“CAPTAIN MARVEL” — 3½ stars — Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law, Gemma Chan, Djimon Hounsou; PG-13 (sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive language); in general release; running time: 124 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — The big tent superhero season is officially upon us.
“Captain Marvel,” the highly anticpated new offering from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, ushers in that season perfectly. The film manages to introduce an exciting new character to the MCU while simultaneously setting up audiences for April’s new Avengers movie, “Avengers: Endgame.”
Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, “Captain Marvel” marks the first female-led entry to the MCU (at least in the modern era, all due respect to Jennifer Garner’s “Elektra”). The film is a creative origin story for Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel, wrapped up in a plot with more twists and turns than you might expect.
We meet our protagonist on a distant world called Hala, where Danvers (Brie Larson) is part of a combat unit fighting against an invading race called the Skrulls. Danvers is ambitious and seems to be harboring some unique powers, but her squad leader Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) is coaching her to keep those powers — and her emotions — in check.
This is a challenge for many reasons, not the least being that Danvers only has fleeting memories of her mysterious past. But her path to discovery starts when a failed mission drops her on mid-1990s Earth, tailed by a half-dozen of the shape-shifting Skrulls.
Here, Danvers meets a young(ish) Agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who is laboring away for the clandestine government agency SHIELD. At this point in time, Fury doesn't yet need his stylish signature eye patch — and thanks to Danvers, they’re beginning to understand the interstellar scope of his job.
Trust is a process for Danvers and Fury, but slowly they come together to take on the Skrulls. Along the way, Danvers starts to piece together a past that proves to have a few local connections.
The Oscar-winning Larson is strong in the inspiring lead role, balancing Danvers’ emerging confidence against a fresh and witty personality. The “Bourne Identity”-style unpacking of her past makes for an engaging origin story for anyone tiring of the standard comic formula. And the Skrulls plot has a few surprises of its own.
To bolster the story, “Captain Marvel” boasts a strong lineup of special effects and action sequences, tempered by the erstwhile Marvel sense of humor and a nostalgic soundtrack packed with 1990s throwbacks. It’s especially fun to have a young Nick Fury along for the ride, as “Captain Marvel” also becomes a bit of an origin story for the future Avengers leader.
But while “Captain Marvel” works perfectly well as a standalone film, most fans will be especially excited to see how this movie sets up “Avengers: Endgame.” Last year’s “Avengers: Infinity War” suggested Larson’s character would be a key figure in “Endgame.” “Captain Marvel” does offer some teasers, particularly in one of the film's two post-credits scenes.
Happily, “Captain Marvel” also features a pair of moving tributes to Marvel Comics' creative mastermind Stan Lee, who passed away last year. Altogether, it’s hard to find much of anything too disappointing about Boden and Fleck’s new film. The only real letdown might be fans’ realization that they still have to wait another few months till “Endgame” hits theaters. After this one, audiences should be primed and ready.
Rating explained: “Captain Marvel” is rated PG-13 for your usual CGI-heavy action mayhem, as well as some sporadic profanity.