Captain Marvel treads familiar ground, but satisfyingly


Brie Larson as the phosphorescent, static clingy Captain Marvel.

Even before it hit the theaters, Marvel’s latest superhero installment, Captain Marvel, was making waves. Following on the heels of a spirited discussion of the Oscar-worthiness of 2018’s Black Panther and some hyperbolic Internet criticism of the feminism of the Black Widow (played by Scarlett Johansson throughout the film series) and the attendant discussions of race and gender, Brie Larsen’s entrance as the cosmic superhero in the leather jumpsuit lighting up her eyes and kicking butt was all but ensured.

Months earlier, some nitwit on Twitter opined that Captain Marvel “would be a lot prettier if she smiled.” Mere weeks ago, a father in Indiana allegedly freaked out when his eight-year-old son said he “wanted to be Carol Danvers.”

The U.S., it seems, still does not know how to not lose its mind over social issues in pop culture.

But as it happens, none of this infiltrates Captain Marvel, which made records at the box office in mid-March. It’s fun, it’s exciting; it’s also somewhat formulaic and clichéd. By this time, fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have seen their fair share of origin stories—this time around, directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck were wise enough to soft-pedal the details. The story takes place in the middle of a mission Veers (Brie Larson), a member of the alien Kree race, is working, with allies Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) and Minn-Erva (Gemma Chan). The Kree are hunting down Skrulls, another alien race reminiscent of extraterrestrials from the first season of Star Trek who are apparently a shape-shifting terrorist threat.

Veers keeps flashing back to memories of another life on what we recognize as Earth. She’s learning to control her powers, apparently the ability to shoot cosmic bolts from her arms (is that, like, a thing all aliens can do?). She keeps bumping against memories of an early mentor (Annette Benning), and when she’s captured by the Skrulls later, they rifle through her memory and cull details she can make no sense of. And when she gets shot down over Earth and crash lands in a 1995 Blockbuster (90s culture, with all its grunge and cheap commercialism, are very much a feature in this movie), we’re waiting for the old tell-me-about-your-culture schtick we got from classics like Star Man and Howard the Duck. (Just kidding. They’re not classics.)

But that’s when the story gets more paced, and more engrossing. Veers is apprehended by a very young Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, CGI’d back to his 40s) and Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), both of the organization SHIELD, which plays such a pivotal role in the entire Avengers franchise. Veers battles more Skrulls, goes underground with Fury, seeks out hints from her past and finally learns who she is and what happens to her. Where the film gets formulaic is in the chase scenes and one-on-one fights where she’s showing off what appear to be unlimited abilities. But where the film gets near excellent is Larson’s masterful handling of her character’s tortured psyche and longing for stability and a home.

It should be noted that this was (probably) the late Stan Lee’s last cameo in a Marvel film. The icon of comic books passed away earlier this year, and when Veers bumps into him on a crowded train and gives him a small, almost grateful smile, you’d have to be Thanos himself to not be moved.

Without spoiling anything, the film provides the transition we’ve been waiting for to the next Avengers movie, Endgame, out next month. After that, who knows how long the franchise will last. But until it fizzles out, in the spirit of the 90s, one can only hope Marvel and her allies buzz Earth a few more times, maybe even create a Myspace page or an AOL account. All in the name of nostalgia, of course.