The first few scenes of Captain Marvel wouldn’t look out of place in several other movies in the franchise: futuristic cityscapes, hi-tech uniforms, hardcore physical training so that when a battle with an alien race occurs, the heroes are primed. Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) mentors and leads a team of Kree warriors, of which Vers (Brie Larson) is a key member, against the villainous Skrull inhabitants of a nearby planet. Vers (pronounced Veers; this name is explained later), is a proud Kree who has been using her superpowers to help protect her homeland for the past six years - but can’t remember anything about her life before that. She has flashbacks to a time and place she cannot recognise or remember when awake. Yon-Rogg tells her to let go of her past, and learn to control her powers by not letting her emotions get the better of her.
This telling-off is the first hint that this film is going to be a little different from what has come before. With a female co-director, Anna Boden (with longtime directing partner Ryan Fleck) and women writers, this first woman-led superhero film in the MCU is unapologetically feminist. It is set against a soundtrack of riot-grrl tunes from the 90s (No Doubt’s I’m Just a Girl is used to brilliantly amusing, empowering effect), and makes a mockery of all-too-common misogynist tropes (Vers has the perfect response to being told to smile). But that is not the whole of the film - it is, still, a superhero flick, with alien baddies, impressive graphics, exhausting fight scenes, and Marvel’s ever-hilarious quips.
It is difficult to discuss the plot without giving too much away. Vers follows the shape-shifting Skrull enemies to Earth, where she meets a very young Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg). So appears the first of the strands (the eye patch! That pager!) that will start to weave themselves together into the web that is the current state of the Marvel Universe, and the Avengers.
Our heroine soon discovers that all she has been led to believe is not as it seems. While working with Fury to track down a scientist who seems to hold the key to a lot of her questions, she starts to unravel the mystery of those flashbacks, and discovers that she in fact was not born Kree, but human, and that she is Carol Danvers, a fighter pilot with friends, and family, and a past that helped mould who she is.
Some have commented that the CGI in this movie pales in comparison to others in the canon. But for the digital “youthification” of Jackson and Gregg alone, this criticism can’t stand. Plus there’s a very clever, very cute cat who also benefits spectacularly from digital manipulation.
Larson is charming as the title character. Much has been made of her commitment to the physical training, and it has paid off - she’s kick-ass, often literally. She also does a great job of conveying the emotions of a woman whose life is thrown into utter disarray, but who still manages to find the amusement in some of the bizarre situations she ends up in.
The secondary characters are no less worthy of praise; in particular Skrull leader Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), whose Australian accent and intonation brings the quirky humour expected of a Marvel movie, even when he’s threatening someone; and Carol’s best friend Maria (Lashana Lynch) who delivers the most heartfelt, powerful lines, reminders of Carol’s strength as a woman, and an individual, which ultimately help Carol realise her destiny.
It might not be the funniest Marvel movie to date (that title surely goes to Thor: Ragnarok), nor have the most breathtaking fight scenes, but that doesn’t stop it from being a powerful, entertaining, inspiring addition to the series. There are touching tributes to late Marvel creator Stan Lee. Plus, the 1990s setting is brilliant, whether or not you experienced that decade in person. The CD-ROM loading scene? Eye-wateringly hilarious, however old you are.
Oh and stay for the post-credit scenes. Both of them.