Written by Rick Warren / gfn21
During the first twenty minutes of Captain Marvel, I was honestly a bit worried. While it was far from bad, everything in the film’s opening felt rushed in comparison to the other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There was no time to breathe between scenes, with Carol Danvers (only going by Vers at the time) jumping from location to location constantly. Thankfully, however, that pacing doesn’t remain a problem and fades away as soon as Carol makes her crash landing on to Earth. From that moment onward, it’s smooth sailing, and Captain Marvel delivers on everything that it should.
Carol’s journey is an excellent one, and Brie Larson does a tremendous job of showing her character’s development through the performance. Her chemistry with the cast, particularly with her best friend Maria Rambeau and a much younger Nick Fury, is as great as can be and leads to plenty of well-acted character moments. Captain Marvel manages to be extremely cosmic like Guardians at the beginning and end of the film, yet incredibly grounded like Iron Man for the entirety of the second act. It’s a balance that seems hard to pull off, but the writers and directors did so in a way that seemed effortless. On top of that, the movie is incredibly clever. The Skrulls, the antagonists of the film, are used very well and handled in a way that even the most hardcore of Marvel fans will be surprised by. Ben Mendelsohn is excellent as their leader Talos, as he and Goose the cat carry out some of the funniest moments in the movie. The tie-ins to the greater MCU are entertaining and make the film feel like a true prequel, while never coming off as forced or annoying. The 90s soundtrack and references are fun, Carol’s hero moment is memorable, and the main post credits scene succeeds at building up hype for Avengers Endgame. Captain Marvel hits every note that an MCU film is expected to hit nowadays, and for those like myself who don’t mind the origin story format, it’s an absolute blast that's worth seeing in theaters.
For a deeper (spoiler-free) review, read on!
A Bumpy Takeoff and a Smooth Landing
As mentioned above, Captain Marvel’s biggest issue is by far the start of the film. Absolutely no time is spent exploring the Kree home-world of Hala, which is a shame given the amazing locations like Wakanda and Knowhere shown in the MCU thus far. Further, the team Carol fights alongside is extremely underdeveloped, with most of their names being instantly forgettable and their weapons being the only thing that truly differentiates them. The only exception is Jude Law’s Yon-Rogg, as his mentoring of Carol and the way his role changes as the movie progresses does make him a solid character. Even then, though, another scene with him and Carol early on would have helped make their relationship more meaningful. There’s plenty of decent action in the early moments of the film as well, but nothing spectacular enough to make the pacing issue less troublesome.
Spending ten more minutes on building out the Kree home-world and characters would have improved the pace of the film tremendously, but instead, Captain Marvel pushes forward at breakneck speed for twenty minutes. It’s hard to be invested here, as even with some cool ideas like the Skrulls probing people’s memories, there’s no reason to care about Carol or any of the characters yet. It may only take up the first half of the first act, but the time before Carol arrives on Earth is certainly a big detriment to the movie overall.
However, once Captain Marvel makes her big arrival on Earth, everything changes for the better. The pacing is no longer an issue, plenty of jokes begin to land and, most importantly of all, Carol Danvers becomes an extremely likable protagonist.
Aside from the 90s nostalgia, which there is plenty of, what makes Captain Marvel begin to work so well is the tremendous chemistry Brie Larson has with the rest of the cast. First and foremost is Nick Fury, as you can tell right away that Brie and Samuel L. Jackson are friends in real life. The two bounce off each other perfectly, and they do so in a way that helps make Fury more likable than he’s ever been. You can see how he’s beginning to become the always-prepared mastermind that forms the Avengers, but you also get to see Fury’s human side. He cracks jokes, talks about his life before SHIELD and bonds with the movie’s show-stealing cat Goose. This is Fury’s origin story just as much as it is Carol’s, and the two work so well together that they end up having one of the best dynamics in the MCU.
