CAPTAIN MARVEL (Dir. by Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck, 124 min., USA, 2019)
BY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC Captain Marvel arrives at an interesting inflection point in the Marvel Comics Universe, preceding the apocalyptic events of Infinity War by decades, while introducing what could possibly be their most powerful superhero yet. The film is directed by the husband/wife team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who have a demonstrable knack for complex character building, which is surely why they were chosen to bring Marvel’s first female led superhero film to theaters. Brie Larson was recruited for the title role fresh off her Oscar winning turn in Room, which only amplified the feeling that this film was going to be something a bit different than the testosterone-soaked popcorn fodder we’ve come to expect from Marvel.
Taking place in 1995, the film begins on the Kree planet of Hala where Vers (Brie Larson), as she has come to be known, has been training with the warrior race ever since they found and assimilated her six years ago. She doesn’t remember how she came to their planet, or how she was imbued with her fearsome cosmic powers, but we meet her right before her first mission under her mentor/commander Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). Their mission to rescue a Kree informant goes south when they fall into a Skrull trap aimed at kidnapping Vers, who is thought to have information on a light speed engine that was being developed on Earth. The problem is, like a lot of things in her back story, Vers has forgotten it. It helps if you know that the Kree have been at war with the shapeshifting Skrulls, a race that can copy a being down to their DNA for thousands of years, and what Vers forgot could bring an end to the war. Eventually, Vers escapes from her captors and ends up stranded on Earth where she meets a much younger agent Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) who helps her track down the Skrulls responsible for her kidnapping and find a way back to Hala.
The best compliment I can give Captain Marvel is it doesn’t feel like a Marvel film. Over the years we have been conditioned to the assembly-line plotting and exacting narrative MCU films tend to deliver, and every new character is introduced spouting pop culture references while firing off an endless string of deadpan one-liners with roguish charm. That’s not what we get here. When we first meet Vers, AKA Carol Danvers, she is a shell of a woman who’s been broken and brainwashed with Kree propaganda, struggling to recover her past and her identity. It’s a transition she makes over the course of the film as she slowly evolves into Captain Marvel. This is not your typical origin story and all the better for it, and thankfully it doesn’t go overboard with the tie-ins and call backs to other films in the franchise, which, given how endlessly self-referential last few Marvel films are, is a welcome breath of fresh air.
Filled with an empowering message and sharp-elbowed clapbacks at the toxic male naysayers of the Marvel fanboy universe, Captain Marvel is just what the MCU and fandom in general needs right now. While the non-stop nostalgia blam-blam of ’80’s/‘90s needle drops (Blockbuster! Top Gun! Elastica!) can be a bit much at times, they are a welcome reminder that Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck were originally slated to tackle Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 1, making them Marvel’s logical go-to choice for Vol. 3. Brie Larson has given us a different and more complex hero than we have seen from the MCU stable thus far and a great way to transition from the old to the new guard, which will no doubt be a result of Infinity War: End Game. Captain Marvel feels less like the last film of Phase 3 and more like the fresh first chapter of what will be Phase 4.