By Eleanor Ringel Cater
“Wonder Woman” was, in many ways, wonderful. But “Captain Marvel is, well, a marvel.
Not to take anything away from Gal Gadot and her magic lasso, but there was a slight whiff of déjàvu in her fish-out-of-water culture clashes, as anyone who remembers Darryl Hannah in “Splash” might agree.
As played by Oscar winner Brie Larson, Captain Marvel is, well, a different kettle of fish (sorry…). She’s someone we haven’t quite seen before – a powerful woman with a certain self-awareness, some endearing insecurities and a bona fide sense of humor.
Given the convoluted mythology surrounding Captain Marvel, this is a lot harder to pull off than it sounds.
Vers (Larson), as Captain Marvel is called, is introduced as a member of the Kree, “a noble warrior race,” locked in a galactic struggle against the shape-shifting Skrull who apparently like to take over planets and destroy them. Vers’ mentor, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), keeps reminding her the more emotion she shows, the less effective she’ll be. But how can she eschew emotion when she’s nagged by these vague memories of another time, another place, another… self.
After an introductory battle (so generic, I went out for popcorn), Vers finds herself on Planet 53 (aka Earth, circa 1995). She actually crash-lands in a Blockbuster, pauses in front of a “Rock The Vote” sign and when she asks where to find “communication equipment,” she’s directed to the nearest Radio Shack. Like I said, a very different sort of fish-out-of-water. Gender neutral, you might say.
Anyway, while the Kree/Skrull face-off continues, Vers is confronted with shards of her past – when she was Carol Danvers, an Air Force pilot whose boss was one Wendy Lawson (Annette Bening) and whose best friend and fellow pilot, Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), has backed off from the military to spend time with her precocious little girl.
More importantly – in Marvel Universe terms – Vers becomes buddies with a young Nick Fury (a digitally regressed Samuel L. Jackson), sprouting a full head of hair and both eyes.
Their relationship is crucial to “Captain Marvel’s” success. Jackson hasn’t seen this engaged in years and his repartee with Larson is delightful. Every bit as winning is his unexpected fondness for an orange tabby named Goose who – semi-spoiler alert – seems to have wandered over from a “Men in Black” movie.
Still, Larson is the one who carries the burden of “Captain Marvel” and she does so with admirable ease. Her Vers is smart, wary and pretty much nonplussed by all the universe throws her way.
She’s, well, relatable, much like Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark (though in an entirely different manner). And watch all the little things she does – like blowing a wisp of hair out of her face. Not exactly super-powered stuff, but, again, that’s what makes this movie – and its superb superhero – very much its own thing.