Marvel films have enjoyed success over the past several years for a number of reasons, among them that they follow a certain formula when it comes to a superhero's origin story. We had a pretty good idea of the various beats that will be hit along the way, depending on the character. In the case of our newest hero on film, we know that she'll discover her original identity, and through it, find her true form as a superhero and not just a soldier of either Earth or another planet.
That being said, there's a lot of creative wiggle room within that formula, and luckily, Captain Marvel uses that wiggle room to its full advantage, hitting those beats while finding a story that soars (as it says) higher, further, and faster than those before it. Like Black Panther did last year, Captain Marvel is a smarter, more innovative, and definitely more fun origin story, one that plays with 80s and 90s nostalgia while not indulging in it, alongside some great action and a terrific cast that seem to be having the time of their lives.
Vers (Brie Larson) is a soldier of the Kree, a race protecting itself against the Skrull, who apparently are trying to overrun them. Under the guidance of her mentor and unit leader Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), they undertake a mission to save one of their spies. But it's a trap set by their enemies. Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) captures Vers and tries to extract information, but instead revives memories in her that, when she ends up on Earth, cause her to join forces with a young Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to discover her origins and the whereabouts of a mysterious scientist (Annette Benning) who was creating a powerful weapon that could turn the tide of the ware against the Skrulls.
If that, indeed, is what needs to be done. Through investigating her past, Vers is also forced to confront exactly whose side she is on, or should be on, and what an individual must do when they weild the kind of power that she does. How much does memory contribute to who we are, and therefore how we act in the face of obstacles both great and small? For whom should great power be used? How do we confront those we thought we could trust, and how do we make new alliances when too much is still in question?
The real fun begins when Vers arrives on Earth. Yes, she crash-lands in a Blockbuster (and destroys the poster image of a certain action star, indicating that a new breed of action star has arrived), and has an 'alien' moment before she pretty quickly figures out how to handle herself in this strange environment. Once that is over with, it's on to some pretty awesome (if expected Marvel-style) action; and Fury quickly figures out whose side he needs to be on. The nostalgia is given its moments without over-indulgence, keeping the story going at a steady clip.
While the Marvel films has become known for mixing a decent dose of humour with the action, it's tended to be a lot of the dick-swinging kind; not surprising given that up until now the stories have been dominated by male characters. Giving over to a much-needed woman superhero, these quips rise to a new level of clever; usually the more screenwriters there are, the more fractured a narrative and its moments of levity and necessary philosophizing. But Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, (those two also co-directed the film) and Geneva Robertson-Dworet keep the exposition tight and the quips strong and smart. Granted, they take the time to look at how Vers was treated in her human life as Carol, one of the few women (then and I'm guessing now) working as a fighter pilot, where she and her best friend fellow pilot Maria (Lashana Lynch) had to put up with constant referals to their gender as a reason they would never get far and should just 'give up'.
So yes, this is in part giving a voice to women in the Marvel universe; but it's also about the next phase of the franchise, with a newer generation and/our audience who might want a little more than just a few action sequences and cool technology toys. Not that there is any lack of those, so if that's why you go to Marvel films, you will not be disappointed. And the story acts as a bridge between the old and new (so yes, you will want to stay for the ENTIRE film to catch some post credit sequences).
Larson is a perfect fit as Vers/Carol/Captain Marvel, with both her well-developed dramatic acting chops, and her dry wit; you absolutely believe in both her physical power and her mental state that must traverse some rocky terrain between her known and discovered identities. Her scenes with Jackson are the best in the film, they have a great chemistry that at times gives the film a buddy-cop atmosphere. Seasoned veterans Mendelsohn and Benning are both clearly having the time of their lives being a part of the Marvel universe in pivotal roles, and yes, Goose the cat is the magical MVP.
While it is comfortable within the Marvel formula, Captain Marvel still finds its own way to tell its own story, with a new kind of hero, and a story not just about the fate of the universe, but more importantly, those in it, since it's those who live in it that bear the brunt of war as oppose to those who cause those wars. With a great soundtrack, the right kind of girl power, solid cast, exciting action, and the right dose of intelligence and humour, it's a fresh addition to the canon, taking it in a needed new direction.