“Captain Marvel” begins as yet another generic origin story. It could have snarkly been titled “When Carol Met Nick,” as in Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel, and Nick Fury, agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. By the time the credits roll, “Captain Marvel” end ups somewhere between empowering and entertaining, because when you strip away the bombastic comic-book accoutrements, “Captain Marvel” is a simple story of female strength, friendship and identity. Sign me up.
“Captain” is Marvel’s first female superhero to get her own film. That alone makes it special. After 21 movies and a decade of Marvel men getting to have all the fun, it’s about flipping time a woman gets the chance to save the world.
For the uninitiated, Carol is a former ace Air Force pilot who receives superpowers after a mysterious accident. She can fly, shoot photon blasts from her hands, packs hard-core fight skills and seemingly always has great hair. She’s a smart-aleck, too, and loyal as hell. Oscar-winner Brie Larson (“Room”) plays her with dauntless determination and playfulness without skimping on pathos, especially in the earth-bound scenes she shares with Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury) and Lashana Lynch (Maria Rambeau).
Anna Boden (“Sugar”) and her directing partner, Ryan Fleck, introduce Carol under the guidance of Kree warrior, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), teaching her - Miyagi-style - to: Control her powers; fight with honor; and rule with logic. “Nothing is more dangerous than emotion,” he warns Carol, known as Vers on planet Kree. Without spoiling any surprises, Carol eventually learns she’s human and returns to Planet C-53 (Earth) to rediscover a past she cannot remember. While there, she teams with a much-younger Fury, a lowly desk jockey with two viable eyes. Abetted by a scene-stealing ginger tabby, who in a nod to “Top Gun” is named Goose (played by four cats), they battle the Earth-invading Skrulls, a shape-shifting alien race led by Talos (Ben Mendelsohn).
The script, credited to Boden, Fleck, Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Nicole Perlman, is largely superhero business as usual. Sometimes the choices are too on the nose, for example, Gwen Stefani’s “Just a Girl” playing over a scene of Carol finally taking control of her life. Sometimes the dialogue is rote, like, “without us you’re only human.” Sometimes the plot is contrived, with shapeshifting replacing storytelling. Also, too many characters (played by Annette Bening, Gemma Chan, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace and Clark Gregg) come and go. It’s a lot to keep straight, never mind absorbing the franchise jargon. Consider yourself in the dark if you’ve never heard of the Tesseract or light-speed technology or photon blasts.
The star-power of Larson, Lynch, Jackson and the cat, of course, overcome the lack of originality. “Captain Marvel” is Larson and Jackson’s third collaboration, and it shows. They share an easy chemistry, adding a much-needed buddy-comedy element. Lynch is Carol’s bestie, Maria Lambeau, also a pilot and the BFF every girl needs. The cat is just hella cool.
Carol’s story is set in 1990s and for those of us who once tied flannel shirts around our waists, there is a certain amount of nostalgia. The grunge fashion, (Carol wears a Nine Inch Nails T-shirt), the music (Nirvana, TLC, Salt ‘N’ Pepa), and dial-up internet, are all referenced for our amusement. But it also raises this question: Where has Captain Marvel been for 30 years while the Avengers were fighting enemies like Hydra, Ultron and Helmut Zemo? Or, Thanos, who with a snap of his fingers in “Infinity War” made half of humanity disintegrate? And where was she while Thanos was collecting the infinity stones, huh? We might get some answers in seven weeks, when Carol and her “super-charged jazz hands” swoops in to save the Avengers in “Endgame” on April 26.
Like always, stick around for the post-credit bonus scenes. You might glean a few clues in your search for the answers.
Dana Barbuto may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @dbarbuto_Ledger.
Cast: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan, Rune Temte, Algenis Perez Soto, Annette Bening, Clark Gregg and Jude Law.
(PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive language).