Captain Marvel is the 21st film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is about U.S. Air Force pilot Carol Danvers finding herself on the home world of the Kree, a vast empire that dominates the galaxy, having only shards of memories about who she is and where she came from. She lives now as a "noble warrior hero" in the Kree starforce. When she crash lands on Earth in 1995 having fled the clutches of the Skrulls, an alien race of shapeshifters at war with the Kree, she begins to put the pieces of her past together with her new friend, S.H.E.I.L.D. agent Nick Fury. Brie Larson stars as the titular Captain Marvel and is joined by MCU heavy hitters, Samuel L. Jackson, Clark Gregg, Djimon Hounsou, and Lee Pace and new comers Annette Bening, Ben Mendelsohn, Gemma Chan, Lashana Lynch, and Jude Law. The film is directed by indie darlings Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck.
It's important to note two distinct details in my synopsis above. The first is that this is the 21st Marvel film and it has to interconnect with the others. My least favorite thing about all Marvel films is not that they interconnect, but the trite ways in which that connection comes about. Especially, Coulson. I get that he's there and he's a part of Fury's team, but seriously, it was useless to have him specifically. That could have been anyone. Of course, there are silly things like that that fill in other gaps of Marvel history that are completely unnecessary to this story.
Mild spoilers here: Did we need several fake outs to reveal the true origin story of how Fury lost his eye? Not in the slightest. Does it have to be the Tesseract that Dr. Lawson has been testing with? No, not at all. Yet, here we are and here they are plopped onto our desks like so many cubes out of so many Flerkens. End of mild spoilers.
The other detail is the 1995 setting. They never let us forget it, not for a single second. Carol crash lands in a Blockbuster and shoots a standee of True Lies. She gets her electronics at a Radio Shack. Fury calls her first set of civvies, "very grunge." There's a Nerf gun with the logo very clear, the computer is slow to load, Stan Lee's cameo comes with him reading his lines in the script of Mall Rats in which he plays himself, the needle drops on songs are just so on the nose and sometimes change the mood in a strange way, it's all '90s all the time. Enough! We get it! A couple of references would have been just fine. I know the age of the audience is varied for these films, but it's way too much and it is so rarely featured in the other films as it is here.
The major criticism I have for the majority of Marvel films is that the women in them fail to be interesting or well written. Often reinforcing archetypes and failing to move them beyond emotionless killing machines or overly intelligent love interests that forgive the hero his faults. Captain Marvel does better. It's not perfect in the message it's attempting to convey, but it gets much closer than many of the films in the franchise. Carol's dealt with a lot and yet she's not the cold, closed off badass. She has a lot on her shoulders, but she's not begging for someone else to take on her burden. She works with people and knows her strength is in the people she cares about rather than in the man she's put all her faith in. That has a great deal to do with Brie Larson.
Larson is disarming as Carol. Not only as a badass with a photon blast, but as an utterly charming and effortless personality. She imbues Carol with a wry smile, with compassion, and feeling. She's assured and she has chemistry with everyone she comes in contact with on screen. It's great to see an actress at the top of her game turn in a performance this good in what could have just been an easy paycheck for her. That said, I wish there was more.
This film is so bogged down in giant, medium, and small Marvel minutiae that it barely has time to breathe. There are excellent, quiet, wonderful scenes within it that are lost too quickly in the big picture. I love especially any scene where Carol and Maria, played by Layana Lynch, interact. These two have the history, love, and friendship down and they share some powerful scenes, but it's just not enough. Also, I like the buddy comedy with Carol and Fury. They're funny and effortless, but those scenes are wedged into everything else and need their own existence. The story just comes up short in the same old, same old plot and yet another macguffin hunt. The sacrifice of a good story for an overarching theme is failing these films and us as an audience.
I liked Captain Marvel a lot despite its franchise flaws. I sincerely hope it leads to more women superheroes leading Marvel films. I just hope they can give the next film a bit more breathing room, rather than sitting on its chest with the entire weight of the franchise. I know if you're a Marvelite, you're a Marvelite, so you're going to see this whatever I say, so I don't have to toot any horns. If you aren't one of we, the obsessive Marvelites, you'll be lost and you'll be confused. There's too much unexplained to make sense as a stand alone film. I don't recommend this one if you're looking for something casual to escape with.