Film review | Captain Marvel: All hail the guiding star

The Marvel Cinematic Universe launches into its next phase with its first female-headlined superhero blockbuster

Marvel at the Metro: Brie Larson quite literally shines as the titular-but-burgeoning heroine in Captain Marvel
Marvel at the Metro: Brie Larson quite literally shines as the titular-but-burgeoning heroine in Captain Marvel

And so the the unstoppable behemoth of Marvel Studios crash-lands into 2019, hot off the heels of last year’s blistering Avengers: Infinity War (which left roughly fifty percent of our heroes quite literally pounded into dust) and right before Avengers: Endgame, scheduled for April and set to bookend the first phase of this multi-film saga.

But first we’ll get a stopover and largely stand-alone film that goes some way towards correcting Marvel Studios’ reputation of being something of a sausage fest.

In Captain Marvel, the person we later learn is former military pilot Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) is introduced to us as Vers, a novice fighter among the top military echelons of the Kree – an alien race locked in combat with the shape-shifting Skrull race. Mentored by Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), Vers suffers from what seem to be amnesiac flashbacks that hint at a former life on earth, where she eventually crash-lands (in the mid-nineties) while pursuing rogue Skrull agents – led by Talos (Ben Mendelsohn).

Crossing paths with a younger version of S.H.I.E.L.D agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Vers soon discovers that not all is as it seems, with her former loyalties being sorely tested by fresh revelations.

While it’s neither the most ambitious nor the most innovative film from the Marvel Studios stable – my money is on Avengers: Infinity War and Thor: Ragnarok respectively – Captain Marvel remains a satisfying, smile-inducing entry on so many levels. Wisely picking the Academy Award-winning Brie Larson to occupy the role of the put-upon Vers/Carol Danvers, we are encouraged to cheer her on as she overcomes obstacle after obstacle, with a plot carefully layered to ensure that the redemptive beats land with the adequate dose of power.

Directorial duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson, It’s Kind of a Funny Story) are drafted into the Marvel Studios echelons from the world of American indie cinema -- much in the same way that the studio took a gamble on the Russo Brothers, Taika Waititi and James Gunn. It pays off once again here, not least because the moments of quirky humour and genuine human connection will be what you take away from this after all the action beats have been drummed out and the explosions simmered off the cinema canvas.

Larson and Jackson in particular make for an unexpectedly charismatic double-act. The script – penned by the directors, along with Geneva Robertson-Dworet – thankfully does away with any suggestion of flirtation or romance, allowing their jokey dynamic to proceed unabated, and aided along by the sudden appearance of a feline companion, the bewitching ‘Goose’.

Though discussing it in too much detail would constitute spoilers, the film also manages to slide in a critique of current US migration policy amidst the expected feminist overtones that attracted so much press and opprobrium prior to release. But on whichever way of that ‘debate’ one swings, any ‘agenda’ is finely wrapped around a properly-functioning storyline that does not allow any ‘external’ elements to get in its way.

The only aspects in which the film falters somewhat are intrinsically tied to its nature as yet another chink in the ‘Marvel Cinematic Universe’ armour. The plot is driven into motion by yet another ‘collect the tokens’ narrative, and Carol’s powers-and-predicament largely happen through the kind of tired deus ex machina that we’re starting to grow tired of as yet another superhero flick hits the screens.

But this fades into the background soon enough, and the creative team ably hand-waves around to get things on track.

Mirroring our heroine’s journey, this is a blockbuster that appears to carry the weight of the world on its shoulders, but in the end is comfortable in its own skin.

The verdict

Hampered by a perfunctory array of continuity scaffolding despite its nature as a pseudo-prequel, and held together by one convenient supernatural explanation too many, Captain Marvel remains one of the most heartfelt and uplifting missives from the Marvel Studios behemoth to date. With a warm and focused central performance by the talented and eminently likeable Brie Larson, and thematic heft that actually survives beyond a surface-scratch, it makes for a full-bodied good time at the flicks.