In the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), timing and secrecy is everything. The release of Black Panther in 2018, just before Avengers: Infinity War, introduced MCU fans to the kingdom of Wakanda and T’Challa (Black Panther). This increased the emotional blow when the audience saw him disintegrate into dust from the snap of Thanos’ fingers in the latter installment. While crumbling superheroes came as a shock to everyone, the set-up felt natural and unforced. Captain Marvel is a great movie, but, this time, in anticipation of another Avengers blockbuster, it feels like an unnecessary sidestreet the audience must travel down before arriving at their destination: Avengers: End Game.
This latest installment to the MCU, directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, currently sits at a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 80 percent, which puts it on par with its predecessor movies. However, for a film that nicely elaborates on Marvel and Avenger mythology—questions like where the name “Avengers” hails from anyway?—it feels like it deserves a higher rating, and this shouldn’t deter one from seeing it. Rotten Tomatoes may say 80, but they really mean 90.
Captain Marvel (played by Brie Larson) is an extraterrestrial warrior who finds herself caught in the middle of an intergalactic battle between her people, the Kree, and another alien race, the Skrulls. The result of this leaves her stranded on Earth in 1995, where she continues to have recurring flashes, memories of another life—one as U.S. Air Force pilot Carol Danvers. With help from Nick Fury (played by a two-eyed Samuel L. Jackson), Captain Marvel tries to uncover the secrets of her past while harnessing her special superpowers in the hopes of ending the war with the Skrulls. This summary will be most likely found on the back of the Blu-Ray copy of this film when it hits DVD, but things are not as they seem.
Captain Marvel is comedic without committing to be a comedy like Thor: Ragnorok. The ebb and flow of humour seems to be more at Captain America-level—tame, witty, but ultimately acts as a catalyst for characterization. Every crack taken by one character aimed at another, like the banter between Captain Marvel and Nick Fury, seems to flesh out traits and quirks for both of them. For example, did you know that Fury likes cats?
While this film is an origin story (or introduction, for those that haven’t read the comics) of Captain Marvel, it also serves as a way to feed the audience backstory about Nick Fury and Shield. While Fury is still a part of Shield in this piece of the Avengers puzzle, things such as how he lost his eye and why Shield went the superhero route make their way on screen (because the mystery of Fury’s missing eye has been on all our minds since 2008). Captain Marvel builds a cause-and-effect with Fury, while we’ve seen him walk through previous films with stoicism about him.
If Captain Marvel crashing into Blockbuster didn’t ground the film firmly in the ’90s, the soundtrack fueled by ’90s punk rock music establishes a mood that transports everyone back to the world of pagers and payphone booths. The guitar riffs from Nirvana and other nostalgic ’90s bands carry audience members through the multi-layered sub-plots, character backstories, and tense moments of Captain Marvel figuring out who she is and who her friends are.
Captain Marvel strikes all the right chords, and the fingers of the writers hit all the right keys, but there’s too much anticipation and grief to fully enjoy this heroic detour. Carol Danvers would have been better served with an explosive entrance in Avengers: End Game, followed by her own standalone origin story to set in motion MCU’s next course of action. Introducing it now feels like an obligatory addition to the Avenger’s story, when it warranted an essential opening chapter for Marvel’s first female character origin story.
The film begins with a dedication to recently-passed Marvel creator Stan Lee. It’s unclear how or if Lee will be incorporated into future Marvel films, and let this be the only spoiler in this review, but fans have an opportunity to see his silvery hair, prescription aviators, and warm smile one last time. To some, seeing a last glimpse of the man who gave them heroes and heroines, even for only a brief cameo, is alone worth the price of admission.