When Vers (Brie Larson) has her big fighting sequence that has been teased throughout “Captain Marvel,” it’s set to No Doubt’s “Just A Girl.” The song doesn’t start with the chorus; instead it’s right at the beginning. “Take this pink ribbon off my eyes/I’m exposed/And it’s no big surprise.” And while Gwen Stefani wrote that song after being punished by her father for staying out too late, it is a fitting anthem for Vers’ self-realization in her origin film.
Nearly a year after seeing Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) sending a beeper beacon following Thanos’ snap at the end of “Avengers: Infinity War,” Marvel Studios released a film that explains why the world and universe needs the warrior behind the red, yellow and blue. But first, there’s a war (there’s always a war with Marvel) and some history. There are the Krees — the good guys — with Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) leading a group on a mission that goes wrong. Vers is kidnapped by the Skrulls — the bad guys — that extract visions, but she doesn’t know what they are about.
Of course, she escapes and later lands on 1990s California, where Fury is a desk jockey and Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) is just a rookie. But as she tries to piece together the visions she’s having of being on Earth, Skrulls’ leader Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) is on her trail.
Helping her out is her former Air Force pilot Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), a single mom who walked away from the military. The audience knows that Maria and Vers were good friends in flashbacks, and the friendship rebuilds when they reunite.
“Captain Marvel” is the first female-led feature in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and in a way it feels like a too-little, too-late move by the entertainment heavyweight as it is the 21st film for the realm. Limits are placed on Vers and her human alter ego Carol Danvers through flashbacks, protocol and adversity. Many of the messages that women deal with daily are hammered throughout the movie, like being “too emotional” and being catcalled everywhere. And in a way, it feels this movie tries to make up for the studio’s delayed wokeness, but it doesn’t have the groundbreaking moments that really say “wow.”
Much of this, unfortunately, has to do with some of the fighting choreography in the early scenes (perhaps to keep its PG-13 rating in tact). Some of it is poorly executed, but when Vers finally has her big scene, the sci-fi violence is more top notch thanks to some special effects.
First-time Marvel directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck emerged from the indie scene for this large studio film, much like many other directors like Ryan Coogler, Taika Waititi and Jon Favreau. Boden is Marvel’s first female director, coming eight years after Patty Jenkins dropped out of helming “Thor: The Dark World.” “Captain Marvel” also has its first female composer, with Pinar Toprak leading the score. Plus, the overall soundtrack is full of ‘90s girl-power anthems that complement the self-realization theme from Salt-N-Pepa, Elastica and the aforementioned No Doubt. However, don’t expect for Vers to wear band T-shirts that reflect these songs. She saves a lot of hard metal bands for those occasions.
While Marvel’s latest offerings have been more on the humorous side, “Captain Marvel” returns to the more serious fare that most origin stories call for. Think of this as more like the “Iron Man” series than the “Ant-Man” ones. This one is so serious that Annette Bening has a supporting, pivotal role. However, the laughs are reserved for Fury and an adorable yet mysterious feline Goose.
“Captain Marvel” could have been a stronger standalone feature if it explored Danvers more and not invest so much in the meddling plot that is much like every other Phase I Marvel plot. Of course, it only sets the audience up for the next “Avengers” movie.
3 stars out of 5
After being teased during the end of “Avengers: Infinity War,” Air Force pilot-turned-superhero Carol Danvers flies out of the pages of Marvel Comics and onto the screen in “Captain Marvel.” After 11 years and 20 films, the space adventure marks the first female-led superhero movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The more than capable Brie Larson creates an empowered heroine coming to terms with her past, powers and place in the universe. But the movie surrounding Larson falls short of reaching the heights set by other MCU films. “Captain Marvel” is a just-OK entry in the franchise, an enjoyable but disjointed effort hampered by the structure of its storytelling.
Set during the mid-1990s, Carol Danvers (Larson) serves the Starforce, an elite force of Kree warriors. Plagued by memory loss, Carol has incredible powers – including shooting energy blasts from her hands – that she struggles to control with the help of her mentor, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). She is drawn into a war between two alien races, the blue-blooded Kree and the shape-shifting Skrulls, who take on the appearance of a planet’s inhabitants before infiltrating it for themselves.
After being separated from her fleet, Carol crash-lands on the Skrulls’ next target – Earth, where she is haunted by memories of her past there as an Air Force pilot. As she works to connect the pieces and hunt down the Skrulls, she is joined by S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson before the eyepatch) and a furry sidekick, Goose the cat. Following the trio is calculating Skrulls leader Talos (Ben Mendelsohn). Often underestimated by those around her, Carol must discover who she is and who she can trust.
With Carol expected to play a big role in the MCU’s next epic superhero teamup, “Avengers: Endgame,” “Captain Marvel” seeks to introduce Carol into its larger universe. The film puts a different spin on the traditional superhero origin story, setting up a narrative puzzle with Carol having already lost her memory. As Carol is learning about her past, the audience is learning about it alongside her. But the technique backfires as the film ends up keeping its titular character at arm’s length for most of the film. It’s hard to get a read on Carol when she – and the audience – don’t know who she is.
The likable Larson brings determination and a sense of humor to a character who sometimes feels like a blank slate. It’s not until Carol’s best friend, fellow pilot Maria Rambeau (a lovely performance by Lashana Lynch), comes into the picture that Carol’s character starts to come into focus.
The clunky structure disrupts the film’s pacing. The movie immediately drops the viewer right into Starforce training with Carol, which can be confusing for moviegoers who aren’t previously familiar with Carol’s story from the comics. The film also drags at times. But “Captain Marvel” steadily picks up in its second half, with some surprising twists and connections to past MCU films.
“Captain Marvel” is the first film in the MCU to feature a female co-director, Anna Boden, who helms the film with Ryan Fleck. Keenly aware of its status as the MCU’s first female-fronted film, the movie delves into the expectations placed on women in society. Carol faces judgment from the various men in her life, including her father, her fellow pilot recruits and Yon-Rogg. The film recognizes that women are often told to keep their emotions in check when it’s actually a source of empowerment. Though Carol falls down time after time, she always gets back up, an inspirational motif that will speak to young girls in the audience.
However, the movie can be too much on the nose in conveying its message, especially with its music choices. When No Doubt’s “Just A Girl” plays over Carol fighting the enemy during a climactic standoff, it feels a bit like overkill.
Some of the joy from “Captain Marvel” comes from a possibly purr-fect pairing: Jackson and Goose. The adorable feline, who is more than she seems, steals every scene she’s in. It’s also fun to see Fury before he became the hardened director of S.H.I.E.L.D. The de-aging special effects are top-notch on Jackson as well as Clark Gregg, who makes a welcome return to the franchise as Agent Coulson. Annette Bening is memorable but underused as the Supreme Intelligence, the Kree’s artificial intelligence whose appearance sparks something within Carol’s memory.
Ultimately, “Captain Marvel” is good but not great. It feels like an MCU film from Phase 1 – like “Iron Man 2” and “Captain America: The First Avenger,” the film has a lot to work with, but it doesn’t consistently come together. With Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers set to be a key part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe going forward, the film lays the groundwork for future movies to continue developing the ultra-powerful character.
3 out of 5 stars