*** out of five stars
The latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the first with a female lead and takes us back to the 1990s. So, will this movie change up the formula we’ve come to expect from the House of Ideas?
In 1995, Vers (played by Brie Larson) serves as a member of the Kree Empire’s Starforce. She suffers from nightmares and general uncertainty stemming from her inability to fully remember her past. One day, Starforce gets into a battle with several Skrulls, a race of green-skinned shapeshifters at war with the Kree. Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), the head Skrull, captures Vers and hooks her up to a memory probe. She escapes in a pod and crashes on Earth.
Vers runs afoul of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg). The trouble is compounded when Talos and other Skrulls also arrive on the planet. After some misunderstanding, Vers teams up with Fury. After doing some research gleaned from her fragmented memory, Vers discovers that she is really an Earth woman named Carol Danvers. Carol was a U.S. Air Force pilot presumed dead in an accident in 1989. She reunites with her friend Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) and Maria’s daughter, Monica (Akira Akbar). Carol then learns the truth behind the accident that caused her amnesia six years ago, and her allegiances may never be the same again.
After more than 20 films set in the MCU, many have long anticipated the day a female hero will take center stage. And this reviewer is pleased to say that while Captain Marvel is not a revolutionary superhero film, it is still solid entertainment.
The film attempts to somewhat simplify Carol’s backstory compared to her more convoluted history in the comics world. The film takes an unusual approach in telling its hero’s origin. Carol has amnesia at the start of the film and can only remember vague fragments, and part of her journey involves gradual recovery of her memories. This keeps her from showcasing a fully fleshed out personality, as it isn’t until fairly late in the film that she discovers who she really is. But Brie Larson still gives Carol enough spunk and charm to carry the film.
Samuel L. Jackson steals most of the film as a younger Nick Fury who is more optimistic than the jaded figure we know from other Marvel movies. Lashana Lynch’s Maria is also a strong supporting character, and the rest of the cast are uniformly engaging. The weakest parts of the film for me are the opening scenes involving the Kree’s homeworld Hala and Starforce. This start to the film basically throws viewers into another world with little explanation or accessibility. It isn’t until the action moves to Earth that the movie truly begins to feel like an MCU film, and the story moves in intriguing directions.
As the film is set in the year 1995, there are a good number of references to the culture of the ’90s. Thankfully, these don’t come off as too distracting or gratuitous. Perhaps the most intriguing way in which the movie pays homage to the decade of grunge and flannel is in its soundtrack. Songs by Nirvana, No Doubt, R.E.M., Salt-N-Pepa and more are featured. Their presence is comparable to the way James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy utilized “Hooked on Feeling” and Thor: Ragnarok featured “Immigrant Song.”
Captain Marvel is a perfectly serviceable entry in this long running shared superhero universe. It does not drastically shake up the typical MCU formula but introduces some memorable new characters and elements to the big screen and is an overall entertaining experience. And please stay through the credits, as there may be some teases for the next Marvel epic, the gigantically anticipated Avengers: Endgame. Either way, expect Carol to give Thanos a run for his money very soon. Excelsior!