Out Friday is “Captain Marvel,” Marvel’s first entry into film canon with a female lead. While the verse has featured the Black Widow, Gamora and others in prominent roles, “Captain Marvel” is the first Blockbuster superhero film that revolves around a woman in the title role.
Though its marketing revolves around 90s nostalgia, “Captain Marvel” opens in the hyper-futuristic world of the Kree: Vers, a Kree warrior, struggles to contain her emotion sufficiently and is coached by Yon Rogg (Jude Law) and the Supreme Intelligence (Annette Benning). On a rescue mission, Vers is captured by Skrull and exposed to her own lost memories before being catapulted to Earth. There she meets a young Nicholas J. Fury, a cat name Goose and an old friend (Lashana Lynch) who join forces to piece together her past and save the future, all in high rise jeans and flannels.
In its settings, “Captain Marvel” takes a lot of influence from other MCU films: interplanetary battles of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” military bases of “Captain America: The First Avenger,” and urban city scapes of LA a la “Iron Man.” This atmospheric mix is symbolic of Carol Danvers’s own persona. “Infinity War’s” last gasp was a glimpse at Captain Marvel’s logo and gave the audience hope that she might be the only one to recover what Thanos destroyed, and her solo picture carried that optimism. Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers seems to face all of the obstacles of every origin story and blasts through them with photon beams, and a quippy remark. Her backstory has familiar notes and challenges from many familiar heroes, but her journey is entirely unique, totally riveting and super goofy.
Though Nick Fury makes a reappearance early (in a slightly smoother, creepier rendition with two working eyes), their partnership isn’t nearly so interesting as that of Carol and her old Air Force co-pilot Maria Rambeau. The film lacks any romantic story line for Captain Marvel, but, as Larson has said in interviews, the film doesn’t shy away from exploring the love and power between female friends. Carol doesn’t have the power of S.H.I.E.L.D., Tony Stark’s money or Wakandan technology, but she and Maria can still get to space in an old aircraft and facedown notorious Marvel big-bads.
“Captain Marvel” does lean hard into 90s nostalgia from Nine Inch Nails to Blockbuster and beepers. The film also features a madcap chase through Los Angeles with plenty of Easter eggs for the Marvel aficionado and/or LA native The weirdest standout from the film is a recurring cat character, Goose, who seems to first show up as a cameo, but just keeps popping back in until he’s a main character.
“Captain Marvel” is really fun and quirky, and a welcome tone change from the downer parade of “Infinity War,” but it’s also long overdue. With the exception of the women of Wakanda, women make appearances in the MCU either as love interests or tokens in ensembles. Recurring characters like Gamora and Natasha Romanoff get sparse character development and fractured arcs, their personas often shifting wildly from scene to scene or picture to picture depending on their utility to the men around them.
Carol Danvers is kind of bad at being a hero and getting along with people. She does not have clear memories of her past, and struggles to reconcile that with her sense of self. The movie shows us Captain Marvel falling and failing over and over again, but we also see her get back up and succeed on her own terms, for her own reasons and at her own speed. Her seeming infallibility is not as a fetishized assassin, and her personhood is not dependent on her being “different” from other women. There are distinct moments in the movie when writers Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck set up the kind of trite “kick ass girl” moment that we might expect from an origin picture before consciously redirecting to something messier and more interesting.
“Captain Marvel” is the most interesting MCU entry since “Black Panther” and sparks hope for April’s “Avengers: Endgame.” It’s funny and super weird, and chock full of Easter eggs of the universe, and it is the female super hero movie we should have gotten sooner than 11 years into largest film franchise of this century.