Captain Marvel

4 out of 5

Directed by: Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck

Following the release chronology of the Marvel movies, their poking and prodding at their formula was first somewhat tested with the first Avengers movie – a movie banking on the success of the lead-ins to bolster it – and then even more riskily with Guardians of the Galaxy, which fully stepped outside of a recognizability comfort zone and Earth-bound setting for some oddball characters and outer space action.  With the huge success of that, it gave the brand / studio confidence to keep rolling with it, giving us B-tier or weirder characters, though as we kept chugging through Phase 2 and 3, this meant that that formula had very much been finalized.  Which isn’t necessarily a dig: I’ve enjoyed the majority of the Marvel movies in terms of entertainment, and I’m comfortable stating that they’ve maintained a surprising level of quality, both scriptwise and visually, even with the entries I haven’t much cared for.

Is Captain Marvel breaking that mold?  No, not really.  CM may also rate as a ‘lesser’ character from the roster, and there’s the for better or worse acknowledgment of the film’s notability for being the first female-led hero flick from Marvel, but neither of those rate as “risks” at this point for the studio, such is their clout with their audience.  However, this may be the first MCU film to use the formula’s reliability to deviate from it: sure, Kree-adoptee “Vers” (Brie Larson) may learn about the cause of her plasma-blasting powers during the course of the movie, but it’s not exactly an origin tale.  Yes, the Skrulls tracking her (led by Ben Mendelsohn) may fill the role as villains, but they’re never quite dressed up as the typical Big Bads, as it’s clear that Vers can pretty much take them out at will.  The movie doesn’t start with typical hand-holding or an action brawl, but rather with a low key scuffle between Vers and her squadron leader / trainer Yon-Rogg (Jude Law); Vers’ dialogue has its share of one-liners, but Larson gives them a plaintive confidence that’s a refreshing splinter from the usual braggadocio of the Tony Stark model or the snark of every other hero.  The movie, and its emerging hero of Vers as Captain Marvel – very much thanks to Larson’s representation of her – knows its strengths, and doesn’t bother masking that.  It is undeniably dressed up in some Big Budget trappings, during which directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck lose the engaging-ness of their roving, on-the-move camera, but those sequences aren’t played up with necessarily more importance than the inbetween beats, that find Vers stranded on a 90s Earth, hustling and bustling in a great buddy-cop format with young SHIELD agents Nick Fury and Coulson (Samuel L. Jackson and Clark Gregg, of course) and reconnecting with things she’s discovered she’s left behind on the planet.

Captain Marvel is absolutely recognizable as a Marvel movie.  But now that several other films have explored the boundaries of what the MCU can contain, the film shows that there are still ways of remixing the established vibe to present something fresh and very, very fun.