Captain Marvel. Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. Starring Brie Larson. Rating: 7 (out of 10)
In 2015 I began my interview with Brie Larson by saying “You may not know her name yet…” Since then the actress has gone on to win an Oscar (for Room) and will be forever enshrined in the pantheon of Marvel greats this week when she stars in Captain Marvel.
This is the first Marvel film to feature a standalone female superhero, and it’s no coincidence that the film hits theatres this Friday, International Women’s Day. The Marvel character has always been forward-thinking, musing about equal pay and rights for women at a time when most of her contemporaries were 2D eye candy.
Best not to wade into the oft-heated fan debates about who owned the copyright to the name, the spinoff comic series “Ms. Marvel”, and the various characters who have adopted the moniker over the years. For the purpose of this film we’re going with the thread that saw Air Force captain Carol Danvers – who has been around since 1968 – become super after an energy meltdown of sorts.
This is where we meet Vers (Larson), an elite warrior for the Kree people on the planet Hala. She possesses major powers but hasn’t quite yet learned how to harness them, and she has only vague memories of how they came about. Vers is a protégé of Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), whose blood literally runs through her veins.
Early on, it’s Yon-Rogg’s job to spout self-help platitudes like “control your impulses” and “I want you to be the best version of yourself” while prepping her for combat. After her very first extraction mission on a foreign planet goes awry, Vers is taken prisoner before escaping and crash-landing on an even stranger planet: Earth, circa 1995.
Vers’ first taste of Earth occurs when she crash-lands into a Blockbuster video store and wanders into an era of flannel, grunge and painfully slow dial-up internet. Almost immediately she attracts the attention of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the latter of whom sports two good eyes and a healthy crop of hair.
Events prior to Earth are necessarily vague and not particularly engaging as Vers tries to piece together bits of her memory while dispatching bad guys, albeit with impressive ease. That memory seems to hinge on her former commander’s (Annette Bening) creation of a new energy source, as well as a doomed mission. (Fun side note: Bening is listed as “Supreme Intelligence” in online credits, which should mean she wins all marital arguments with Warren Beatty in perpetuity.)
Larson proves a worthy verbal sparring partner for Jackson – no mean feat – and the film immediately picks up pace when the two are onscreen. Vers traces her story back to her old best friend and air force buddy Maria (Lashana Lynch), who helps her fill in the blanks – including her real name, Carol Danvers – and who makes her question where her allegiances truly lie.
If you were looking for atom bombs of originality, you’ll be disappointed: Captain Marvel is, after all, something of a setup for the upcoming Avengers: Endgame. That, and the fact that the market is so saturated with superhero fare that anything other than genre clichés is hard to come by.
But directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck mostly manage, wrangling tonal shifts and epic battles from Earth to space and back again, and even making injecting humanism into those weird-looking Skrulls (Ben Mendelsohn in particular). Ultimately the film is infused with so much wisecracking humour and girl power that it feels current, right down to an intergalactic refugee crisis and a discussion of terrorism being in the eye of the beholder.
Larson’s energy makes Captain Marvel, whether she’s pummeling villains with her self-satisfied smirk or radiating light in space like a blazing spectre. You know her name now.