Carol Danvers has a had a long and chequered history in Marvel Comics. From her early origins as sidekick/second-stringer to the original Captain Marvel, her time with both the X-Men and the Avengers and her eventual rise to A-Lister in the aftermath of events like House of M and Civil War, the character has developed over the decades to become one of the publisher’s most important, complex and beloved characters.
Tellingly, it’s only now that she’s making the leap from page to screen, just as the Marvel Cinematic Universe gears up towards a major cataclysmic shake-up in the form of Avengers: Endgame. Under indie directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Mississippi Grind, Half Nelson), Captain Marvel introduces Carol Danvers (played here by an ever-excellent Brie Larson) in a manner that initially feels off-kilter in terms of character development, but quickly evolves into an engaging and entertaining introduction for Marvel’s first solo female protagonist.
What sets Captain Marvel apart from other superhero origin movies is how it plays with conventional narrative structure to avoid the usual pitfalls such movies often fall into. Opening with Danvers living on an alien world with no memories of her past, the film makes this idea (and the build-up to how she became a super-powered alien soldier) part of a tantalising mystery which threads itself throughout the film, a creative decision which offers genuine intrigue, shocking reveals and superb characterisation as it plays out.
Standing shoulder to shoulder with its predecessors within the MCU, the film doesn’t have the striking visual identity of Doctor Strange, the wackiness of Thor: Ragnarok or the provoking social commentary of Black Panther, but it makes up for all this with genuine emotion and heart-pumping action. A relatively slow start does demand patience from the audience in the first half hour or so, but the eventual pay-offs are worth the build-up, especially once events reach Earth and the action kicks up a notch.
Like with most MCU movies, fun is the operative word here, and there’s never any shortage of it. The buddy-cop interplay between a younger, less-jaded Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Carol is a particular highlight, full of sparking dialogue and barbed one-liners that are made all the better thanks to their superb chemistry. Ben Mendelsohn is charming, complicated and unorthodox as the central villain Talos, imbuing the film with a playfulness that eventually gives way into something far more relatable and unsettling. And of course, Goose the Cat provides the film with many of its best moments. But you probably already guessed that from the trailers and posters.
In and amongst the various thrills and spills though, Captain Marvel draws on powerful themes around identity and self-worth that are universal. The central theme of resilience in the face of great struggle is one that will strike a cord with everyone, regardless of age, gender or cultural background, and here it is used to great effect, realised in a stunning, punch-the-air moment that showcases superb storytelling prowess on the part of the directors.
Full of references, callbacks and cameos, some great in-jokes, a pumping soundtrack, entertaining 90’s nostalgia, and a loving, heartfelt tribute to Stan Lee to boot, Captain Marvel is a joy for any and all Marvel fans. Watched upon a massive IMAX screen, the action and the outer-space dogfights are tremendous, whilst every character is well-served by a story that champions both the ordinary individual and the extraordinary hero.
It may be slow in taking flight, but once Captain Marvel reaches full velocity, it soars!