Review by C.J. Bunce
As the last movie before the big finale next month as Avengers: Endgame premieres, this weekend’s release of Captain Marvel provides another big win for Marvel Studios that both provides a new character to take the Marvel Cinematic Universe beyond the Avengers-centric adventures into “Phase IV,” plus it fills some gaps in the story so far. Despite all the harangues about the history of the title “Captain Marvel” across the decades as used by both Marvel in this movie and as the lead character in the coming DC Comics movie Shazam!, oddly enough the words never get used in the film except for the title logo at the end credits. But Brie Larson‘s take on Carol Danvers elevates the character beyond a name or title, surprisingly pulling more from the classic roots in Marvel Comics stories back to Ms. Marvel of the 1970s than from the current, cockier version of the character. This Carol Danvers is a solid new superhero on film, who, like Black Widow, The Wasp, Jean Grey, Gamora, Storm, and Domino, happen to be women, as powerful (and sometimes more so) than their male, inhuman, or alien, counterparts. Larson’s take on the character is certainly heroic, but initially she plays the part reserved, with Carol uncertain of her powers at first, before she settles into her boots and takes the lead role as badass against all the film‘s villainous threats. Co-director/screenplay writers Anna Bodin and Ryan Fleck make the character smart enough to suss out the mystery behind the secrets kept hidden from her. In many ways Danvers is unstuck in time, but the time-shifting story never causes confusion along the way–and unlike several entries in the MCU, the writers deserve credit for a fully plot-driven story. Captain Marvel is one of the series‘ easiest to watch–all-out fun from beginning to end–with a cool cat named Goose as a bonus.
In second chair is Samuel L. Jackson playing a 1990s version of his Nick Fury character, with probably the most screen-time the character has seen in the franchise. This becomes his chronological introduction to the MCU along with Clark Gregg‘s Agent Coulson, and fans of these two since the beginning will no doubt love seeing them back in action together, although Coulson has a lesser role. A big surprise is Ben Mendelsohn‘s performance as the Skrull called Talos. Mendelsohn proved he was a powerhouse character actor for years, but has taken on star status more recently in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Ready Player One, and here he is a standout force again even behind heavy prosthetics. Talos is among the best of all the Marvel movie villains, up there with Magneto, Red Skull, Hela, Bushmaster, Surtur, Killmonger, Vulture, Venom, and Loki.
Every single character and actor in the film is done right, from Kree team members played by Jude Law, Gemma Chan, and Djimon Hounsou returning as Korath from Guardians of the Galaxy, and Lee Pace back again also from Guardians (but hardly recognizable this time) as Ronan the Accuser. For those who are fans of the Marvel film and comics space fantasy stories like Guardians, this is the next film in that vein.
The 1990s pop music is the primary method used to mark the setting for most of the film. It’s overused, plugged into nearly every scene, but the music will no doubt appeal to some. Establishing shots with Blockbuster Video, RadioShack, and Fury’s office do the trick. Keep an eye out for a classic retro blast from the past–Who knew the 1970s Happy Days lunchbox would take on a new life? (Entertainment Earth got a jump on the lunchbox as a prop from the film, now exclusively selling a replica version here).
Look for two key pieces of previously missing information about the MCU, one about Fury (a funny scene that points back to a classic line from Fury in Captain America: The Winter Soldier) and another about the location of a certain infinity stone during the 1990s.
Sanja Hays‘ costume designs look great, but a plot point actually raises the question of whether we’ll see Danvers in her suit from this film after Avengers: Endgame.
Marvel Studios did service for fans by leaving the best parts of the film out of the trailers. This is the first solo woman character led film of the MCU, catching Marvel up with DC Comics who released its Wonder Woman in 2017, but Captain Marvel is a much better film in every way.
A nice pre-title sequence substitutes out the lead superheroes of the Marvel Universe in an update to the production credits banner, which would be a nice touch to use as the standard version from here on. Look for two end-credits codas, the first a must for anyone planning to see Avengers: Endgame next month.
You will certainly be stuck if you’re planning to see Avengers: Endgame and miss Captain Marvel in the theater. And why miss it? Captain Marvel is a great ride full of good comic book escapist fun. See it now in theaters everywhere.