Marvel Studios’ latest superhero film, Captain Marvel, doesn’t quite hit the stratosphere but certainly soars to the clouds. An entertaining action-packed film with plenty of Marvel-style humour, it is reminiscent of some of the production company’s earlier, more serviceable work, such as Iron Man 2 (2010), Thor (2011) or Captain America: The First Avenger (2011).

Sure, it is an origin film, and at a disadvantage being set well before the cliff-hanger moments of Avengers: Infinity War (2018) where there are no other superheroes with guest performances to spice things up. But it is an origin film of the Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) good variety, rather than a spectacular origin story at the level of Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), Black Panther (2018) or even Wonder Woman (2017), if we’re looking at the competition.

This is in spite of the solid performances. Despite the concerns expressed by the fanboys after the trailers, Brie Larson (Carol Danvers), the ex-air force pilot-turned-titular powerful intergalactic superhero, is an excellent lead. As a woman coming to terms with deep deception and memory lapses, she effectively displays the vulnerability that allows us to empathise with her, as well as the strength and confidence we can admire. As far as her incredible energy-based powers are concerned, there is an unadulterated, almost childlike joy to her that few actors in superhero roles have managed to capture.

Captain Marvel is Marvel Studios’ first female-driven superhero film and while it may not be spectacular, for the most part, it is very good

In the supporting role is Samuel L. Jackson, playing a young Nick Fury, the future director of S.H.I.E.L.D. who will eventually go on to form a team of heroes tasked with defending Earth against superhuman threats. He is his usual spirited self here, but what really sets him apart are the ground-breaking special effects, which make him look as naturally young as he did in Pulp Fiction (1994).

Every time the veteran foul-mouthed actor was on screen, I’d squint as hard as I could trying to find a flaw in the magic, but I could feel no uncanny valley. Likewise, the other special effects are equally good. When Captain Marvel eventually takes flight in her full glory through space, destroying missiles and spaceships, the visuals are gorgeous and authentic, as if torn straight from the comic book.

Where Captain Marvel sputters a little is in the narrative which, aside from a few emotional sequences, feels quite cookie-cutter. There were instances where I felt directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck could have pushed the envelope ala Black Panther, especially when the film tackles a refugee crisis.

Where Captain Marvel sputters a little is in the narrative which, aside from a few emotional sequences, feels quite cookie-cutter. There were instances where I felt directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck could have pushed the envelope ala Black Panther, especially when the film tackles a refugee crisis. Though these scenes tug at the heartstrings, they could have been significantly more thought-provoking had the filmmakers been courageous. In terms of theme, while Captain Marvel is set in the mid-90s, it doesn’t quite capitalise on its era as Guardians of the Galaxy did, aside from a few songs and a nod to a dinosaur of the video era, Blockbuster.

Of course, Captain Marvel is Marvel Studios’ first female-driven superhero film, and it acknowledges this in a subtle manner that proves to be quite moving. We note that all her life, Carol Danvers was told to hold back because of her gender, and ultimately she gives a mansplaining villain exactly what he deserves, with a punch and a one-liner that will leave every believer in equality cheering.

PG-13 for sci-fi violence, action and brief suggestive language

Published in Dawn, ICON, March 17th, 2019