Marvel has finally got with the times. More than a decade after it embarked on its plans for world domination through the power of consistently above average superhero movies, and two years after comic book rival DC released Wonder Woman, Kevin Feige’s mega-franchise has finally birthed a film with a solo female hero at the centre. Crucially, Captain Marvel also features a woman behind the camera, with Anna Boden joining regular filmmaking partner Ryan Fleck for their fourth directorial effort as a duo.
It’s fair to say there’s a lot of expectation on the shoulders of those two, and also on the shoulders of leading lady Brie Larson, who portrays US Air Force pilot turned Kree warrior Carol Danvers. Her mentor is Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), who warns that “there’s nothing more dangerous to a warrior than emotion” and encourages her to channel her amazing powers – she has baddie-blasting fists that, usefully, can also boil a kettle almost instantly – by focusing her mind. These early scenes borrow heavily from the cosmic Marvel world of Guardians of the Galaxy, with notable cameos from Lee Pace’s Ronan the Accuser and Djimon Hounsou’s Korath.
While fleeing an ambush by the shape-shifting Skrulls, Carol crashes her interstellar ship into a Blockbuster store – we’ve all done that, I think – and finds herself bumping into SHIELD agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Skrull leader Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) is in hot pursuit and brings an invasion force with him. Meanwhile, Carol investigates the flashes she sees of her past with fellow pilot Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch).
There’s a lot going on in Captain Marvel, which sets itself a number of very difficult tasks in acting as an origin tale for its title character, as well as a story that lays the groundwork for the upcoming Avengers: Endgame. Indeed, this is a film that feels a little hyperactive as it skitters and slides between its various locations and narrative threads. Boden and Fleck juggle styles and tones that veer from the sublime to the ridiculous with alarming regularity.
It’s crucial, then, that there’s a solid focal point around which all of this madness can orbit. Step forward, Brie Larson. She brings her Oscar-winning gravitas to Carol, while also clearly relishing the opportunity to flex as many comedy muscles as she does literal ones. It’s thanks to her that the movie’s wildly eclectic constituent parts are able to slot together as well as they do, from the slightly clunky exposition of an oddball mind probe sequence to the eye-catching, technicolour light show of the third act.
She is aided by a number of excellent supporting turns. Jackson is typically irreverent as Fury – this time with both eyes and seamlessly given access to a digital fountain of youth – in a role that sees him paired as often with scene-stealing feline Goose – coming to the Funko POP collection of everyone you know very soon – as he is with Larson. It’s when Fury and Carol are on screen together that Captain Marvel finds its real groove and it’s a shame the movie doesn’t find as much time for the double act as it probably should.
Thankfully, the rest of the cast is just as strong as Jackson. Mendelsohn excels in a role that, by virtue of the Skrulls’ shape-shifting ways, enables him to showcase far more range than his typically villainous trademarks, as well as his seldom-heard, natural Australian accent. Annette Bening, also, seems to be relishing the chance to play her mysterious character and Lashana Lynch makes an impact as Carol’s former best friend, albeit in a story thread that’s too under-cooked to ever land the killer emotional punch.
If the emotion falls a little short, though, the movie soars with its comedy and action elements. The 1990s setting is never over-egged, but provides a handful of memorable sight gags – a CD loading screen gets the film’s biggest laugh – as well as allowing for a soundtrack of tunes that serves as a Peter Quill ‘Awesome Mix’ for the Fresh Prince of Bel Air generation. Even the customary Stan Lee cameo – this film comes with a genuinely lovely extra tribute at the beginning – has a tinge of nostalgic fun to it.
And fun is very much the key word for Captain Marvel. It’s more interested in knockabout silliness than in dealing the weighty blows of the recent Marvel wars – both Civil and Infinity – but that’s only to be expected, given the sombre outing these characters have ahead of them. There are few clues here to the role Carol Danvers is set to play in the battle to come, but she has certainly announced her arrival in quite some style.
Dir: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Scr: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Geneva Robertson-Dworet
Prd: Kevin Feige
DOP: Ben Davis
Music: Pinar Toprak
Run time: 124 mins
Captain Marvel is in UK cinemas from 8th March.