"Captain Marvel" marks the first female-driven film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with women starring on screen and behind the camera. It's a much-anticipated addition to the superhero canon.
On the Kree planet Hala, Carol Danvers doesn't know who she is or where she came from. She trains vigorously with Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), who reminds her "emotions are dangerous for warriors." (More sexism-addressing dialogue to come.)
When a mission goes awry, Carol gets stranded on Earth, where she retraces the steps to her past with the help of S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury, played by a digitally remastered Samuel L. Jackson, whose youth looks legit.
"Captain Marvel" unfolds like a detective story, steady and linearly, with not as much action bang as other superhero films, but there's a lot to set up here.
Brie Larson is dynamite. She has a naturally tough, comic and human flair.
She expertly trades verbal jabs with Jackson and Law, and she believably takes hits (she did a lot of her own stunts) and growls at combatants who growl at her.
But her acting chops feel a bit wasted. The Oscar winner is used to playing characters with complex emotional pasts ("Room," "Short Term 12"). Carol isn't written with a huge character arc, but maybe she's not supposed to have one. "Captain Marvel" reinforces this idea of shedding the BS, releasing the programming, and remembering who you are - and in that, this film does it well.
Ben Mendelsohn ("Rogue One: A Star Wars Story") as shape-shifting Skrull Talos is dry, cunning and emotive under layers of prosthetics.
Annette Bening is perfectly cast as Carol's mentor, Dr. Wendy Lawson. (The decision to make the character female came late in the writing game, and it was a good one.) Bening has the steel constitution and the soft relatability for this small but important part.
Jackson's Fury is spot on, and he eats up the screen with cat cohort Goose, and there's delight in seeing the origin of his character.
"Captain Marvel" is set in the mid-'90s, and the nostalgia's thick with the omnipresence of dialup internet, Smashing Pumpkin posters and pagers. (Remember those?) The throwback sometimes feels like a crutch, albeit a charming one.
It's the first foray into blockbuster-dom for indie filmmakers Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck ("Half Nelson," "Sugar"). They're attuned to the depth and weight of this legacy, and they pay tribute.
Instead of flashes to other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this starts with a montage to comic book legend Stan Lee, who died in November.
"Captain Marvel" feels rooted in the past, present and future, and it's undeniable to note changes and hope for what's to come in the franchise, and in life.
It was a full theater Friday night in Duluth. The audience was lively, and the light applause during the end credit scene felt like genuine regard for what's next.
"Captain Marvel" stands squarely on its own. And even if it could've used more character and maybe less '90s, this reviewer will surely watch for more.
Starring: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn
Director: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Writers: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Rating: PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive language
Now showing: Premiere, Duluth 10, Lakes 10