After the shocking ending to Avengers: Infinity War, many couldn’t wait for Avengers: Endgame to arrive. Obviously, Endgame may be the most anticipated release of 2019, but Infinity War opened the door for a new superhero who may be the key to defeating Thanos. That superhero is Captain Marvel (Oscar winner Brie Larson), a Kree who ends up on Earth while waging a war against another alien race known as the Skrulls. Captain Marvel, which is co-directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck and co-written by Boden, Fleck and Geneva Robertson-Dworet, is an origin story, 90’s nostalgia action comedy, and buddy cop film all rolled into one. It also retcons established characters in the MCU all while teasing Captain Marvel’s role in Endgame this April.

Needless to say, there’s a lot riding on Captain Marvel – it’s Marvel’s first female-led superhero film; it’s the first film after two gamechangers in Black Panther and the aforementioned Infinity War; and it’s an indication of the direction the MCU is heading once Phase Three wraps up. These are big items to heap upon one’s shoulders but Boden and Fleck subvert that by providing a low key, non-epic action comedy. In that sense, Captain Marvel is a delightful feature that is fun and light despite being uneven and a little corny.

Let’s first take a look at the film’s lead – Larson. Larson’s star has been rising since her Oscar win three years ago. But she’s not a superstar yet, mainly because she hasn’t taken starring roles in tentpole films. Playing Carol Danvers, the Kree warrior with a mysterious past with links to Earth, is a star-making turn since this will undoubtedly win big at the box office.

Part of what makes Captain Marvel a winner is Danvers and her persona - she’s a cocky and stubborn smart aleck. It’s a refreshing change since those are surprising characteristics, especially for viewers who don’t expect them from a woman. And since she’s also tough and powerful, Danvers will be looked upon as a role model for girls with lofty dreams. There is one scene that speaks volumes as to a woman’s resiliency, and it’s both emotional and uplifting. You’ll know which scene I’m talking about because it’s as powerful as anything the MCU has filmed, and I can’t help but be reminded of a similarly touching scene in 2017’s Wonder Woman (when Gal Gadot’s Diane Prince ran though No Man’s Land). But Larson is fantastic – she was prepared to play both Carol Danvers and spokesperson for all women.

There are points where Larson is upstaged, though, by a couple of veteran actors. Samuel L. Jackson reprises his role as Nick Fury, appears more than expected, and (thanks to improved de-aging tech) looks very much like the Samuel L. audiences saw in The Negotiator. That feature was released in 1998, and Fury has a full head of hair which looks very real. But back to the performance – we see a Fury who is less skeptical and not worn down from the rigors of his job (I forgot to mention this story takes place in 1995, but we’ll get back to that). He even has two eyes! So this Fury is fun and lively, especially when he’s around cats. Jackson is excellent and he works well opposite Larson.

Another strong performance comes from Ben Mendelsohn. Mendelsohn plays Talos, leader of the shape-shifting Skrulls and Carol’s chief adversary. Mendelsohn, who’s built a career by playing a multitude of lowlife scumbags, is surprising as well as fantastic. Mendelsohn is this generation’s Steve Buscemi, who cornered the market on playing lowlife scumbags (ironically at the same time this film’s story took place). Mednelsohn likely won’t win over new fans but cinephiles will appreciate seeing a character actor in a blockbuster with a chance to shine.

If nothing else, Boden and Fleck were able to convey Captain Marvel’s desired tone. The 90’s was a crazy time, and the co-directors pulled out a myriad of sights and sounds to take us back in time. Nine Inch Nails t-shirts, dial-up internet, Blockbuster Video, flannel shirts and alpha numeric pagers abound. Captain Marvel also has a soundtrack that not only reminds us of 90’s pop culture, but a few selections drive home its female empowerment theme. It’s a fantastic move that’s good enough to mask its shortcomings as an action film.

So yes, there are problems. Marvel recently showed improvement in providing treacherous and interesting villains but this is a regression. A lot of that can be blamed on the script, which employs overused tropes and fails at hiding its plot twist. You can clump all of that together, but even though there is positive portion to the script (we learn of Carol’s past at the same time she does) we already know what's going to happen. Oh yeah, and some of the jokes don’t land - you can only dip into the 90’s nostalgia well so many times (and Thor: Ragnarok’s hilarity set the funny-bar too high for all future MCU’s releases).

Also, the action is one-sided and semi-bland, but its failure in providing compelling and fresh action set pieces is forgivable because those same scenes successfully convey just how badass Carol Danvers is. So they broke even.

There may come a day when we quit referring to Captain Marvel as a female superhero film, but until then we can take solace in knowing there’s a feature that proves women can achieve anything. We can thank Larson for personifying that idea with a fine turn as a super-strong superhero who could potentially save the universe in the near future.

In all, Captain Marvel is loads of fun. Is it a great superhero film? I would say no, but it doesn’t have to be since it’s successful at conveying the themes it lays out. This MCU entry is more of a proclamation that’s easy to love because of who it represents and what it strives to be.

3.5 stars out of 5


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