Similar to Marvel’s decision to introduce Ant-Man to the MCU between Age of Ultron and Civil War, the idea of dropping Carol Danvers in the eye of the Infinity War storm is a questionable one. It feels like it has been a long time since last summer’s Ant-Man and the Wasp, and the hype for next month’s Endgame is real. Does anyone want a new hero right now? Especially since a post-snap version of the world seems like an interesting place, setting Captain Marvel 24 years in the past could have really backfired by making this adventure seem totally inconsequential. Fortunately, that’s not what happened, and instead we got a movie that adds some amusing depth to a ton of side characters and creates a hero I can’t wait to see take on Thanos.
Vers (Brie Larson) is a member of the Kree empire’s Starforce who is haunted by her inability to remember any of her life before six years ago. But she doesn’t have time to worry about that because the mostly blue alien Kree (you might remember them from Guardians of the Galaxy or Agents of SHIELD) are at war with the Skrulls, green aliens who have the ability to shapeshift. On her first mission, Vers ends up captured by the Skrulls and escapes, only to become stranded on a silly little planet called Earth, way back in the year 1995. Despite the advice of her mentor, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), Vers decides to figure out what the Skrull are up to, but along the way, she finds out there might be more to this war – and her past – than she realizes.
It doesn’t take too long for Vers to meet a younger, two-eyed Nick Fury (partially CG Samuel Jackson) who pursues her until they realize they can help each other. The buddy cop dynamic these two characters have is amusing, especially since Jackson is playing a much less cynical version of his character and lets Larson be the tough one. Along the way we see a few other familiar characters, like a slightly hairier Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), perennial sidekick Korath (Djimon Hounsou), and even Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), the big, tough, blue man who will one day die after losing a dance off.
I get that making the main character an amnesiac helps make exposition feel more natural in stories. And I get that a movie about a war between blue aliens and green aliens intersecting with covert spy nonsense could easily become overwhelming or confusing. And yes, I also get that the comic version of Carol Danver’s origin – what with her other identity as Ms. Marvel, losing her powers to Rogue, yada yada – is way too complex to get the movie to the current, popular iteration of the character. Nonetheless, I did feel like Vers not having her memories felt more like a trope and I kind of wished they just did the story in a more straightforward way. Her past seemed interesting enough to experience on its own, and the parts with a mysterious woman played by Annette Bening felt like they would have been more impactful if told linearly, instead of opening with “this is the most important person in your life.” My point is, it’s easy for the audience to connect all the dots so waiting for the characters to do it via flashback is a bit of a chore.
That said, Captain Marvel does succeed at most of the stuff that matters. Like I wrote at the top, the movie does a great job making Vers kick more and more ass as it goes, to the point where at the end you could easily make the case that she is the strongest super hero Marvel has shown us so far. It’s not going to work for everyone, but I’m here for the Super Saiyan nonsense. The comedy that comes from her badassitude, the mid-Nineties setting, the buddy cop stuff with Fury, and, surprisingly, Ben Mendelsohn’s Australian Skrull character, is pretty great. And the respect the movie has for continuity – not just the movies, but the TV show too – is something people like me can appreciate without it being weird for the normals… I think.
Captain America is iconic for his ability to get back up when he gets knocked down: “I can do this all day” he says. This new captain is similar to him in a lot of ways: she is also from the past and out of touch with the modern world, she also served in the military but felt underestimated, and her film even has a motif of her always getting back up. The difference is, as comic writer Kelly Sue DeConnick puts it, “Captain America gets back up because it’s the right thing to do. Carol gets back up because ‘Fuck you.'” And in this day and age, that feels pretty good too.