Captain Marvel delivers a solid origin story while being a somewhat unconventional, unfolding narrative for a MCU chapter. After over 20 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we finally get our first female-lead superhero film, and it’s about time. Our story starts kind of in the middle for our main character. Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) wakes up on an alien planet with no memory of her life on Earth. She is a warrior for the Kree, a superpowered alien species she has now been ‘adopted’ by. After a run in with the rival, shape-shifting race called the Skrulls, she crashes back on Earth, LA, California in the year 1995. She must work together with on-the-beat Nick Fury (de-aged Samuel L. Jackson) to stop the Skrulls taking over the human population.
The most unique aspect of Captain Marvel is how we know as much as our lead Carol Danvers. Other superhero films like to inform the audience of the hero’s goal or path before they find it. Here we are along with Danvers for the whole ride, displaying both her dual identities in real time with the audience as she puts together her puzzled history. Introducing a completely new superhero in her first film with her already having her powers is a risky move. It pays off with having the audience thrown into the exciting deep end immediately, but also doesn’t exactly let them keep up. This storytelling technique forfeits the audience’s full engagement with her journey, as we’re forced to play catch up through constant flashbacks. The narrative focus suffers as a result.
That’s not to say Danvers isn’t engaging. Her action scenes are quite fierce and electric. Larson plays a fine Danvers, who’s quite quick minded and driven for truth. However to be honest, she unfortunately doesn’t hold a candle to the always charismatic Sam Jackson. Jackson returns to play a younger version of himself and it is scarily good. A technical feat, where young Jackson’s look will make you reminiscent of Die Hard With a Vengeance, you forget he’s actually 70. A compliment for any visual effects team is that their work just blends in naturally. Fury and his friendship with Goose the Cat steal the film as well as Ben Mendelsohn having fun with some great one-liners. This brings me back to Larson’s performance who although engaging when needs to be, is quite stern and at times not going for that core emotional reach, unlike how Tony Stark or Steve Rogers were exceptionally characterised in their first films. Hopefully she will have room to grow in future MCU installments.
The film does take a while before it kicks into gear though. The first two acts seem to meander slightly as Danvers slowly pieces together who she is. But when the third acts kicks in, it doesn’t stop. It’s explosive, soaring and insane fun. Which ultimately is all the film achieves; a fun time at the cinema. I only say this heavily as Phase 3 of the MCU has set a truly high bar with Black Panther, Thor Ragnarok and Spider-Man: Homecoming all achieving unique styles, stronger thematic depth and pinpoint characterisation. Captain Marvel feels like a bit too many missed opportunities to go from ‘just good’ to ‘great’. It fails to elaborate her relationship with best friend Mara (Lashana Lynch), Jude Law is wasted, the film brings back Djimon Hounsou and Lee Pace from Guardians of the Galaxy, only to not give anything new about their returning characters.
Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck do enough to set up Captain Marvel’s character and establish her place in the MCU. Although the film lacks a stylistic flair and some tighter story telling decisions, it’s early Marvel aftertaste doesn’t detract the surprising twists and fun time at the cinema with the main takeaway being that Thanos is f**ked.
Words by Thomas Tang