Breezy and light on gravitas, “Captain Marvel” doesn’t shake up the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it does find a few new ways to perk up the umpteenth superhero origin story. It falls short of the intensity that propelled “Black Panther” and “Wonder Woman,” but most do.
Set in 1995, the movie introduces us to Vers (Brie Larson), a member of an elite special forces unit of the advanced alien species called the Kree, and mentored by Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). A run-in with their sinister, shape-changing enemies the Skrulls brings some of her fractured memories to the surface – those of a human fighter pilot named Carol Danvers.
Her pursuit of the Skrulls and her real identity leads her to Earth and results in an unlikely but surprisingly effective team-up with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), an agent of SHIELD at this point in the MCU timeline. Fan-favorite Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) also puts in a few appearances. (He’s a fresh-faced rookie here, and the de-ageing CGI used on him and Fury/Jackson does a far better job of avoiding the uncanny valley than the rubbery renditions of Michael Douglas and Kurt Russell in “Ant-Man” and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” respectively).
The original Captain Marvel (a Kree man named Mar-Vell) debuted in the late 1960s, and Danvers went from minor supporting character to superheroine (as Ms. Marvel) in the late ’70s; the continuity for – and iterations of – both characters have grown increasingly tangled in the decades since. The MCU boils the basics down in a daring way and throws in some unexpected twists that will intrigue some fans and likely piss off others. Par for the course.
Not surprisingly, “Captain Marvel” quickly became the target of trolls and broflakes, and apparently saw them coming. There’s a lot of mansplaining aimed at Danvers, from Yon-Roog, who’s often telling her to control her emotions; from Air Force officers who tell her she’ll never fly; and a father who tells her she shouldn’t even try to compete with the boys. Suffice to say, Larson brings the necessary tenacity and defiance.
The movie gets a lot of mileage out of its period setting with the exception of the soundtrack, which plays it safe with some obvious go-to tracks from Hole, No Doubt, and Garbage (on the plus side: no Creed). Larson and Jackson click well as a duo, and the buddy/road-movie vibe and “Memento”-esque hook is strong enough for it to feel fresh and distinct.
However, those aspects work against it as well. This movie is a prologue meant to quickstart Danvers a scant few weeks before her proper arrival in the MCU via “Avengers: Endgame”. There’s some withholding going on, and that combined with our protagonist’s sketchy recall means we don’t get a full picture of the hero as a whole until the third act. Fortunately, we’re given enough to make us keen for more.