Every previous MCU entry has had one major element in common: a male lead. The final stand-alone movie before Avengers: Endgame, the finale of Phase 3, has ultimately subverted this and put Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel to the big screen. Despite countless hateful bullies wanting this film to fail for various idiotic reasons (Brie Larson does not dislike white men you morons!) and Marvel trolls wanting the franchise to have a dent in its iron, the MCU’s third phase has been its most consistently good and impactful so far. Does Captain Marvel continue this streak? Yes.
In the galaxy, Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) is allied with an alien race known as the Kree, who are fighting against another alien race called the Skrulls. After a failed mission and capture by Skrull leader Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), she escapes and crashes back down to earth circa 1994. She runs into a young Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and soon starts to rediscover her lost past by going after scientist Lawson (Annette Benning), who appears in her memories and is the creator of an energy source that the Skrulls are after.
For a MCU film, the plot is quite stripped back and almost entirely character based, which is where directors Anna Fleck and Ryan Borden show their past directing character-based indie cinema. There are a few important central relationships, with Carol Danvers and Nick Fury’s being the most entertaining and endearing and her mentor-student relationship with Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) being at the core of her characterisation. Danvers herself has quite an intriguing character arc involving her emotions, her will and her allegiances. The other characters are well defined and the plot that they occupy does manage to be unpredictable yet also refreshingly un-complicated for a comic book movie. If there is an issue it’s that the film goes too long without a major action beat and does slightly drag when the humour and characterisation is not present to keep it alive.
The strongest aspect of the story would be its various messages. Though one might feel that the film is positioning Carol as a perfect “Mary Sue” type and shoving the “Women are strong” message down the throats of the audience, the major lesson that she learns is universal to people of any gender and personality. Whilst her character is not as fleshed out as other MCU protagonists, the lesson that she learns is easily one of the most empowering that any Marvel hero has learned. There’s also a good message about grey morality and anti-violence.
The acting is all excellent. Brie Larson does a great job balancing stoicism, humour and humanity. Samuel L. Jackson gives his best performance as Nick Fury, really being allowed to cut loose and show a more charismatic side, with the de-aging being virtually seamless. There’s solid support from Jude Law and Lashana Lynch as best friend Maria Rambeau, though the best acting must go to Ben Mendelsohn, who despite seeming typecast at first, is shown to be far more complex than a standard Marvel villain.
As for the weakest elements, the two that stand out most is the action and the wider MCU references. The film is directed well, with good cinematography and music, but a couple of major fight scenes are shot poorly and there are no set pieces that reach the height of Infinity War or Civil War. As for the MCU references, whilst they fit into the story fine and do not feel too shoehorned in, characters like Korath (Djimon Honsou), Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Ronan (Lee Pace) are periphery at best and pointless at worst. The final scene was also pretty on the nose and not something that viewers ever wondered about.
Overall, Captain Marvel is another successful origin story for the MCU and a sign that they are still able to craft an enjoyable, likeable blockbuster. Is it the best of Phase 3, or even the up there with the best of the MCU? No, but I would put it above several Phase 1 and 2 films. Bring on Endgame.