There’s a pretty slickly-produced, retro-90s Captain Marvel trailer from Nerdist making its way across the interwebs (just Google “Captain Marvel 1995”, and you’ll find it), which will instantly get you in the perfect mindset for the latest superhero epic from Marvel Studios.
And lest there be any doubt, a different mindset is certainly required.
In the wake of last year’s super-big, super-slick Avengers: Infinity Wars (and its $325 million budget), Captain Marvel seems almost cute in comparison. It cost less than $150 million to make, includes only three faces from the existing Marvel Cinematic Universe—Samuel L. Jackson, Clark Gregg, and Lee Pace—and is set so far in the past (more than a decade before Iron Man, in fact) that Jackson and Gregg had to be digitally de-aged to appear as their 20-years-younger selves.
Brie Larson, the Oscar-winning actress from 2015’s Room (budget: $13 million), leads the way as Vers (pronounced “veers”), a Kree starfighter who is joining a team led by Jude Law’s Yon-Rogg to rescue a compatriot who’s been spying on the Skrulls, the Kree’s long-time enemy. Vers is captured during the mission, however, and the Skrulls probe her brain, which causes her to have memory flashes of herself as a US Air Force pilot. She escapes the probe, hijacks an escape pod, and lands on 1995 Earth. Cue the grunge, flannel, and hilariously retro internet escapades (Alta Vista features prominently).
Also cue the entrance of Nick Fury (Jackson) and Agent Coulson (Gregg), a couple of rough-and-tumble SHIELD agents who have yet to even mutter the word “Avengers”. They find Vers and set about working with her to figure out who she is, where’s she’s from, and what to do with her.
Any more plot discussion risks spoilers, so suffice it to say that Captain Marvelchecks off all the boxes in its efforts to fit into the MCU. Though it has the overall feel of the two-decades-earlier origin story that it is, there’s also plenty of high-tech gadgetry and big-bang-boom battles to avoid feeling entirely out of place. I’d argue, in fact, that the two Ant-Man films (though fun and clever) are far more MCU outliers than Captain Marvel could ever dream of being.
Written and directed by unknowns Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden (whose entire canon of previous joint efforts has earned a combined $7 million at the box office—yes, that’s ‘7’… as in seven), Captain Marvel has no business working on virtually any level, yet miraculously it manages to emerge as one of Marvel’s better offerings in recent years. No, it’s doesn’t have nearly the grandeur or spectacle of any of the Avengers films, but do we really need to feel as though we’ve been blasted through the back of the theater every time we re-enter the MCU?
Of course Captain Marvel is getting the most press these days for being Marvel’s first female-driven feature and also the first with a female director, and though both are certainly admirable, they’re also long overdue. Whether that translates to box office success obviously remains to be seen, but should it falter it won’t be because of the quality of the film.
Through Larson takes a while to rev up in the role, by the end of the film it’s almost impossible to not have not bought into her star power and ability to carry a picture. Jackson exhibits his usual greatness (which includes most, if not all, of the movie’s hilarious one-liners), and Ben Mendelsohn also shines as the leader of the villainous band of Skrulls.
Feeling occasionally like Star Trek, sometimes like Top Gun, and even a little like 1984’s Starman, Captain Marvel ends the day very much its own film—a marvelously fitting and worthy bit of glass ceiling-shattering goodness destined to shake up the boys club of the MCU.