While MCU fans are undoubtedly waiting for Avengers: Endgame with bated breath, Captain Marvel not only delivers Marvel Studios’ first female-led superhero adventure, but also introduces audiences to a character who will likely play an integral part in undoing Thanos’s devastating snap of his Infinity Gauntlet-clad fingers.
Carol Danvers must have one of the most convoluted back-stories of any Marvel character, but comic fans should be reassured that the film’s writers have managed to synthesize decades’ worth of lore into something that retains the essential elements but is perfectly accessible for anyone new to the character.
Not that the film makes any concessions early on. From the get-go, we are thrown into an alien world with unfamiliar characters as mansplaining Kree commander Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) trains a young female warrior in preparation for a dangerous mission against rival aliens, the Skrulls. The outer space visuals are subtly familiar thanks to the production design of some of the realms introduced in James Gunn’s brilliant Guardians of the Galaxy films. However, things are less full-on ‘cosmic’ and more minimalistic and streamlined here, which at times makes it rather reminiscent of late 1990s science fiction films. Which is fitting, since our titular hero eventually crashes on Earth in 1995, from which point the Nineties vibe is turned up with visual cues, soundtrack choices and pop culture references alluding to the decade during which most of the film is set. However, rather than going on a tiresome nostalgia binge, the filmmakers instead use tone and style to create a movie that not only recalls the action blockbusters of the 1990s but keeps the focus on the story.
As a result, the film, superficially, doesn’t look much like the more fantastical instalments in the MCU, instead offering a more grounded, character-driven piece. Action is not neglected, but storytelling is favored. The result may strike some as being lackluster (rather than low-key) in terms of what appeals to many people about the MCU, but it’s a choice in perfect keeping with a narrative about a protagonist on a mission to uncover her true identity. The film retains a real sense of mystery for most of its duration, which makes the pay-off of Carol’s discoveries feel genuinely empowering – and successfully sells her as someone Thanos most definitely needs to be mindful of in the upcoming Endgame.
In terms of casting, the genuine chemistry between leads Brie Larson and Samuel L Jackson is not just sheer fun but also lends the film a buddy cop dynamic that once again serves as a reminder of many films from the decade in which Captain Marvel is set. It also means that the trademark MCU humor fits in perfectly. Jackson’s Nick Fury is a younger, more playful version of the character (who still has both his eyes) evoking some of Jackson’s own Nineties roles, while Ben Mendelsohn’s knack for drily sarcastic line delivery gets a good outing in his role as Talos, and Goose the cat steals a few scenes.
Brie Larson delivers a compelling and nuanced portrayal of the main character, her innate feistiness and strong-willed nature proving to be a perfect fit for an unapologetically feminist character with a rebellious streak. Evidently, some segments of the public have been very vocal about how upset they are by this, but portraying Carol Danvers in any other way would have been a betrayal of what the character symbolizes, and Larson is therefore another pitch-perfect casting choice by Marvel Studios.
Captain Marvel is a solid effort that places itself among the best of the franchise by having deeply human themes of identity, belonging and compassion at its core. Some may find it slower than other MCU offerings, but by focusing so heavily on character development it provides a solid foundation for how the Avengers Initiative – at this point some way in the future – comes into being, and Captain Marvel therefore adds new appeal to the franchise, proving that the MCU can indeed go ‘higher, further, faster’.
Verdict: 8 out of 10.