With Avengers: Endgame just seven weeks away, it’s about time the MCU introduced an extra bit of firepower to bite back at that big purple prick Thanos, so what better time to introduce the single most powerful hero in the franchise to date?

Captain Marvel takes us through the complex backstory of Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) and her rise to becoming the titular character in the midst of an intergalactic war between the Kree and sneaky shape-shifting species, the Skrulls. Utilising flashbacks, dreams and memories heavily, it’s a complicated way to tell a story, but it actually works in the film’s favour. At this point we’ve seen enough superhero origin stories to make the standard formula feel tiresome. Shaking up the structure helps avoid some of those tropes and maintain a genuinely engaging plot.

Despite this, the film continuously suffers from the same pitfalls. The first hour is extremely expository, with clunky dialogue and comedy which doesn’t land nearly enough as it should. Fortunately, they become less prevalent as the story develops and it gathers a momentum which takes it flying through a well-done third act and a satisfying ending.

Heavy-handed filmmaking is very much at the core of those pitfalls. The world-building is very weak, with directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck resorting to forceful 90s pop culture references time and time again. There is so much nostalgic potential with that decade, but rather than create a textured 90s world which feels familiar, all they do is repeat the same joke in increasingly tenuous forms. The saving grace is a terrific female-led soundtrack, which gives the film some desperately needed spirit.

While tonal issues are a problem, a charming narrative does unfold. Brie Larson grows into the role well, bringing rebelliousness and vim to an otherwise slightly uninteresting protagonist.

She’s backed up by a strong supporting cast too. Samuel L. Jackson is a highlight as young Nick Fury. Sporting de-aging special effects, which are becoming scarily natural to Marvel, he owns almost every comedic moment in the film. Seeing a more youthful, wide-eyed Fury is a pleasure to watch.

Jude Law and Ben Mendelsohn also deliver as leaders of the Kree and Skrulls respectively. Mendelsohn in particular is a pleasant surprise, sporting his natural Australian accent – a nice change from his usual, impeccable American impression. Having become typecast as ‘generic blockbuster pantomime villain’ in recent years, here he brings a little more depth and colour to his character.

Perhaps the standout in the supporting cast, however, is Lashana Lynch. A breakout role for a previously jobbing British TV actor, she doesn’t get an awful lot of screen time as Danvers’ former pilot-bestie Maria, but what she does in that time is quite remarkable. One intimate conversation between her and Danvers is dominated by the newcomer, in what is comfortably the most emotional scene in the film.

With the biggest MCU entry yet less than two months away, it would have been tempting to leave Captain Marvel as merely a set-up exercise. Thankfully Kevin Feige and co. stick to their old formula of ensuring each film stands alone first and foremost, allowing the wider threads to naturally weave the universe together. It is a valuable pre-Endgame viewing experience, but that is not its purpose at all.

After 20 male leads in a row, it is long overdue to see a woman front a MCU picture. While the end product unfortunately lands somewhere between mediocre and decent, it is an important step in the right direction for the biggest film franchise on the planet.

3 stars

Image credit: Movie DB

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