It seems every other month there is a new Marvel blockbuster arriving in cinemas and the latest addition to this seemingly endless roster of comic book adaptations is Captain Marvel, the first outing from the studio with a female in the lead role. To see Academy Award winner Brie Larsen make a move into the Marvel universe, not to mention the likes of Jude Law and Annette Bening in supporting roles here, is perhaps a sign that even the more esteemed members of the Hollywood acting fraternity have conceded defeat and climbed aboard the Marvel bandwagon in search of the untold riches that lie in wait. On the back of her two outstanding performances in Short Term 12 and Room, Larson has been a vociferous campaigner for equality in Hollywood (for those working on screen and behind the scenes) and, despite the fact that her first foray into big budget fare was the dire Kong: Skull Island, the opportunity to put a female front and centre of a superhero narrative was clearly an offer too good to refuse, which is understandable.
Serving as an origin story for the entire Avengers initiative, Captain Marvel takes us back to the early ‘90’s where digitally de-aged SHIELD agents Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) and Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) are yet to cross paths with any of the assemblage that would come to be known collectively as The Avengers. Responding to an incident at a video store (remember them?), Fury and Coulson encounter Carole Danvers (aka Vers), a former military pilot who, six years earlier, was captured by alien forces and has been living on the planet of Hala, the capital of the Kree Empire. It is during a failed mission to rescue an undercover spy who has infiltrated The Skrulls, a breed of shape-shifters with whom The Kree are at war, that Danvers crash lands back on Earth with Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), a Skrull commander, in pursuit. Jude Law is Yon-Rogg, the Kree operative also in pursuit of Danvers, while Bening is scientist Wendy Lawson, the developer of a light-speed engine for which Danvers served as the test pilot. When the plane is shot down by a Kree ship, Danvers destroys the experimental engine to keep it out of Kree hands and absorbs the energy that emanates from the blast before being whisked away to Hala. If it all sounds a bit silly, that’s because it is, but the film thankfully lacks the macho posturing that pervades so much of the other MCU output.
It is actually the time spent on earth that is the most grounded and engaging as Devers tries to piece together her previous life, accompanied by a nostalgic ‘90s soundtrack featuring the likes of No Doubt, Nirvana, Salt-n-Pepa, Hole and Garbage. When Danvers reconnects with fellow pilot Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) and her cute-as-a-button poppet Monica (Akira Akbar), the two women team up to retrieve the Tesseract, a powerful energy source that features throughout the numerous Marvel franchise films and ultimately plays a significant role in the events of Avengers: Infinity War. The fact that Danvers (whose transition to the visual representation of Captain Marvel is one of several corny moments) is so powerful that she is never in any serious danger – at one stage singlehandedly destroying multiple ballistic missiles – results in little tension and few surprises with regards to how things might transpire. Sure, we can marvel (pun intended) at the technical wizardry on display – which is as impressive as we have come to expect – but it can never compensate for the absence of emotional resonance or a subversion of narrative expectations.
Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Geneve Robertson-Dworet, there is nothing stylistically that sets their film apart from the other Marvel properties. In what is his most prominent appearance in the franchise thus far, Jackson is at his wise-cracking best as Fury and Larson proves an excellent choice for the titular hero, trying her utmost to compensate for shortcomings in the script, while Bening is particularly burdened by cringe worthy dialogue. Whilst we should most certainly celebrate the fact that a female character has finally been deemed worthy of taking centre stage in a production of this magnitude, Captain Marvel adheres to the Marvel template in nearly every other way.