Carol’s best friend, Maria Rambeau, is a character that works far better than I ever expected her to. Lashana Lynch’s great performance certainly helps, as she comes off exactly as you’d expect for someone who thought their best friend died six years ago. Her lengthy conversation with Carol, who has completely forgotten who Maria is due to the memory loss from acquiring her powers, makes for one of the best scenes in the film. Carol’s relationship with Maria is strong enough to make the often-overused concept of amnesia work, which speaks volumes about the way the character is written and acted.
When Carol finally regains her memories and gets her costume (which is done in an adorable way), you feel it. That couldn’t happen without Carol’s relationships, making Fury and Maria major highlights of the film.
Skrulls, Surprises and The Rise of a Hero
Another noteable strength of Captain Marvel is the way in which it handles the Skrulls, the film’s antagonists. While they come off as standard villains who just want to take over in the film’s first act, their true motivation for stealthily entering planets is a genuine surprise. It’s hard to talk about what it entails without spoiling the film’s main twist, but this take on the Skrulls is just as fresh as the one for Thanos is in Infinity War. Further, they join Thanos as being an improvement on the source material, as they Skrulls are much deeper characters here than they are in the books. Ben Mendelsohn is perfectly casted as their leader, as he makes the character of Talos another highlight of the film. He can come off as villainous when he needs to, yet he’s utterly hilarious and likable too.
The Skrulls being used differently is far from the only surprise in the movie, however, as it weaves itself perfectly into the MCU. The origin of Carol’s powers, the role of Mar-Vell, where “The Avengers” name came from, the loss of Fury’s eye and where Carol has been for over two decades are all things that are answered with this film. The film does a fine job handling all this connective tissue, as it never feels forced or detracts from Carol’s origin story. The explanation for where she’s been is simple but effective, and the fact that the movie works as a standalone film and doesn’t rely on Endgame to explain its ending is great.
There’s some quality fan service too, as Coulson’s short but sweet role will bring plenty of smiles. The main post credits scene follows the path paved by Ant-Man and Doctor Strange, showing a scene from End Game that is sure to leave everyone in the theater with goosebumps. The Stan Lee cameo is especially great and stands as one of his best due to a sad smile from Carol when she sees him. The tribute in the opening credits is also touching, and the movie does a great job of paying respects to a legend that help make it possible.
While all this is great, at the end of the day this movie is about Captain Marvel, and it delivers. Brie Larson is the right choice for the role, perfectly capturing Carol Danvers’ cocky attitude, and it’s going to be so exciting to see more of her going forward. When the final act comes and she’s free from the false memories and her training to be emotionless, she truly shines. Her apology and promise to save the victims of the Kree-Skrull war and find them a home feels genuine, and her final discussion with the Supreme Intelligence of the Kree is incredibly empowering. Her big hero moment that was teased in trailers (singlehandedly wiping out spaceships) is even more exciting as an end to her main character arc in the film. Her final “battle” does follow the route of Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor Ragnarok by being a joke, but it is far more satisfying than it is annoying. Still, it would have been nice to have just one more fight scene with the fully-powered Captain Marvel. Hopefully Endgame delivers on that front.
At the end of the day though, Carol said it best herself; she has nothing more to prove.
Captain Marvel is essentially the opposite of the original Thor film. Where the best part of that movie was the opening twenty minutes, that is the only weak part of Captain Marvel. Where Thor struggled immensely with its human characters on Earth, Captain Marvel’s story thrives because of them. Most importantly, Captain Marvel won’t need multiple movies to become a character the audience loves, as she’s already great.
With plenty of jokes that land, a strong twist, a smart new take on the Skrulls and plenty of clever tie-ins to the MCU as a whole, Captain Marvels succeeds at being an excellent prequel and a well-told origin story.
Strong performances and good chemistry between the cast +2
Plenty of humor and smart MCU tie-ins +1.5
A great twist on the Skrulls and Kree +1
Decent action and a (mostly) satisfying hero moment +.5
A messy, rushed opening twenty minutes -1
FINAL SCORE: 4/5