The latest film in Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has arrived with “Captain Marvel.” As the first film in the franchise to focus on a female lead, the movie makes a fun story to join 11 years of world-building and is a good breather before the release of “Avengers Endgame” this April.
Set in the year 1995, the film follows Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) as she tries to master her powers and discover the truth about who she really is. Crossing paths with younger versions of Nick Fury and Philip Coulson (Samuel L. Jackson and Clark Gregg digitally de-aged to their 1995 selves), she must take up the mantle of Captain Marvel to defend the universe against a host of intergalactic threats. The film adapts the “Kree-Skrull War” storyline from the comics, and this results in cameos from “Guardians of the Galaxy” alumni such as Korath (Djimon Hounsou), Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker) and Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace).
On a budget of $152 million, the film uses a unique blend of CGI and practical special effects to tell an origin story that feels familiar but fresh at the same time. The script gives a taste of what viewers can expect from the character’s planned role in “Avengers Endgame” while also crafting a fun period piece that would not be out of place among other effects-driven superhero films in the 1990s. Seeing Carol kitbash a long-range communications device to her mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) out of a payphone and the original Game Boy is just one of many gags that continues the weird and wonderful storytelling Marvel Studios has excelled at ever since the release of the first “Iron Man” in 2008. The film even opens on a modified version of their familiar vanity plate, which pays tribute to Stan Lee (the film’s cameo has him looking over the script for Kevin Smith’s cult classic “Mallrats.”).
One admitted flaw of the film is that it does tread familiar waters for the series and other superhero origin stories. If you’ve been following the narrative up to this point, you should have a solid idea of what to expect. Still, directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck have plenty of unique flourishes to help the film stand out. The nonlinear structure of Carol’s backstory echoes the classic “Pulp Fiction,” and the film has an optimistic tone that recalls the likes of Richard Donner’s “Superman” and the original “Star Wars” trilogy. A shapeshifting alien in the form of a cat named “Goose” steals the show, and the musical score by Pinar Toprak is complemented by 1990s hits such as Nirvana’s “Come as You Are,” TLC’s “Waterfalls” and “Celebrity Skin” by Hole.
With the film getting roundly positive critical reviews and a record box office opening of over $153 million, the film has easily done for Marvel Studios what the 2017 “Wonder Woman” film did for their longtime rivals at DC Comics. As the last film in the series before the release of “Avengers Endgame” on April 26, “Captain Marvel” is a superpowered adrenaline rush of cosmic fun to help wind down Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As Marvel has more plans for the character and more films centered around their female heroes (including a much-anticipated standalone Black Widow film), the potential for the series to expand further from Phase Four onward will definitely grow “higher, further and faster.”
Verdict: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Review by Steven Pryor
Starring Brie Larson, Jude Law, Ben Mendelsohn, Annette Bening, Lashana Lynch, Samuel L. Jackson and Clark Gregg with Lee Pace, Michael Rooker and Djimon Hounsou
Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Based on characters created by Roy Thomas and Gene Colan)