From very early on, the MCU has had films that felt more like warm-up acts than anything. Spectacular segways into more significant chapters that redefined the world that had been built, and they didn’t necessarily hit as high a mark as others in the roster. Captain America preceded The Avengers, finally introducing the leader of the super team we know was due to form but didn’t necessarily give him the greatest opening. Now, an incredible eight years later, the same issue can be said for the latest high-titled hero that steps in before we reach the endgame.
Set over a decade before the events of Iron Man, Captain Marvel sees the perfectly cast Brie Larson as Vers, a hero with a past she can’t remember. Fighting alongside a highly revered space force on the other side of the galaxy, this human who doesn’t even know she is one is a hot-shot waiting to blow, blessed with a power of unknown origin that she’s fighting to control. When a mission goes sideways, Vers is bagged by a shape-shifting enemy race known as the Skrulls and probed by their leader Talos for the memories she had since left untouched. Doing so, leads her back to her home planet – which you’d be surprised to know, is ours – crossing paths with a young Nicholas James Fury before his unfortunate eye accident.
For a film bent on balancing so many plates, it becomes clear that it can’t quite manage to keep many of them steady. Larson as wonderful as she is in the role is handling an origin story that is as scatty as her character’s memory. There’s an immense lack of attention in fleshing Vers out and detailing the human side of this super-human. Though it’s understandable that the hero struggling with their past may be familiar ground to walk across, it feels like an element that could fortify and help us understand her a little better, ultimately making the search for resolve more satisfying. Of course, it doesn’t help that those connected to it don’t quite add much, either.
It’s fair to say not everyone can tap into this Marvel magic, simply because they don’t get enough time with it. Jude Law as Vers’ mentor Yon-Rogg is predictable and makes little impact, wasting the charm he could apply so well to the character. Meanwhile, the likes of Clark Gregg reprising his role as Coulson and Guardians of the Galaxy alumni Djimon Hounsou and Lee Pace provide nothing, other than fan service. There’s also Annette Bening breezing her way through the little screentime she has, and not being given a chance to be the guide she could be to Larson’s hot-shot hero. Thankfully, even with these concerns, Captain Marvel escapes them as soon as it brings in the Fury.
Echoing The Long Kiss Goodnight (a story of another amnesiac hero), Captain Marvel improves the second Samuel L Jackson introduces himself to the woman ‘dressed for Lazer Tag’. With CGI shaving off the years, observing the eventual Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s initiation into a bigger world that he doesn’t know yet makes for enjoyable viewing. Shifting gears from being the character notorious for being the coolest cat in the room, this Fury loses his head at the news of deceptive alien races or seeing literal cats for that matter. Jackson clearly has an absolute blast, and he and Larson have exceptional chemistry together that you want to see more of.
The real surprise though is Ben Mendelsohn, who like his race of alien, slips in unnoticed as the film’s surprise treat. Having rarely given a bad performance in any previous roles, here he’s an exceptional adversary to Vers and one that continues to surprise. Hearing that familiar rasp escape this green-skinned menace brings Talos to life wonderfully and only gets better with every time we get a close encounter. Ultimately though, the weight of this section of the comic book world we’ve become obsessed with rests on Larson’s shoulders and she carries it as well as you’d expect. Captain Marvel might not be the best launchpad for the universe’s strongest hero, but she can only go higher, further, faster from here.