Marvel Studios right now is sort of enjoying the status Pixar did in the last decade – the studio name alone is an indication of a level of quality to expect. Unlike Pixar, however, Marvel Studios seems to be getting better with age. Captain Marvel is the 21st feature film in the franchise, and also functions as an origin story for the character. It also happens to be one of the best superhero origin stories in the Marvel canon, taking the formula found in earlier films like Iron Man and Doctor Strange, and tossing it aside for an identity crisis mystery.
When we join with Captain Marvel (and that’s Mar-Vel, as characters insist. Okay.), she’s going by Vers (Brie Larson). She’s been trained by Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) of the Kree, a race of “noble warrior heroes,” both to fight a never-ending war with the shape-shifting Skrulls and to contain an unknown power within herself. Despite this, she doesn’t quite fit in with her kind, and can’t seem to get images of people she’s never met out of her nightmares. During a battle with the Skrulls, Vers is captured and subjected to an interrogation of her mind, awakening memories of a life she doesn’t remember. She escapes and crashes through a Blockbuster, searching for a scientist and her secret project that might hold the key to turning the tide of the Skrull-Kree War.
At twenty-one films, Marvel has been at this long enough that not only can they put a landmark conflict from the comics on screen without feeling the need to explain it at length, but we’ve officially moved on from the 80s nostalgia of Guardians of the Galaxy to 1990s nostalgia. Pagers! Grunge! Radio Shacks!
Vers teams up with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who gives us the best indication yet that Industrial Light and Magic is almost ready to make any actor look however they want. I say almost because no matter how good Pulp Fiction-era Nick Fury looks, younger Agent Coulson doesn’t look as convincing. Probably just because there weren’t as many good reference photos of Clark Gregg from the 90s to work with.
The greatest strength of Captain Marvel is we spend almost the entire movie seeing the story unfold from her perspective. The discovery of her true identity isn’t broadcasted to us in a prologue, nor are we telegraphed preparation for a later reveal by conspirators speaking in hushed tones early on.
‘When Captain Marvel finally arrives on the scene, it’s the culmination of the full journey she’s taken to discover the truth of her identity, and it rocks. Captain Marvel in the comics is one of the strongest characters in the universe, and the film introduces us to that power in a way that makes it feel earned and exhilarating. The film also features a scene-stealing cat named Goose, who rightfully got extra scenes by popular demand, and a touching tribute to Stan Lee that I won’t spoil ahead of time.
While I loved the story and the overall journey of the film, it wasn’t perfect. Early scenes on distant planets were rendered dark and muddy, which is somewhat of a trend I’m noticing from some sci-fi films lately. A later action scene, featuring aliens, jets, and a canyon, clearly nodded back to a certain alien invasion blockbuster from the 90s, and I found myself wishing the earlier space war scenes had pulled some similar visual cues.
I enjoyed the banter between Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson, but Jude Law’s stoic Yon-Rogg really didn’t make much of an impression on me. And after the first few needle-drops, the 90s music started to get a little stale. While the pieces on Guardians’ Awesome Mix Volume 1 were nostalgic, they were also well curated. The 90s songs in Captain Marvel feel like a copy of “Now That’s What I Call 90s.” It doesn’t detract from the film, but it misses an opportunity to add to the emotional experience in favor of nostalgia.
All in all, Captain Marvel is the perfect lead-in to Avengers Endgame. With a fantastic first entry, Brie Larson makes herself comfortably at home in the canon. I can’t wait to see where her character goes next in her own adventures, but at least next month I get to see her take on Thanos. Who says you can have too much of a good thing?
There are mid-credits and after credits scenes. Both are worth hanging around for. But true believers already knew that.