Review: ‘Captain Marvel,’ Identity and Superpowers Collide

dfn_captain_marvel_poster_300An identity crisis lies at the heart of Marvel’s latest super-powered adventure.

Vers (Brie Larson) has lived on the planet Hala for six years, constantly training to become a more effective warrior under the tutelage of Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). The planet is the capital of the Kree Empire, which has been engaged in fierce warfare with the rival Skrull people for dominance in their galaxy, far from Earth. Both races of people are super-powered by Earth standards; while the Krees appear to be better weaponized and can summon greater firepower, the Skrulls can shape-shift, which gives them an advantage in close combat situations.

Having arrived on Hala with no clear memories of her past life, Vers is now suffering from troubling nightmares in which she is a military warrior on a different planet. One day, she shares in a rescue mission that somehow lands her on planet Earth in the year 1995. She is followed by a small team of Skrull warriors, who immediately engage her in further battle. Two inexperienced S.H.I.E.L.D. agents are caught in the middle: young Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and his partner, young Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg).

Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who also shared credit for the screenplay with Geneva Robertson-Dworet (from a story credited to all three, as well as Nicole Perlman and Meg LeFauve), Captain Marvel gets off to a curious start, which may reflect Boden and Fleck’s approach to storytelling. (Their past films, which I have not seen, include the independent dramas Half Nelson, Sugar, It’s Kind of a Funny Story and Mississippi Grind.)

An extended memory sequence, which takes place early during the abortive rescue mission, is jumbled and confusing. It throws off the film’s momentum and it takes a good while to recover. Yet, upon reflection, that feels entirely appropriate to the story at hand.

The woman known as Vers is suffering from an identity crisis. She is strong, confident and fearless, and it’s not entirely due to her superpowered ability to blast things at will. She reflects the same warrior mentality as her Kree brethren (notably Djimon Hounsou and Gemma Chan) and she is similarly determined to carry out her new mission: to find out who she is, to defeat her enemies, and to be kind to puny humans like Nick Fury.

The latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the first to revolve entirely around a woman and it is distinctly different from its predecessors. It still falls victim to Marvel’s evident propensity for extended action sequences that become little more than meaningless, animated battle scenes. The prominent presence of young Nick Fury is another reminder that this is, at heart, just another installment in a series that has already run more than a decade.

Still, the different beats are refreshing. Lashana Lynch brings welcome relief as a human mother and former military pilot, while Ben Mendelsohn supplies a human face to his villainy, and Annette Bening is Annette Bening. Brie Larson is a more than capable star, a woman who is grappling with her identity while saving the planet. It all adds up nicely in Captain Marvel.

The film enjoys preview screenings tonight and opens in theaters throughout Dallas on Friday, March 8.