If Guardians of the Galaxy is the charming weirdo of the MCU, then Captain Marvel is its scrappy cousin who’s willing to throw down if you look at it the wrong way. This iteration of Carol Danvers – or Vers as she’s known amongst her Kree cohort – is very much a welcome addition to the ever expanding line up of the MCU, but also manages to buck the trend of its past origin counterparts, making it an entry that will dazzle some, confuse others and enrage a small contingent who were never going to be pleased regardless.
If I may be so vague, Captain Marvel introduces us to Carol / Vers (Brie Larson), who begins the film as a noble warrior Kree hero, along with her mentor (Jude Law) played here with his usual delicious charm. The Kree are locked into a century’s long battle with the shape-shifting species, the Skrull and following a narrow escape, Vers lands on Earth in pursuit of one Dr Lawson (Annette Benning) whom the Skrull are also after for reasons I cannot get into. It’s here our stubborn hero runs into a less world weary Nick Fury, setting the two on a course to uncover Vers’ past and getting to Lawson before the Skrull do.
Because of its unusual narrative structure, it’s a little difficult to sum up Captain Marvel without giving away certain details that should otherwise be discovered. In a unique sense it’s a double origin story, with the acquiring of powers occurring off screen and rather we, along with Larson’s Carol / Vers are unravelling the mystery of who she is and how she came to be -together. Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck along with co-writers Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Nicola Perlman and Meg LeFauve set themselves up with the difficult task of refusing to hit the usual beats of a film of this ilk in favour of a journey of discovery, making twists hit harder and reveals more meaningful. There’s a reason why the trailer / promotional material have been light on story and the less you know about this film going in the better. The trade off, however, of going a completely different route of introducing a character is that the development suffers a little and while we watch her grow, I felt as though there was so much more to Danvers that we could have discovered over the course of the two hour runtime.
With Captain Marvel it’s the cast that are the soul of this movie. If there’s one thing that Boden, Fleck and Marvel et al have done correctly, it’s hiring Larson as the titular character. She’s every bit as Carol as she’s portrayed in the comics, particularly the Kelly Sue DeConnick run of stories. Stubborn and impatient, she’s like the kid at the back of the class who can’t sit still and refuses to let anyone tell her what she can and can’t do. By that token, she shares a lot of traits with another Cap, both of whom refuse to quit when the odds are stacked against them. While Larson is perfect for the role, the movie comes to life when Danvers teams up with one Nicholas Joseph Fury (a perfectly de-aged Sam Jackson), a plucky agent of S.H.I.E.L.D who’s just starting out on his quest to find the best heroes Earth has to offer. The buddy cop chemistry between the actors will make you wish for at least another 20 minutes of runtime with just the two of them. Providing a wonderful tenderness to the proceedings is Lashana Lynch as longtime friend Maria Rambeau. There’s a kind of heartbreak watching her character trying to figure out where her best friend’s been this entire time, adding a more familial element between Maria and Carol. Annette Benning adds some surprising gravitas (and more screentime than I was expecting) but it’s Ben Mendelsohn’s Aussie accented Talos who chews up the scenery near effortlessly reminding us that he’s probably one of the better exports we’ve sent over there in a while (sorry Hemsworths). It’s only taken them 11 years but it looks like Marvel is now treating its villains as characters to understand and sometimes sympathise with as opposed to beings of destruction.
Oh and if you have a cat, you’ll definitely think twice about renaming it Goose when you get home.
As big a grin as this film put on my face, there were some elements that didn’t completely mesh with me. As mentioned earlier, the story could have used more Carol, her earlier time on earth, fleshing her out just a little bit more. By the time we meet her, part of her hero’s journey has been completed and it’s difficult to empathise with someone when we’ve missed part of their growth. And as with some other entries in the MCU, the action tends to get muddled in the proceedings, with the usual medium shot, shakey cam being employed in darkened, close quarters combat. And certain….twists….will definitely have comic book twitter melting down when this film opens wider across the globe, so there’s definitely that to look forward to.
For this writer, though, all of that washes away when Carol’s hero moments hit and they hit hard. It’s one thing to see Danvers take flight in the trailers, it’s another to watch it in the context of the film, with whiffs of ’78 Donner Superman levels of optimism and glow. It made me want more adventures with the new Captain and, honestly, I can’t wait to watch her spread her wings in the MCU.