The impressively massive Marvel Cinematic Universe film franchise is over a decade old and close to becoming 11 years old in popular media. Its primary draw had been a sprawling interconnected storyline developed by Marvel Studios, subdivided into “Phases” following sub-arcs tying movies together no matter who was the superhero on the title screen. The third and current MCU Phase has been the longest running among them thus far, with an epic conclusion coming that will resolve the driving conflict of all the MCU up now. But before that, the franchise takes a trip back through time with “Captain Marvel.”
Viewers of “Avengers: Infinity War” last year who watched the last post-credit scene would know that Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) managed to call for help before he became a member of the semi-ominicidal finger-snap. Viewers who have already followed the comic books before the films would recognize the logo on his weird pager. Cut immediately back a decade or two, and to another far corner of space. The Kree civilization (already mentioned in ABC’s “Agents of SHIELD”) has been fighting a counter-terrorist campaign against green-skinned shape-shifters called the Skrulls. Responding to the call is their special unit Starforce, of which one member does not have a bluish skin tone.
Her name is “Vers” (Brie Larson), an amnesiac who was taken in by the Kree and given a blood transfusion to save her life, giving her powers in the process that she still needs to learn to control. Led by her commander Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), Vers takes part in an anti-Skrull operation where she encounters the Skrull agent Talos (Ben Mendelsohn). Following a protracted battle rendered in the familiar Marvel Studios house-style, Vers accidentally crash-lands on Earth in the year 1995. And what she discovers there significantly changes what she knows and can remember, like her real name: “Carol Danvers.”
Brie Larson has been getting lots of flak for her being cast as Carol, ranging from her apparently bratty tone of voice, or her perceived lack of emotive range. Such observations probably come from those who either only have seen the trailers or already criticize the film on principle. In the film itself Larson has a lot of characterization, from her frustrated amnesiac Kree warrior self, to her fish-out-of-water attitude while on Earth, to the empathic person she can actually be when her circumstances do not force her to act in a very specific manner.
While trying to get to the bottom of Skrull activity on Earth, Vers reluctantly joins forces with Nick Fury, at that point merely one of many Agents of SHIELD. Regular MCU viewers already know about the studios’ “de-aging” special effects, and you better believe that it worked wonders on Jackson, making him look like his “Pulp Fiction” character instead. He serves ably as the heroine’s partner in trying to keep the planet safe from a war it should not even be involved in. The film offers a glimpse of what he was like before becoming the authoritative but untrusting leader he was in past installments.
The conflict Carol faces in the narrative is crystallized in two characters, her Kree commander and the Skrull leader she pursues. In the case of Captain Yon-Rogg, Jude Law delivers a solid act of a stern and sometimes obstructive mentor figure whose restrictions belie a deeper secret. Mendelsohn’s Talos on the other hand is a pragmatic infiltrator not afraid to get brutal, but is also revealed to have surprising depths of his own. Their respective objectives initially make sense to Carol, until they do not when the truth is revealed.
About the one thing that might cause me to dock points from “Captain Marvel” is how under-utilized the rest of the characters are to the narrative. True, Lashana Lynch as Carol’s old friend from her past life gets some prominence in the last third; but returning MCU characters like Korath, Ronan the Accuser (both from “Guardians of the Galaxy”) and even the de-aged Agent Coulson come across as little more than window dressing. One important alteration from the original comics to the film is the “source” of Carol’s powers, particularly a gender change that might put off “traditionalists” but works best in the MCU setting.
Also noteworthy is the prequel setting, as the events take place in the nineties. The location touches like a Blockbuster Video store are awesome, not to mention the soundtrack choices. This reviewer has heard those songs a lot from the days when MTV actually played music videos. While some of the choices might come across as “on the nose” like No Doubt’s “Just a Girl,” I personally think that was pretty much the whole point.
In conclusion, I think “Captain Marvel” did great as a story of its own even as it must fulfill the function of setting the MCU narrative up for the “finale” of “Avengers: Infinity War” next month. For a great superhero movie with a solid female lead – socio-political undertones notwithstanding – and a nice retrospective of the last decade of the 20th Century, you cannot go wrong with “Captain Marvel;” you can only go faster, higher, further.
One last thing: don’t miss the plot connections; there is a reason why Marvel’s greatest superhero team uses the name they do, at least in the Marvel Cinematic Universe series.
Image from Super Hero Hype