As Phase 3 of the MCU moves towards the end game that is… er… Avengers End Game, Captain Marvel is the “late in the day” contender.
Billed as the Marvel Universe’s mightiest hero, this is the role’s big screen debut. Somewhat notably, it comes in the guise of Carole Danvers, who has been around in the comics for decades in various guises before making her comic book debut as Captain Marvel in 2012, thus potentially making her one of the first to be introduced to the MCU whose paper debut was after the films began.
It makes for a different but promising prospect, with the film a largely self-contained adventure set in the mid-90s some 10+ years before Downey Jr’s Iron Man first burst onto the screen.
Before the movie, the film begins with a well-done tribute to the Marvel heavyweight Stan Lee, who passed away last year, with the film also dedicated to him.
The production itself begins in the midst of a war between two alien races, between the Kree and Skrulls. Vers (Brie Larson) is introduced as one of the Kree’s Staforce elite fighters, under the command of her mentor and captain Yon-Rogg (Jude Law).
When a military operation goes wrong, Vers is captured by the Skrulls and is subjected to a memory probe that confronts both her and them with memories of a life that show a life on Earth rather than in Kree civilisation.
Eventually, Vers escapes and lands on Earth, where she crashlands into a Blockbuster Video in Los Angeles and duly nicks a lot of stuff from a nearby Radio Shack to build an interstellar communicator.
She duly gets in touch with her team, who plan to follow her there. Her actions have attracted the attention of SHIELD Agents Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), and a few Skrulls who gave chase, lead by their commander Talos (Ben Mendelsohn).
The chase leads from LA to a secret NASA research base, where Vers and Fury learn more about a potential hyper-space rocket developed by a Dr Lawson (Anette Benning).
From there, the duo and a cat who becomes key later on stow away on an experimental jet to Louisiana, where they meet pilot Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), and discover more before a trip to space for the final battles.
The film is, in many respects, a very referential movie. The plot contains nods to the likes of Top Gun, Independence Day, The Matrix, various other bits of 80’s/90’s sci-fi cinema and even elements of some psychological thrillers.
Part of how it juggles this is the way the scriptwriters have crafted a flexible and fast-paced story.
One unusual element is the use of CG to de-age Jackson (and to a lesser extent, Gregg, although he is only in about 4/5 scenes). While this has been appearing more in film recently, its the first this has been used so extensively in a Marvel film.
Jackson’s CG, however, works very well. The use of this also gives depth to someone who has been a constant in the Marvel cannon, and is the main link with the MCU as we know it.
It also adds to the film’s buddy comedy dynamic. Most of the film is propelled by Larson and Jackson. Larson is consistently great in the piece, selling a very likable new addition to the franchise, but in tandem, the two of them are responsible for much of the film’s greatest parts. The addition of Lynch to this ensemble also pleasingly adds to this.
The Kree and Skrulls themselves are, to some degree, the weakest part. It does feel like the film goes surface on the conflicts between them, with the fast “get into this now” introduction to them not helping.
Law hums along with a pleasing scenery-chewing menace that does well to sell a lot of his side, while Mendelsohn – something of a frequent villain – is also good. If nothing else, they don’t have some of the structural weaknesses that have affected some previous MCU antagonists, if not as fleshed out as others.
But it also feels like the conflict lacks depth in exploring its animosity. It feels like the film could’ve worked in a smoother manner to illustrate this part of the story, and equally, to illustrate Vers’ relationship with it.
Some of the film may follow the generic codes and conventions that usually follow the origin story of superhero cinema. Indeed, on reflection, there are bits that can do more to push the envelope through what is a piece that has some familiar elements and some very unusual ones.
For the most part, however, Captain Marvel is a fine addition to the MCU stable. It is a very entertaining movie, with finely worked humour, a nimble script, and a fine central performance from Larson.
Whether the same performance can shine amid the gigantic ensemble forthcoming in End Game is another matter. But if nothing else, if Larson’s Captain Marvel is to be a regular star in the MCU going forward, its a very pleasant opening to proceedings.