“It didn’t have as many of the usual fight scenes…”
That was the assessment of my 12-year-old daughter, who has now seen every Marvel Cinematic Universe film in order through Ant-Man (so far) with her dad and who saw Marvel Studios’ Captain Marvel with her dad out of order Monday evening.
“But I liked that about it,” she concluded in her thumbs-way-up take on the film.
Fans will likely find themselves agreeing with her. Brie Larson’s debut as the MCU’s first solo female … and yes, pretty clearly their most powerful superhero, is a little bit ‘smaller’ … a little bit slower than most other Marvel Studios adventures. And while Captain Marvel is not the most accomplished film in the family, its tonal differences play to its favor, and it includes enough MCU housekeeping to make it a near canonical must-see for hardcore fans of the series.
Oh … and it’s smart enough to get the successful superhero movie secret sauce exactly right. But we’ll get to that in a moment.
Both meeting and totally defying the expectations of anyone trying to figure out its plot points, half the fun for established fans is seeing exactly how Marvel Studios President/executive producer Kevin Feige and a small army of credited contributors to the story and script use Marvel Comics history as both a guide and a distraction to keep fans honest and on their toes.
‘Prequels’ almost always run the risk of showing their seams when retroactively trying to fit into and add new layers to established continuity. And while there is a reveal or two you can see wasn’t the original intent dating back to 2008, it’s somewhat remarkable the tie-ins and tie-backs fit as organically as they do.
The story plays out as most Newsarama readers should expect … for a while. We first meet (Carol Dan)Vers on the Kree homeworld of Hala, and the adventure eventually takes her to Earth in the 1990s and into a buddy-cop film with digitally de-aged Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, finally getting his shot at significant screen time.
And the last act … you probably won’t see coming.
Eschewing what could have been a cliché dynamic of having them bicker only to bond in the finale, Carol and Nick pretty quickly form a trust and an easy rapport, and you can see how and why Larson and Jackson have seemingly formed an off-screen bond as well after this, their third film together.
It also helps the film isn’t paced at a hyper-pitch. Carol and Nick … and Carol and Maria and Monica Rambeau … and Carol and Jude Law’s [redacted] … and Ben Mendelsohn's Talos and more characters than you’d expect get to be still and talk and be people, and not just fight and plot and scheme.
The directing team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck cut their teeth on smaller, more character-oriented films, and Marvel Studios’ knack for talent discovery pays off again. MCU films follow a formula without question - a formula arguably foolproof at this stage. But it allows each film enough room to be themselves, and Captain Marvel feels enough like its own thing to probably play a little better to those who have either seen them all and/or are open to tweaks on the recipe.
It also takes its girl-power theme more low-key for granted than you might expect, though its selection of 1990’s rock tunes by mostly female lead singers is clever if also a little obvious.
Of course the Captain Marvel franchise’s present and future largely rests on Larson’s buff shoulders, and she’s up to the task. Her combination of arrogance but unapologetic and snarky self-awareness of the fact is hard to resist and Larson is helped tremendously by a smart story choice that all superhero movie producers should commit to memory.
Carol LIKES being a superhero … a lot. A kindred spirit to Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark (in the first Iron Man), Chris Pratt’s Star Lord and Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, there’s not a ounce of reluctance about her abilities or angst about her place in the world. To Carol, being Captain Marvel is simply good fun and it’s clear Larson is having good fun being Carol, which is an infectious dynamic that seeps its way off the screen and into the audience.
Captain Marvel isn’t the highest form of the MCU, but it more than holds its own, sets up an interesting and bright future for the character and oh yeah ... it’s one of a certain 12-year-old girl’s favorites.
So yeah … we see you Marvel Studios.