Over the past 11 years, we've all sat through twenty films which together make up Marvel's Cinematic Universe. However for as many of these films as we've seen, they're just as often able to make an audience feel like there's something new being explored. It's hard to imagine that it was only a year ago when Black Panther came out; it feels now that Wakanda and its civilization has always been here.
Now in Captain Marvel, Disney/Marvel Studios have taken the leap that DC did two years ago with Wonder Woman – giving the center seat for a solo film with a female central character. Granted they should have done it about a half decade ago with a Black Widow movie, but nobody has ever accused movie studios of being quick on reading the pulse of the times.
Captain Marvel, aka Carol Danvers, played by Brie Larson, is her own type of new character – a superhero with full level-100 abilities (meaning that when going full-tilt, as franchise creator Kevin Feige stated, Captain Marvel is by far the most powerful character in the MCU).
This film is set in the 1990s and opens up telling the story of Vers (aka Carol Danvers), a woman who is part of an elite Kree strikeforce of "noble warrior heroes," and doesn't have any memory of her past on Earth. After a mission to rescue a Kree operative from Skrull terrorists goes sideways and is captured, she winds up making an escape to the nearest world – which happens to be Earth. She's met by a young two-eyed Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg). Carol, Nick, and Coulson try to prevent an invasion of the planet by Skrulls who have shown up trying to recapture Carol. Her Kree teammates are also trying to make it to Earth to help rescue her, and once again it's the humans who wind up in the crossfire.
Seeing Fury and Coulson in a world when neither had yet encountered aliens helps gives their characters as we've known them all along an added depth of understanding how they wound up being the battle-tested veterans we know from the earlier films. Larson's Carol is written wonderfully, her behavior and dialogue establish her as a believable character. Up until Black Panther, nearly every solo film in the MCU had been about inept heroes learning to use their abilities (or equipment). In this one, she's a capable and trained fighter from the outset. She's a soldier and doesn't blink at doing what needs to be done. She's not timid and vacillating like Ant Man or Dr. Strange, she just steps up and does what needs to be done.
Seeing Captain Marvel once things really go full-tilt and have all the powers that are showcased in the trailer, it's the coolest thing since Thor went full lightning god in Thor: Ragnarok. And even then, it's pretty clear that between the two of them, Thor would look a lot like Loki did after Hulk smashed him into Tony's old apartment floor.
The overall pacing and humor isn't always on the same cadence or as effective as we saw in the first Guardians of the Galaxy. There's an anatomical site-gag that seems very off-character for the individual who looks under a sheet and doesn't match the rest of the film (or the scene it's in for that matter). There's some internal story logic problems, but as with the other items, are all relatively minor. This is only of those films where the stand-alone critical analysis will have to be deferred for a few years. Because as with Wonder Woman and Black Panther, it's a film which is important because of this particular time we live in, and decoupling these film's roles in the larger societal conversation with their elements as a film will take some distance in the rear view mirror.
Yes, there is a lot of female empowerment messaging in the film, and it's handled wonderfully. For the guy's introductory films- Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, Ant-Man- they've all been their own "believe in yourself/find your place in the world" storylines. But as everyone knows in the real world, women are always being constantly told (implicitly as well as explicitly) that they can't/shouldn't be doing something or they're not good enough. With the guys it's always their own internal monologue holding them back. Carol's storyline showcases how it's everyone else that's always been telling her that message. But no matter what, she gets back up and soldiers on. Watching the reaction in the theater with women of all ages seeing the film, and its messages is inspiring in it's own right. I enjoyed seeing the film for myself, but I loved seeing it with them. Wonder Woman was an aspirational empowerment movie, but Captain Marvel is a movie about everywoman, and will help fan the inspiration even further.
The film has two credits scenes: one in the middle, and the other at the very end.
Captain Marvel opens at theaters everywhere starting on March 8th, on International Women's Day. That was no coincidence.