth, Carol learns about her previous life and is re-introduced to her best friend and fellow Air Force pilot, Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch). Their friendship is the very heart of the film, with Larson and Lynch playing longtime friends with a natural ease. Maria’s daughter, Monica is also a fundamental part of Carol’s ties to Earth, reminding Carol that she was an important member of their family. Exploring female friendships is a rarity in superhero movies, but Captain Marvel makes it a focus. Even Annette Benning’s (sadly brief) role as Carol’s mentor from her time as an Air Force pilot, Wendy Lawson, puts the even rarer female mentorship front and center, making it a crucial step in Carol’s journey.
There’s a moment during Captain Marvel‘s third act where Carol is being goaded in to a one-on-one fight with her enemy where she wouldn’t use her powers. The point is that then and only then can she truly prove herself the stronger fighter, only then will she finally have bested them. In response, Carol energy blasts them into the wall and says: “I have nothing to prove to you.” The moment is immensely satisfying, and not just for Carol, but for anyone tired of proving that they belong. In that moment, Carol reclaims her own tremendous power and what follows is a truly a sight to behold.
The quality of visual effects will vary from one MCU film to the next, but by and large, Captain Marvel looks great. The digital de-aging of Samuel L. Jackson is superb and by far the most impressive use of the tech to date. (Granted, Jackson himself looks pretty damn good for 70, so maybe that’s where more of the credit goes.) The the make-up and digital effects for the Skrulls are also excellent, adding to the enthusiasm for them to return. However, it’s the visual realization of Captain Marvel’s incredible powers that is most thrilling. Sure, there are moments it can get a bit wonky, but all in all it is just a joy to watch Carol pulverize an entire spacecraft with a punch. It’s also the sort of massive power display that movies (outside of Wonder Women) don’t really give to women characters. To finally have Carol on screen as the heavy-hitter she is feels so good.
Captain Marvel has been a long time coming, and in some ways, Carol’s introduction to the MCU feels a little shoe-horned in. As if they somehow only just realized what the MCU was missing and need to get her in there before Phase 3 comes to a close. Now that she’s here, however, Carol Danvers is an exciting addition.