Warning: This review contains mild spoilers for Captain Marvel.
At one point in Captain Marvel, Kree commander Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) yells some words at his protégé, Vers (Brie Larson): "I made you the best version of yourself!"
If you're a woman, you've probably heard those words before, or at least, some version of them. They're the words of the guy on a bad date who makes you feel guilty for not having a good time; or the boss who takes credit for your work during a meeting; or, who are we kidding, it could just be some random guy trying to nab an empty subway seat.
Granted, in this case, those words have something to do with complex alien technology and a secret energy core, but still. They hit home.
The film is very aware of its status as the first woman-lead installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (It only took 21 installments to get here, but hey, who's counting?) There's even an empowering montage that is the film equivalent of Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger." But it works. Not only does the movie fill in some of the gaps of the MCU that we'll need going into Avengers: Endgame, it sets up a whole new superhero that we'll want to stick with come April.
Captain Marvel is an unusual origin story. We don't know who she is, but neither does she. She actually comes with two backstories: In one life, she's Vers, a Kree "hero-warrior" living on planet Hala, which is ruled by an AI leader called the Supreme Intelligence. In the other, she's Carol Danvers, a U.S. Air Force pilot who loves karaoke and Guns & Roses T-shirts. Captain Marvel (a.k.a. the version who flies around in the blue and red suit and glows with fiery power) is the sum of those dual identities. (I won't spoil how that happens or why. See it!)
When we first meet Vers, she's been living on Kree for six years, since she arrived there with no memories or past. She's been trained as part of an elite group of warriors led by Yon-Rogg whose mission is to eradicate a threat posed by the Skrulls, a race of shape-shifting aliens hell-bent on infiltrating other planets. During a mission gone wrong, she crash lands to Earth (into that famous Blockbuster from the trailer) circa 1995, where she teams up with a young Nick Fury (a remarkably de-aged Samuel L. Jackson). As the two fight off some stray Skrulls (led by a hilarious Ben Mendelsohn), Vers starts to realize that the key to her past lies on C-53 (that's the Kree name for Earth — we're not that special).
Yes, it's a little convoluted, and yes, it is highly funny that everyone in the film goes to great lengths to stress that one of the character's names is Mar-Vell (two words!), but Captain Marvel neatly fits into the pantheon of Marvel's best. (Obviously, I'm referring to Thor: Ragnarok.)
Larson carries a difficult role with a grin and a swagger that matches Tom Cruise's in Top Gun. She's perfectly cast in this nod to the '80s and '90s — and would make a great pairing with Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) from Alien and Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) in the Terminator franchise. But her confidence is especially striking in that it does feel so alien. Like Wonder Woman (and this is the only comparison you'll get from me), she's an outsider who doesn't feel burdened by the constraints of normal women — she doesn't even know to be concerned with them.
C0-directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (who also co-wrote the screenplay with Geneva Robertson-Dworet), the film offers a refreshing take on tired tropes. Rather than relying on a male love interest to trigger Danvers' memories through emotion, they pivot to her best friend and fellow pilot, Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch, who is without a doubt the film's breakout star). Theirs feels like a real, deep friendship between two women, the likes of which we've rarely seen in a genre like this.
Marvel's owned the superhero-as-comedy genre since 2015, when they decided to make a real movie about a guy who plays with ants. Captain Marvel benefits from the groundwork laid in Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, and even Avengers: Infinity War. The dialogue is quippy, and the film's pacing bops along nicely due to the remarkable chemistry between Larson and Jackson, the buddies we never knew we needed. (Soon joined by Goose, cinema's most charismatic cat.) And who is the genius who cast Annette Bening as the Supreme Intelligence?
The '90s setting gives Captain Marvel a chance to flex its creativity. The soundtrack is a stream of hits from No Doubt to Nirvana, the costumes range from grunge to space-chic, and there's even a Radio Shack joke! That being said, viewers will benefit from at least some basic knowledge of previous Marvel films. For the uninitiated, Guardians of the Galaxy is a good place to start, and I'd also recommend the first Captain America and first Avengers films. (If you don't already know who Nick Fury is, well, I should tell you you're in for a bit of a ride.) But even non Marvel experts will likely still enjoy the film's action and overall plot, even if they miss out on some of the big winks.
And if, like me, you cried when Peter Parker turned to dust (I...still can't), stay for the credits. Help is on the way, and she eats big purple aliens for breakfast.