Captain Marvel (Cert 12A)

US (2019) Dirs. Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck

I’m showing my age here but until the announcement of this film, Captain Marvel to me was a male superhero in a red and white outfit and lightning bolt on his chest, the alter ego of schoolboy Billy Batson, transforming upon saying “Shazam!”. I had no idea Marvel had acquired the rights to the name and created a new, female character with it.

But they did and now, after 21 films with male heroes at the fore, and no doubt inspired by the huge success of Wonder Woman, Marvel present their own female led film, with a female co-director, two female co-writers and an Oscar winning actress in the title role!

The story begins on the planet Hala, where Kree warrior Vers (Brie Larson) is plagued by dreams of her in an alternate reality she doesn’t recognise. After insisting she is ready to fight, Vers is assigned to join her mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) on a mission to fight a rival alien race the shape-shifting Skrulls in a dispute over the land they occupy.

During the battle, Vers is captured by the Skrulls, but manages to escape the Skrull ship, ending up crash landing on the nearby planet C53 – aka Earth in 1995 – along with pursuing Skrulls led by Talos (Ben Mendelsohn). Their arrival attracts S.H.I.E.L.D agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) who eventually teams up with Vers to face the Skrulls.

Of course, it’s not that simple with the Skrulls’ ability to duplicate any human form, providing many distractions for Fury and Vers in gaining the others’ trust. Meanwhile Vers discovers photos related to her strange dreams, and with Fury’s help, investigates them, uncovering a lot more than either were expecting.

It is quite ironic that the original Shazam version of Captain Marvel was first brought to an end in the 1950’s after DC comics successfully sued Fawcett publications for copyright infringement, claiming Captain Marvel was copy of Superman when this film version of Captain Marvel is essentially a “greatest hits” of facets of every other superhero both DC and Marvel!  

You don’t have to be comic book fan to see hints of the other creations on the character whilst the influence of the previous Marvel films is palpable to the point of being blatant – Thor, Guardians Of The Galaxy, Iron Man even Black Panther all provide something that has been reused in this film. Now, this might just me being cynical or it is an example of superhero fatigue where even the creators are now seeing the same thing repeatedly in their visions.

Annoyingly though, Captain Marvel is a lot of fun and if you’re looking solely for the sort of mindless bombastic CGI heavy action this genre can provide with its eyes shut then this doesn’t disappoint. The story also throws in a few surprises with a third act twist that alters the entire complex of the direction whilst framing the real reason why Vers was always different from the rest of the Kree.

Vers is an interesting character in that she could be one of two people – the mystical powered and (literal) blue blooded Kree or Carol Danvers, a US pilot killed in a test flight with Dr. Wendy Lawson (Annette Bening), the double of Hala’s artificial intelligence ruler Mar-Vell (see what they did there?). To get answers, Vers and Fury track down former pilot Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) who naturally thinks she has a seen a ghost.

For an origin story this is a complex and sinuous one in its construction yet fairly easy to follow, given its family friendly appeal and certainly appears to assume that the majority of the audience won’t be as familiar with Captain Marvel as they are others in the Marvel canon. Yet, this is something of an origin story for Nick Fury too, what with this being set 13 years before the Nick Fury we first saw at the end of Iron Man.

Thanks to CGI, Fury is much younger, has a full head of hair and two working eyes as well as a cheerier disposition, much closer to the wise cracking Samuel L. Jackson we all know. As he has yet to become the director of S.H.I.E.L.D, Fury is a more active agent, getting involved in the action as well as revealing his softer side which plays into the story of how he came to lose his left eye.

Samuel L. Jackson is on top form here, the visual de-aging of Fury allowing him to lose his usual jaded cynical mien and have some fun whilst staying true to the character since this is – we assume – his first real experience with extra-terrestrial beings in his job. Annette Bening is the token gravitas player of the film but doesn’t really do that much which Jude Law is actually quite efficient as the humourless Yon-Rogg.

Brie Larson gets top billing and looks good in the action scenes and when assuming the ass-kicking role but she is also vexing. Not just for sporting the one facial expression but also because she delivers her lines like she is in a teen flick, in that horrible American whiny, nasally voice where each sentence fades in an inaudible croak. More enunciation and projection next time please Brie!

With ILM behind the SFX you know that the visual aspect is going to be top notch and they don’t disappoint as ever, and if it is action you crave we are never far away from a fight or something explosive happening. And don’t forget the two obligatory mid and end credit bonus scenes.

There is definitely something about Captain Marvel that works but it isn’t fully realised here and I can’t put my finger on why that is. Maybe it is because I was unable to warm to Larson on a personal level (I liked the cat however), although as a kick-ass character Thanos had better be ready for her in Avengers: Endgame!

Rating – *** ½

Man In Black