Carol Danvers enters the Marvel Cinematic Universe with an uneven but mostly solid origin story, which also happens to be a quasi-origin story for Nick Fury, too.
It’s the mid-1990s, and in another corner of the universe, the heroic Kree race is in an all-out war with a shape-shifting species known as the Skrulls. When a mission goes awry, Kree warrior Vers (Brie Larson) finds herself stranded on planet C-53 (Earth) and in the custody of S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nicholas J. Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). As the Skrulls chase Vers for reasons she doesn’t fully understand, she and Fury must join forces to unlock the secrets of her past — secrets that could hold the key to ending the Kree/Skrull war and save the universe.
Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck are newcomers to both the MCU and tentpole filmmaking in general. Their lack of experience shows, as this is arguably the least distinctive MCU entry as far as carrying the stamp of its director, the way that the Guardians of the Galaxy movies are distinctly James Gunn’s or Thor: Ragnarok could only have been made by Taika Waititi. Maybe having five credited screenwriters is part of the problem, but the first 30 minutes or so of Captain Marvel are so choppy to the point of being borderline incoherent. A lot of information is dumped on viewers very rapidly, and it can be disorienting.
Ironically, the movie really takes off once the narrative shifts to Earth. The buddy dynamic between Danvers and Fury is the backbone of the movie, and her friendship with Maria Rambo (Lashana Lynch) is its heart. As we dig deeper into the mystery of Danvers’ past and why the Skrull are pursuing her, the narrative goes in unexpected but welcome directions. By the end of the Captain Marvel, the first few reels are a distant memory, and the movie has achieved escape velocity. It’ll be hard not to have a smile on your face by the time the credits roll.
(And speaking of those credits, the mid-credits scene ties directly into Avengers: Endgame. In fact, it may even be a scene lifted right out of that movie. The scene at the very end of the credits is amusing but disposable.)
Academy Award-winner Brie Larson is perfectly fine as Carol Danvers, showing the right amount of heart and tenacity. She doesn’t really own the part the way Robert Downey, Jr. or Chris Evans owned theirs right out of the gate, but she’s endearing enough that she’ll probably grow on audiences over time. Jackson is arguably the highlight of the movie, showing us a side of Fury we’ve never seen in the decade that we’ve known the character. It’s a softer performance for the actor, and one he absolutely crushes. Ben Mendelsohn’s Talos is the latest in a growing line-up of MCU villains who don’t suck. After Killmonger and Thanos, there was a bit of a speed bump with Ant-Man and the Wasp, but Talos brings things back on track. The rest of the cast, including such names as Jude Law and Annette Bening, are serviceable without ever really standing out. Old friends (or enemies) like Djimon Hounsou and Lee Pace, both of whom were in the first Guardians of the Galaxy film, make brief appearances here, too.
Ben Davis returns to the MCU after lensing a number of previous entries, and his perfunctory style continues. The visual effects are surprisingly good by MCU standards, while sound design is typically excellent. The score by Pinar Toprak is also quite good and unlike the music we’ve heard in any other MCU entry. The 1990s setting is really just window dressing that the movie doesn’t do much with, aside from some music cues and a few amusing references. If you’re thinking of going IMAX, the surcharge is worth it; about a third of the movie expands to fill up the entire screen, creating a more immersive experience for the movie’s set pieces.