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Captain Marvel Review: A Marvelous, Empowering MCU Origin Story

Captain Marvel Brie Larson Starforce

Captain Marvel has all the usual MCU humor and action (with a few surprises), and plenty of girl power moments in Larson's strong performance.

Marvel Studios kicks off 2019 with Captain Marvel, the 21st movie in its Marvel Cinematic Universe, which marked its 10th anniversary in 2018. For all of Marvel Studios' films, Captain Marvel marks the first time a female superhero has headlined her own movie (the first female hero to be featured in an MCU movie title was Evangeline Lilly's Wasp in last year's Ant-Man and the Wasp), with Brie Larson's Carol Danvers stepping up to the plate. Captain Marvel is also the first MCU film to be co-directed by a woman, with the team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck helming the introduction of one of Marvel Comics' most beloved heroes. Captain Marvel has all the usual MCU humor and action (with a few surprises), and plenty of girl power moments in Larson's strong performance.

Captain Marvel tells the origin story of Carol Danvers, though when viewers first meet her, she's a member of the Kree Starforce team and goes simply by the name Vers. For six years, Vers has been living on the Kree capital planet of Hala among their society and training to become an elite warrior under her mentor and commander (Jude Law), using powers bestowed upon her by the Kree after they rescued her. However, Vers doesn't remember anything about her life before arriving on Hala and struggles to know who she is without knowing her past. Then, when a Starforce mission goes awry and Vers is captured by the Kree's sworn enemy, the Skrulls - led by Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) - they dig into her memories, allowing Vers more insight into her past than she can remember.

Captain Marvel Jude Law Brie Larson
Jude Law and Brie Larson in Captain Marvel

The memories lead Vers and the Skrulls to Earth in the mid-90s, where they're searching for a lightspeed engine that was developed by Carol's mentor. With the help of S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Vers digs deeper into her history and her connection to the technology the Skrulls are seeking out on Earth. Fury and Vers track down Carol's best friend Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) and her daughter Monica (Akira Akbar), who offer Carol insight into who she was before the accident that found her on Hala. Learning about her past changes much of what Carol thinks she knows about the war between the Kree and the Skrulls - and as she learns more about her abilities, Carol will be forced to decide who she is, who she wants to be and what that means for the ongoing conflict that has brought the Kree and the Skrulls to Earth.

Captain Marvel was directed by Boden and Fleck from a script they co-wrote with Geneva Robertson-Dworet (Tomb Raider) from a story by Boden, Fleck, Robertson-Dworet, Nicole Perlman (Guardians of the Galaxy) and Meg LeFauve (Inside Out). The filmmaking duo of Boden and Fleck cut their teeth on smaller budgeted dramas like It’s Kind of a Funny Story and Mississippi Grind and their talent is evidenced in the more dramatic moments of Captain Marvel. However, where the directing flounders a bit is in the action scenes. Though some are spectacular - especially those in space - others get a little lost in murky or dark scenery, as well as choppy edits and too-tight closeups. With the added troubles typical to Marvel Studios movies in terms of their CGI, Captain Marvel's action is lacking at times.

Captain Marvel Brie Larson Lashana Lynch
Lashana Lynch and Brie Larson in Captain Marvel

That said, Captain Marvel manages to feel fresh amid the litany of MCU movies not only by featuring a solo female protagonist, but by offering a new spin on the typical origin story. Instead of telling a linear, chronological story about the events that transpire in which an ordinary human becomes a superhero, Captain Marvel introduces a character with powers and features her diving into her past in order to move forward. It's an undoubtedly non-traditional way to tell an origin story and helps to mix up the formula just enough so that the movie manages to stand out amid the dozens of other origin films. But what further helps to set Captain Marvel apart is Carol herself and the relationships she has with the characters around her. MCU movies have nailed many kinds of friendship among men, but have struggled or outright failed to depict female friendships. In Captain Marvel, Carol and Maria's relationship is positioned as the heart of the story and it gives the film a much-needed and beautiful emotional core.

As such, Larson's performance is key to the success of Captain Marvel and the actress shoulders that burden exceptionally, nailing the cocky and snarky - but ultimately good-hearted - hero that is Carol Danvers. Larson truly shines when playing opposite Lynch as Maria, with the pair putting so much heart and genuine sincerity into their characters' relationship. But Larson performs well no matter who she's acting with, whether it's the intense drive at the heart of the mentor-mentee relationship with Law's character or the playful buddy cop banter with Jackson's Fury. Further, the rest of the cast work to bolster Larson's star turn as Carol. Though there are instances of characters getting sidelined in Captain Marvel, it's par for the course for an MCU movie more focused on establishing and fully developing its titular character.

For their part, Marvel Studios has truly delivered a female hero who can easily stand side by side with Captain America, Iron Man and Thor - and fully trounce them in a fight - in Captain Marvel. Though it took 10 years and 20 films, the MCU finally has its first solo female-led film and Captain Marvel makes use of how momentus this entry is by truly going for it with a number of girl power moments - some more subtle than others. There are scenes like Wonder Woman's No Man's Land where Captain Marvel demonstrates her power with breathtaking determination and there are moments that overtly revel in Carol's strength. Both are important and both work to offer insight into who this character truly is, but they're also the kinds of moments that girls and women have been dreaming to see in their superhero movies. Eventually (hopefully), these moments won't feel so rare and precious. But for now, Captain Marvel is buoyed by moments that feel truly special.

As such, Captain Marvel is a must-see for superhero fans, especially those who have craved more female-led stories. The movie isn't perfect and it falls into many of the same trappings as other MCU films, but it's a strong installment and a good effort to innovate the origin story archetype. Further, with Larson's Carol Danvers poised to become a bigger part of the MCU going forward, her origin story is integral to the franchise's future - so MCU fans will want to check out the movie. Because the action and visuals aren't all superb, it may not be worth splurging for IMAX, but it's a fun theatrical experience. And, yes, Goose the cat is very much a cute, scene-stealing supporting star of Captain Marvel.

Trailer

Captain Marvel is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It is 124 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive language.

Let us know what you thought of the film in the comments section!

Our Rating:

4 out of 5 (Excellent)
Key Release Dates
  • Captain Marvel (2019) release date: Mar 08, 2019
  • The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019
  • Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 02, 2019
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