The Marvel Cinematic Universe goes back to the 90s in the name of progress with its first superhero caper led by a woman. But despite the online hate, Captain Marvel is as funny, slick and occasionally convoluted as the studio’s best.
Supposedly the 21st film in the MCU, this has also emerged as one of its most inexplicably controversial due to the gender of its lead character. Legions of incel fanboys are furious, and yet they shouldn’t be, because Captain Marvel is a title held by both male and female characters in Marvel’s sprawling comic book source material, and Oscar winner Brie Larson is a more than credible lead who really can act.
This all takes place in what seems to be 1995, before Infinity War and even Iron Man, and begins with a lovely tribute to Marvel main-man Stan Lee, who filmed his customary jokey cameo here before his death last November. We’re then introduced to Larson as an interstellar soldier on the Kree home planet who’s having strange visions and/or memories that cause her to question her past.
Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), her commanding officer, mentor and buddy, tells her not to worry, while keeping her trained up to fight in the endless war between the Kree and the shape-shifting, lizard-people-like Skrulls, whose unofficial leader is Talos, as played by Ben Mendelsohn (still having a little trouble neutralising his Aussie accent). She also occasionally has mystical audiences with the so-called ‘Supreme Intelligence’, which takes the form of Annette Bening. Well, why not?
An elaborate set of circumstances has her winding up on Earth and chasing invading Skrulls, while at first pursued, and then assisted, by a pre-S.H.I.E.L.D. Nick Fury, without the eye-patch, made to look 20 years younger by digital FX and played, of course, by Samuel L. Jackson, who’s terrific once again but allows Larson to shine as well. Always a most generous actor, Jackson is happy to play Fury (who at this point hasn’t met Thor and all the rest) in a series of cool comedy sequences where he and Larson keep switching the ‘straight man’ role. Indeed co-directors (and two of the co-writers) Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck distract you from the convoluted nature of some of the plotting by making things at times very funny.
With 90s-mocking jokes about dial-up internet and the golden age of video, a fitting soundtrack that includes Garbage, No Doubt and even Nirvana, and the expected gargantuan Marvel Studios budget that allows for only the best fight scenes and sci-fi trimmings, this is mostly seriously entertaining. It’s certainly on par with the 20 films that preceded it, but for viewers still perturbed by the casting of a woman please remember: Captain Marvel is not a real person, so really anyone could play them. And at the end of the day, there is no shortage of white male Avengers.
Captain Marvel (M) is in cinemas from March 7