'Captain Marvel' Review: An Inspirational, Complex Origin Tale

The first Marvel Studios production of the year takes things back in time with Captain Marvel, a 1995 origin story for one of the big screen world's most powerful and important heroes. While the story is loaded with new and expansive elements for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, some of its best moments spawn from familiar vibes while the movie (like its titular hero) looks to discover its true identity.

Starting the film with tremendous powers and abilities, Brie Larson's Carol Danvers is not on a quest to obtain superhero status. She is already stronger than most Avengers characters fans have come to know. Instead, she is seeking information regarding her past, a puzzle which remains blurry for the superheroine and the audience until later in the film.

In fact, Captain Marvel's narrative is built on mysteries straight from launch -- possibly too many mysteries. An abundant amount of questions are posed to the audience within the first few minutes of the film, leaving little room for character development early on. This is why the second half of the film becomes more of a fun thrill ride than its preceding hour. Questions get answered and character personalities are more able to shine through.

Larson's presence on screen comes with an earnest sense of determination with little other depth to Carol's personality shining through. It may be an intentional decision as the character's goals and growth are ever-present, but attempts at one-liners indicate a desire to have made her a bit more fun. An early scene including Larson, Djimon Hounsou, Gemma Chan, and Jude Law quickly shows that the comedic chops and timing are going to shine elsewhere as Hounsou steals the first early laugh of the film. Whereas actors such as Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, and Gal Gadot have an ability to command the screen and offer witty banter on a dime, Larson's attempts seem to be missing that timing spark for true magic. However, toss her into an earthbound scene with Lashana Lynch later in the movie and the rhythm gets rolling as emotion and answers being to pour out.

As Captain Marvel sees the titular heroine asking so many questions about the world and herself, it will be interesting to see if more of Carol's personality starts to come through from Larson's character as she becomes more comfortable in her own skin. Avengers: Endgame will be a true test of this, given it takes place more than 20 years after Carol Danvers became a hero and has a Russo Brothers directing team who may make different choices than Captain Marvel's Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck.

Much of the highlights of the film are offered when Captain Marvel heads to earth via crashing into a Blockbuster surrounded by '90s-era references, including a flawlessly de-aged Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. If there is any chemistry in the film worth noting, it's the impressive relationship established by Larson and Jackson as their characters become unlikely friends during a possible space invasion on their shared home planet.

No Marvel space invasion would be this compelling without the Skrulls, a batch of shapeshifting menaces who make for tremendously exciting villains. The notion of not being certain whether the old lady beside you on the subway or best friend hanging out in your living room is truly the person they seem makes for all sorts of brilliant, unexpected moments. Captain Marvel capitalizes on several opportunities to use Skrulls in surprising ways, ushering in a group of baddies which could be the Infinity Stone-equivalent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's next phases. Possible wishful thinking, but it could all be leading toward a popular "Secret Invasion" story from Marvel Comics. If Ben Mendelsohn's Talos is any part of future Marvel Cinematic Universe movies featuring Skrulls, Marvel Studios is all but guaranteed its next hit.

Marvel Comics fans will find extra enjoyment in the film as it fully embraces the cosmic source material in ways which Marvel Studios had to earn over years. Shapeshifting aliens, characters like Yon-Rogg or Minn-Erva, and a Flerken (if you don't know, you will soon) had to be ushered into Marvel's movie world after it eased into the zanier cosmic elements ahead of time in films like Thor, then Guardians of the Galaxy, and then Avengers: Infinity War. The cosmic content of Captain Marvel is among some of the film's best elements, and fans with knowledge of each character's source material history and potential future will have a blast depicting where they might be going.

When it gets rolling, Captain Marvel is exactly what it wants to be: an inspirational story told with an abundant level of heart. It's a big, welcome step forward (by stepping backward in time) in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which feels like both a history lesson for the long-running fan and a fresh take which a casual moviegoer can walk in to enjoy. The heartfelt, surprising plot twists and a lead character so determined to succeed help this movie do just that.

Captain Marvel shines brightest when it uses elements which have worked for Marvel Studios in the past. The film is entirely unique in terms of narrative, timing, and locations. However, Goose (Carol's scene-stealing cat) can be compared to Groot of the first Guardians of the Galaxy, airborne fights bear resemblances to Iron Man in the first Avengers movie, and some characters are outright pulled from previous appearances to reprise roles in welcome fashion (such as Lee Pace's Ronan and Hounsou's Korath). Throw the Captain Marvel paint job on some of these aspects and they feel brand new, if not more fun this time around.

In welcoming a female hero to the big screen as the centerpiece of her own film, Marvel Studios has an expansive and fun hit on its hands. Captain Marvel offers up a complex, heartfelt tale which will leave audiences (especially the young girls watching) feeling inspired and satisfied. This is a brand-new type of hero for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and, while it doesn't reinvent Marvel's ever-successful formula, Captain Marvel is an exciting and fresh adventure.

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Rating: 4 out of 5

Captain Marvel releases in theaters on March 8th.