I’m a recent convert to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), thanks to my 8-year-old son’s newfound obsession with the Avengers, and Captain Marvel was the first entry in the mega-franchise that I’ve actually been excited to see on opening day in the cinema. And it’s a blast (literally, if you’ve seen those things flying out of her fists in the trailers).
Captain Marvel is a refreshing and unconventional superhero origin story, and I don’t just mean because it’s the first woman-led (and co-directed, and scored) MCU movie, or that there’s no love interest (even the ground-breaking Wonder Woman had to shoehorn one in). I’m talking about the inverted story structure: when we meet our hero – a warrior named Vers (Oscar-winner Brie Larson, Room, Kong: Skull Island) – she's already powered-up (though not, as we’ll see, operating at full potential) and kicking ass as part of an elite Kree (humanoid aliens) commando unit under the leadership of Yon-Rogg (Jude Law, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Sherlock Holmes). In particular, the asses of sworn enemies the reptilian Skrulls, who have the terrifying ability to shapeshift into the form of anyone they see.
It’s only when she’s captured and has her forgotten memories probed that we begin a journey back to where it all began. She crash-lands on Earth, where it’s the mid-1990’s (something very much milked for nostalgia gags) and teams up with MCU stalwart, S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury (a wonderfully de-aged Samuel L. Jackson) to uncover her past as US Air Force pilot Carol Danvers and come to terms with who she really is in order to embrace her future. Sci-fi gobbledygook aside, it’s a real roller-coaster ride, full of surprises, thrills, laughs, and emotional punches, and it's also a satisfying tie-in with the existing MCU.
I loved Carol Danvers. Brie Larson portrays her with just the right amount of sass and super-hero swagger, but with depth and vulnerability, especially during her time with ex-pilot buddy, Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch, Brotherhood, Fast Girls) and Maria’s daughter, Monica (Akira Akbar). I’m a massive aviation nerd, though, so I only wish we’d seen a little more Top Gun action rather than the two of them just reminiscing about their aerial antics.
Tonally, Captain Marvel sits in a slightly strange spot. It’s not the straight-up action-comedy of Thor: Ragnarok or Guardians of the Galaxy, though you can see it trying to lean in that direction at times – there’s definitely some great LOLs. The action sequences are competently directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Mississippi Grind, It’s Kind of a Funny Story), but aren’t quite jaw-on-the-floor thrilling like certain other MCU entries (hello, Civil War). Nevertheless, they really nail Carol’s personal journey, as well as the buddy-pic vibe between Carol and Fury (and, of course, Goose).
There’s no doubt that Captain Marvel has a really strong theme of women’s empowerment. My initial reaction was that, while the message was strong, it’s delivery was a little ham-fisted at times (like certain music choices and on-the-nose gags). However, it struck me that this movie is going to consumed en masse by kids (including two of my own sons, who loved it), and that mass media like this will continue to shape their expectations of gender norms in a very different way to what I grew up with, so it probably doesn’t hurt to throw subtlety to the wind in this respect.
But what really resonated with me was not who, in particular, is being empowered, but the feeling of anyone being able to find the means to unleash whatever potential lurks within themselves and unapologetically blaze a trail no longer burdened by the expectations of those around them or, as Carol puts it, fighting “with one hand tied behind my back."
It’s no spoiler to say she’s a total badass by the end. So I’m super-excited that we’ll be seeing Captain Marvel again in Avengers: Endgame in just over a month. Squee!