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With: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan, Annette Bening, Clark Gregg, Jude Law
Written by: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Geneva Robertson-Dworet, based on a story by Meg LeFauve, Nicole Perlman, Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Geneva Robertson-Dworet
Directed by: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive language
Running Time: 124
Date: 03/08/2019

Captain Marvel (2019)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Brie Spirit

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Opening Friday in theaters everywhere, Captain Marvel is the twenty-first entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe series, and maintains the high quality with which that series has come to be associated; it's perhaps the most consistently above-average film franchise of all time.

Directed by the team of Anna Boden — the first female director in the entire series — and Berkeley-born, Oakland-raised Ryan Fleck, Captain Marvel is certainly above average.

It hits a few beats that feel perhaps a little too familiar, drops its needle into a few well-worn grooves, but in the end, it has a girl-power zing that lifts and exhilarates.

The main character, who is the first solo female headliner of the series, has a complex history in comics, and would take too much space to explain here. The movie has simplified it somewhat, but one still needs to be on one's toes to follow along.

Rather than presenting the old, traditional origin story all at the start, Fleck and Boden have opted to sprinkle it throughout the movie, revealing bits and pieces a little at a time. This also includes switched alliances and other reveals that, to keep track of, require something of a checklist. But it does eventually become clear.

Brie Larson plays the title character, best known as Carol Danvers. The Oscar-winner happily draws less on her somber performance in Room and more on her livelier, spunkier ones in Short Term 12 and Kong: Skull Island.

At first she may seem a little too soft to play a hardcore superhero, but her no-nonsense delivery, cracking jokes in a lower register, fills in the blanks beautifully. She's awesome.

As it begins, she's part of a force of Kree fighters, at war against the reptilian, shape-shifting Skrulls. At this point, she can fire energy blasts from her hands, and her mentor, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) encourages her to fight without relying on them.

She has no memory of her past. But during a mission, she's captured by a Skrull called Talos (Ben Mendelsohn, also in Boden and Fleck's excellent Mississippi Grind) and hooked up to a device that reads her mind. Certain flashes of memories are uncovered, creating a new puzzle.

She escapes, lands on Earth in 1995 — the movie has a fun array of songs and references from that period, including a brilliant cameo by the late, great Stan Lee — and runs into a young Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).

Together they must figure out what's going on, who Carol really is, and hopefully stop a full-fledged alien war on earth.

Further explanation is perhaps necessary, but the movie has so many delightful twists that it's better not to say more. However, Marvel fans may want to re-watch 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy to better spot the connections.

Boden and Fleck are better known for character-driven indies (Sugar, Mississippi Grind, etc.) and whenever the movie's plot becomes a little much, it's the characters in Captain Marvel that soar out the other side. Their instant, deep connections help move things forward at a respectable pace.

Pinar Toprak's measured, inspiring score, the first in the Marvel series composed by a woman, also gives a boost.

As a spectacle, the movie doesn't seem to rise to the level of the most visually impressive of the Marvel movies; its special effects are not its strongest aspect. It doesn't rely on them. But it's soulful and lovable, ironically "earthy," perhaps closer to Ant-Man than to the majestic Black Panther.

Many of the Marvel movies, at least for this reviewer, seem to improve upon subsequent viewings, and Captain Marvel is a ripe candidate for that status, hence a 3-star review today could easily become a 3-1/2 star review tomorrow.

Most importantly, its final stretch, when Carol actually becomes the full-fledged Captain Marvel, spreads her wings and soars, it's electrifying, as if generations of women had finally, refreshingly burst out of cocoons, took to the skies, set things right, and looked amazing doing it.

Disney's Blu-ray release features the expected high-quality digital transfer and crisp audio, as well as many language and subtitle options. There are a half-dozen behind-the-scenes featurettes, nearly 9 minutes of deleted scenes, and a 2-minute gag reel, in addition to a commentary track by directors Fleck and Boden. This may not feel like one of the major Marvel movies, but it's one of the lightest and most fun, and worth seeing more than once.

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