I didn’t grow up reading comic books, and superhero movies weren’t my thing as a kid. As an adult, I’ve come to enjoy most comic book adaptations. Even the terrible ones have their moments. However, you don’t need to be an expert on the superhero genre to understand, recognize, and appreciate the significant leaps the genre’s made over the past few years after being strictly a white male-filled arena. Black Panther broke records, earned multiple Oscars, and changed the Hollywood zeitgeist by forcing studio heads to reconsider talent in front of and behind the cameras. Wakanda Forever.
Would Captain Marvel have been made – or considered a box office threat – without the irrefutable success of Wonder Woman? Wonder Woman, helmed by Patty Jenkins and starring Gal Gadot, broke through the glass ceiling and changed the landscape of women in superhero films moving forward.
Of course, neither Black Panther nor Wonder Woman would have altered the path for future comic book adaptations if they had not been terrific, entertaining films. We can now add Captain Marvel to that list of groundbreaking comic book-inspired productions that worked.
Marvel’s 2019 Captain Marvel is, thankfully, a solid action film filled with humor and powered by top-notch performances. For those like me whose only knowledge of superheroes comes from films rather than the source material, Captain Marvel’s a welcome addition to the superhero origin story movies.
We catch up with Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), who’s referred to as Vers by her Kree commander, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), as she’s training to harness her powers. Vers is a soldier with a rebellious streak who has a difficult time listening to orders. She’s told, repeatedly, to keep her emotions in check, an instruction that justifiably riles up Vers (and half the audience).
Vers is with her squad on a rescue mission when things go sideways and she winds up alone, plummeting to Earth and busting through the roof of a Blockbuster Video. That store, plus the nearby Radio Shack, the use of pagers, and Alta Vista as the default search engine help establish Vers is visiting Earth in the 1990s. It also helps confirm we have no reason to feel nostalgic about that particular decade.
She’s followed to Earth by the Krees’ arch enemies, the Skrulls, who staged the rescue mission in order to capture Vers and probe her brain for memories that might help them locate a power crucial to their survival. As Vers attempts to track down these alien intruders, she experiences flashbacks to her own life on Earth. Confused but not frightened, Vers joins forces with Nick Fury to discover the truth about herself, the war between the Krees and Skrulls, and the real reason she’s important to both races.
Captain Marvel’s powered by a dynamite performance by Oscar winner Brie Larson (Room) as Carol Danvers. Larson proves to be a thoroughly convincing action heroine. She can also handle the humor and is particularly adept at nailing smirks, side-eyes, and witty comebacks.
Samuel L Jackson gets more screen time than usual as Nick Fury, a character he’s played in Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Avengers: Infinity War. After 11 years of playing Fury (don’t call him Nick or Nicholas), it’s Captain Marvel that pulls the pieces together and fills in huge blanks in Fury’s story. And, yes, it’s a little bizarre to see Jackson aged backwards via some impressive technology.
Ben Mendelsohn handles the role of the shapeshifting Skrulls’ leader, Talos, and he’s one of the better antagonists to emerge from a Marvel production. Annette Bening is superb in a pivotal role that has more layers than expected and that if I said any more about would be considered a spoiler. And, Lashana Lynch provides the film its heart and humanity as Carol’s best friend and fellow U. S. Air Force pilot Maria Rambeau. Maria is confused about the return of her friend who was presumed dead following a horrifying plane crash, yet she welcomes her back even after learning Carol’s a soldier from an alien planet. Maria reminds Carol that even before she had super powers, she was a fierce warrior.
Captain Marvel marks the first Marvel film with a female as the titular character. Incredibly, it’s also the first Marvel superhero film to be directed by a woman. Anna Boden co-directed with Ryan Fleck, and Boden and Fleck also co-wrote the screenplay with Geneva Robertson-Dworet. The trio worked in quite a few swipes at sexist tropes, but not an obnoxious amount. The film is also an indictment of powerful nations that repress and reject outsiders or those considered lessor individuals. Those swipes are both timely and well-placed.
Captain Marvel has a playful vibe and yet nails the full-on female-empowerment/empowering action thriller aspect as well. It’s also a pretty darn good buddy road trip sort of picture. Larson and Jackson have great buddy chemistry on screen, and Carol and Fury’s friendship is entertaining to watch develop.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a certain scene-stealing feline. Goose the cat is just as important a supporting player as his two-legged co-stars, and I’d dare you – even if you’re a dog person – to come away from Captain Marvel not wanting to hug the nearest tabby.
I confess to being a bit lost during the first act’s explanation of Carol’s time on Earth, but ultimately it all came together in a completely satisfying conclusion. This is Carol Danvers’ story and we learn bits and pieces of her past as she comes to terms with her true identity and history. As Carol’s knowledge of her own backstory grows, her strength and determination to be the hero she realizes is inside emerges. Just as Carol embraces her power, audiences will embrace the wonder that is Captain Marvel.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive language
Running Time: 128 minutes
Release Date: March 8, 2019