Put simply, the first 30 minutes of Captain Marvel is a complete mess. We get a bunch of convoluted information thrown at us that doesn’t make any sense. It references things in superimposed text that can only possibly be understood if we go back and watch it again. There’s no setup. Like we’re air dropped into the middle of a story that we don’t care about yet. It reminds me of a notoriously terrible movie, Jupiter Ascending. Captain Marvel starts off feeling so un-Marvel.
Fortunately, that all ends around the 30 minute mark, after Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) crash lands in a Blockbuster Video in 1995. The rest is actually really good.
The beginning, which I had to look up on Wikipedia for the actual plot, takes place on the planet Hala, where Danvers (then going by Vers) is being trained by Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), who also acts as her mentor and commander. Their race, Kree, is at war with the shape shifting Skrulls. And during some mission, Danvers is kidnapped by the Skrulls, who are taking her to Earth because of crucial memories they found upon probing her. She eventually escapes and then crash lands in the Blockbuster I told you about.
Danvers is discovered by S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) who’s immediately suspicious of her odd demeanor and begins to investigate. She informs him of the shape shifters but he thinks it all sounds ridiculous. Then the Skrulls start coming after Danvers, beginning a chase where Fury helps her escape.
Over the course of the movie Danvers and Fury become friends, and the film pretty much revolves around that dynamic. The chemistry between Larson and Jackson is off the charts, which only makes us want to see them in a movie together again.
Underpinning the whole thing is a feminist theme, which is perfectly fine in theory, but it’s also a bit too on-the-nose at times. Instead of implying things and making the message subliminal, the “female power” is shoved down our throats to the point where audiences may start to wonder if the filmmakers actually think men are a lesser species.
The motives of the villains here are muddled, or at the very least not very great. Maybe there should have been more time developing those details and grounding them down. Writers/director team Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck make some interesting calls in general. Larson, who is one of my favorite actors, is perhaps at her worst here. And I don’t think she’s as much to blame as it is the takes that were chosen for the final cut.
But Boden and Fleck do a good job with the story. Captain Marvel subverts certain superhero formulas and shrouds the film in a bit of mystery–although too much at times. The characters are all very likable. Even if Larson is below par, she still brings a certain intangible charisma to Danvers.
It’s fun to see something so far removed from the typical Marvel storylines surrounding the infinity stones and that whole arc–much like the first Captain America film, even though that was so early in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that we weren’t even thinking of it in those terms yet. But Captain Marvel removes itself from the weight of the other MCU films that we’re able to enjoy it without having to stress about applying it to a grander context. I only wish I wasn’t stressing about comprehending the first 30 minutes.