Captain Marvel Blasts through Marvel’s Cinematic Glass Ceiling

Nearly a year ago, Avengers: Infinity War left us jittering with joy when Nick Fury’s uber-pager flashed that familiar eight-pointed star in red and blue. Captain Marvel was officially in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Flash-forward to today, and Carol Danvers is hitting screens to take things higher, further, faster. Here’s your spoiler-free review of the MCU’s first female-led film.

Captain Marvel emerges from Blockbuster Video. Film Frame/Marvel Studios

We’ve known for a while that Captain Marvel would take place in the ’90s and wouldn’t link up to the events of Infinity War. But that certainly didn’t stop the hype train, as ticket presales were massive and fans viewed trailers tens of millions of times. Jumping back 25-ish years is the perfect backdrop for today’s audiences: GenXers and millennials get to ride the nostalgia wave while younger viewers can embrace its retro vibe. Callbacks include the nearly extinct Blockbuster Video, Nine Inch Nails, good ol’ VHS tapes, pay phones, and much, much more. The soundtrack, which hasn’t even been released yet, gives you the same exciting feeling as that of Guardians of the Galaxy, even if the songs don’t go on long enough. It was nice to relive a bit of my youth, though I’m much happier being able to carry around a computer in my pocket.

Fighter pilots prepare for takeoff. Film Frame/Marvel Studios

Danvers spends much of the movie trying to put together her own background in a Memento-esque memory puzzle. While the layout isn’t completely linear, it’s still an origin story, which isn’t a bad thing. Captain Marvel’s start is a story we deserve to hear and one that is Marvel’s most empowering to date. Everything in the film makes you just feel good—a wash of endorphins fills your body with each act. Most of this feeling can be attributed to Brie Larson’s fantastic acting chops (she has won an Oscar, you know) and her having spent more than nine months working out and training for the fight scenes (she can now probably kick any of us straight across a room). Larson’s biting sarcasm and humor adds so much to the character you can almost guarantee she’ll fit right in with whichever Avengers aren’t dust after Endgame. Danvers and her best friend, Maria Rambeau, along with Maria’s daughter, have a familiar familial bond we can all relate to. The kind of friends who would do anything and everything for those they love.

Two-eyed Fury listens closely. Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios

But Captain Marvel isn’t the only MCU character to get an origin story here: Nick Fury and Phil Coulson both return (preturn?) to big roles in the film. As the trailers revealed, Fury teams up with Danvers to track down the shapeshifting alien Skrull threat. Samuel L. Jackson finally gets to act with both eyes, and the production team has digitally de-aged his face to match his status as agent rather than director in SHIELD, alongside Clark Gregg as the new guy. We also see a couple other familiar faces in Lee Pace‘s Ronan and Djimon Hounsou‘s Korath, both of whom appeared in the first Guardians flick. All these throwbacks lead to the numerous MCU in-jokes scattered throughout the movie. While this won’t detract from newcomers enjoying the movie, they might have some questions once the credits roll.

Captain Marvel powers up. Film Frame/Marvel Studios

Because we know all these characters exist in the future, there isn’t a lot of trepidation over whether they live or perish. And that’s really the only story problem of Captain Marvel: it’s a fun and exciting adventure, but there’s not much on the line given that we already know much of the outcome. Don’t get me wrong, this is still an incredible movie and adds a great level female kick-assness to a male-heavy universe. Fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer will get the same goosebumps here that they got from a woman realizing her true power in the finale of that series. After my first viewing (of many to come), I need to know why we had to wait 20 Marvel movies to finally get this film. It could have easily fit much earlier in the MCU without messing with any plot lines. The extended geek community deserves more than 5 percent of their Marvel pictures to be female led and titled.

So go see it, then see it again, and see it again with friends and family. Let Marvel know how much we want female characters running the show in Phase 4! Also, be prepared for Stan Lee‘s final live cameo, and—I can’t believe I still have to say this—stay all the way through the credits. (A disturbing number of people left right away at my screening.)

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