Captain Marvel is a largely fine, mostly charming, and fairly standard entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe; don’t expect a wholly unique experience on the level of Thor: Ragnarok, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, or the Guardians of the Galaxy films, but for all intensive purposes its what we’ve come to expect (and enjoy) from the folks at Marvel. The best aspects here are the kookier, weirder elements that feel drawn from ’90s sci-fi, and some of the plot developments that are genuinely inventive.
In the far reaches of space, the Starforce conducts military and intelligence operations to protect the universe from enemies. Vers (Brie Larson), one of the Starforce’s top commandos, goes on a mission to thwart the Skrull aliens with her mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), but things go sideways and she’s contained to the remote planet of Earth, where she befriends S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and discovers she had another life as the pilot Carol Danvers.
I like Brie Larson’s performance a lot here, but there does seem to be some inconsistencies when it comes to her characterization; the role will shift between her as a confident commander and more “fish out of water” elements, and the overall character arc of Vers learning to accept emotion does feel fairly surface level. The sense of self discovery is occasionally palpable, and while the film’s pacing does come to a screeching halt when the characters stop to reconnect with a friend of Carol’s, the moments between Larson and a young girl whom she befriends are genuinely touching.
Samuel L. Jackson is actually really great here, and this film’s portrayal of a younger, slightly more idealistic Nick Fury is fun, and gives Jackson something to do rather than relying on his iconic mannerisms. Of all the side performances, the best is from Ben Mendelsohn as a Kree commander searching for Vers; though Mendelsohn has cornered the market on playing gruff villains, this performance is genuinely fun and weird (with some great makeup), and the developments with his character and what he represents for Vers’s journey of self-discovery are very effective.
I’d say the first half of the film works better than the second- the latter half of the film is more traditional CGI action set pieces, but the setup of the first half gives us some really satisfying set pieces. All of the sequences near the beginning with Vers’s mission in space feel lifted straight out of a classic serial, and the sneaking around, military mystery aspects once she gets to Earth are rather exciting and fresh- it’s cool to see these sci-fi elements exist in a ’90s nostalgia piece. The sequence in which Vers and Fury sneak around an earlier version of S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters is really fun because its relying on our character’s wit and intelligence, and not too laced in CGI.
So ultimately Captain Marvel is a mixed bag- I think some of the one liners aren’t necessarily as strong as previous films , and it runs the risk of fostering ties a little too closely with the other films in the universe- this may have benefited from something along the lines of Guardians of the Galaxy or Black Panther that separate themselves for the most part. That being said, it’s a really fun ride- there’s lots of good characters (and a great cat) who’s adventures are worthwhile, as well as some Blockbuster nostalgia to spare. Grade: B-