Was this a superhero movie or an elaborate homage to the 90s? Our hero’s (re)introduction to Earth comes in the most quintessential place of 90s America: a strip mall featuring Blockbuster Video and RadioShack. Cue Salt-N-Pepa and TLC, dial-up internet and two-way pagers, and of course, Nirvana. As a 90s kid, I felt right at home.
The film opens with Vers (Brie Larson) on the alien planet Hala as she struggles to remember her past, her dreams haunted by a singular memory of a woman being shot as she lays dying. No better way to clear her head than with some early-morning martial arts with her mentor, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). Vers is an elite warrior, saved from death by The Kree and endowed with special powers by The Supreme Intelligence. Or so we’re led to believe.
On a mission to find a compromised agent, she is captured and more memories are revealed as Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), leader of the Skrull, plays around in her mind looking for answers. She was an elite fighter pilot and Dr. Lawson (Annette Bening), the woman from the earlier memory, holds the key to unlocking the truth.
After a dramatic escape from the Skrull ship, Vers finds herself on planet C-53, aka Earth, landing in the aforementioned Blockbuster. She is rapidly acquainted with a young, two-eyed Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Here we see Marvel’s latest CGI trick, making Jackson look 20+ years younger, mainly through very smooth and obviously altered skin. It’s not distracting but neither is it particularly convincing. The jury’s still out.
Fury and Vers team up to fight off the Skrull and find some answers while back-up (both Kree & SHIELD) is on the way. As the search continues, the truth of Vers’ history – she was Carol Danvers of the US Air Force — and much more is revealed.
The film itself, much like our hero, spends too long trying find itself without really succeeding until the final chapter. There are plenty of jokes to keep you engaged, but it never really quite grips you. Even the twist feels telegraphed from the mess that is Carol’s recollections. Larson is excellent but I left feeling she could have been so much more had the script and direction allowed. She’s witty and clever as well as tough-as-nails but hampered by this journey of self-discovery that’s all over the place.
That being said, there is a lot to admire about this film. There is a refreshing lack of Hollywood tropes — no love interest, no male saviour, no over-blown catharsis moment. Ironically, the catharsis moment might have been well-suited given all the obvious build-up to it. Her friendship with Maria (Lashana Lynch) is one of two strong women who support and love each other, even if Carol can’t remember most of it. There are some references to a tough childhood and not being taken seriously as a woman, but for the most part Carol is just unapologetically a bad-ass.
Somewhere in this film is the one it could and should have been. It’s witty and charming with genuine laugh-out-loud moments, a compelling storyline and an awesome main character. Of the Marvel Universe, it is most closely linked to The Guardians of the Galaxy movies. Sadly, its more like the sequel than the original. The parts are there but the spark is missing.
Nevertheless, the end sequence and obligatory post-credits clip sets up well for the upcoming Avengers: Endgame. Captain Marvel is here and she’s not messing around trying to figure out her powers. She’s ready to kick some ass.