Directed by Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck
The latest in the extraordinary run of Marvel comic book titles adapted to the big screen, as part of the connected Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), is “Captain Marvel,” starring (Sacramento-born) Brie Larson in the title role. It’s another solid film, delivering the content necessary to pre-fill in the gaps in what we’ve seen so far.
I think films of this nature are some of the hardest to make – both an origin film for an individual character and a prequel to most of the others in the series. It needs to tell us new things about the relatively new/unseen character (for those who haven’t read the comic books) while fitting snugly into the beginning of an already well established timeline of later events. I was similarly impressed by the 2009 reboot of “Star Trek” and by “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” – both of which managed to navigate that fine line of interest and intrigue despite us already knowing where the stories had to end up. Less successful was “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” which seemed to forget to make its central character seem worthy of the effort.
“Captain Marvel” introduces us to Carol Danvers, an ex-test pilot who’s spent years in an alien culture, learning to control a great power she carries, but with no clear recollections of her own past. That past slowly comes back to her, and to us, in a series of rapid flashbacks that cause her to question much of what she has believed. Circumstances of a mission gone wrong bring her back to Earth, in the early-mid 1990’s, for a series of action sequences and pop culture references we’ve come to expect from Marvel.
However, while it does all the things it needs to do, it does them with a little less pizzazz than some of the others in the franchise. It’s a good film and the two hours flew by, but it felt like it was firing on fewer cylinders than, for example, the first “Guardians of the Galaxy” or “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” I walked out genuinely satisfied and admiring the work but not giddy with excitement. It feels like it’s missing the humor of those films – there are well set-up jokes here but less of the constant barrage of witty banter or sidekick dynamics those other films deliver. And that may be to some people’s taste.
It’s also one of the few films this deep into the MCU that a relative newcomer could probably enjoy without too much tutoring. Because the events of “Captain Marvel” pre-date most of the content of the other films, the connections come in the form of things that make sense in the context of, or explain, later plot points. So the newcomer would understand the majority of what’s happening but not understand why the longtime fan is enjoying it so much more – with the first of two end credit scenes being a case in point.
But there are still what feel like a few minor missteps. One of the problems with memory loss narratives is that at some point the amnesiac re-encounters people who remember far more about a relationship and a shared personal history. And even as past events and collaborations are recounted and explained, there’s still a lost depth to the emotional connections that once existed, at least for the amnesiac. Here they feel, at one point, a little too easily restored.
Still, overall it’s a film that does what it needed to do, provides the context necessary to bridge the otherwise brief gap from “Avengers: Infinity War” to the upcoming “Avengers: Endgame,” and does so at a sufficient pace to compress perceived viewing time. That’s a win.