“Captain Marvel”

 

            We have a new comic book superhero portrayed on the big screen, and her name is Captain Marvel.  And, we have a new star to play the fantasy sci-fi role:  Brie Larson, who won a Golden Globe and an Oscar for Best Actress in “Room” (2016).  She's a good choice, because not only can she convincincly pull off a comic book character, she can do so without irony or farce.  She's compelling enough to maintain our attention, but she's not so drop-dead gorgeous that she just looks like a beauty queen or a fashion model posing in different costumes.  Best of all, she has the chops to play opposite big-name types like Samuel L. Jackson and Jude Law without getting overwhelmed by their commanding screen presence.  And as many times as she picks herself up off the floor and dives back into the fray, we want to root for her, even if we still don't quite know who she is yet.  Because neither does she.

            It's not in chronological order, but we find out that Captain Marvel begins as Carol Danvers, an Air Force pilot.  She has a best friend, Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), also a jet pilot, and she has a mentor, played by Annette Bening.  It's while she's on a test run with her mentor that the crash happens, and they both survive---barely.  But it turns out that her mentor is bleeding blue, because she's really an alien.  Specifically, she's a Kree, but the Krees don't like her any more because she's helping out the Skrulls, or Shape-Shifters, because she found out that her species, the Krees, were actually oppressing and enslaving the Skrulls.  It was a Kree operative, played by Jude Law, who shot down the aircraft, and finishes off the Mentor, but in the big explosion afterwards, Carol Danvers gets exposed to the blue power source, and suddenly, you guessed it, she has superpowers.  She also has a fuzzy memory and some vestigial head trauma.  This enables Jude Law to act like a good guy, and train “Mar-vel” (Carol Danver's new name) in how to use her newfound powers, and specifically, how to not let her emotions get the better of her, especially in a brawl.  But their fighting group gets separated when they're ambushed by the Skrulls, and “Mar-vel” winds up falling through a Blockbuster video store in 1995.

            That's when Samuel L. Jackson arrives on the scene as Nick Fury, an investigative detective and retired military colonel (the Marvel universe afficianados will recognize the part they're grooming him toward).  At first Jackson and Law are both chasing Brie, and it takes us a while to sort out who's the good guy, especially when Ben Mendelsohn arrives on the scene as Talon, a Skrull operative.  For Carol Danvers, it takes a visit back to her best friend Maria to restore her equilibrium, and assume her full superhero identity as....Captain Marvel!  On the way to saving Earth from the nasty aliens, they manage to get in some lighthearted moments, particularly with a tabby cat who just might be a shape-shifting space alien herself.

            It's a fun story that all the Marvel fans will excitedly gobble up, all ready for the inevitable sequel, which is already in post-production.  And as long as we keep going to see these big-screen comic-book stories with elaborate and imaginative computer graphic imaging, Hollywood is going to keep cranking them out.  But it's a considerable distance from a period piece, tea room drama like “The Favourite,” which won Best Actress for someone else this year.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association