Okay, I haven’t completely lost track. I’ve seen, let’s say, ten movies, including the pathbreaking Best Picture nominee Black Panther. I’ve also seen the first two Avengers, but you can hardly fault me for hesitating to begin an Infinity War.
My more assiduous friends tell me that Captain Marvel is the future of her eponymous universe, destined to take the baton from Captain America in a branding upgrade (America’s brand equity being currently in a state of freefall, while Marvel’s continues to rise) that also reflects the fact that, last time I checked the polls, every moviegoer who doesn’t believe the pyramids are hollow wants to see a woman lead.
Just in the limited number of Marvel movies I’ve caught, our heroes and their adversaries have wreaked havoc on so many places, times, and dimensions that I wasn’t surprised to find Captain Marvel pulling us back to a more innocent time, when No Doubt ruled the airwaves and Newt Gingrich ruled the House. In the ’90s there were still buildings to be flattened and onlookers who might conceivably be surprised to see a woman propelling herself into orbit by summoning a personal power field.
Captain Marvel keeps most of its carnage, though, safely in space. That’s where we first meet Vers (Brie Larson), who along with her sparring partner Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) is engaged in a war against a race of shape-changing beings who, in their native state, land somewhere between Romulans and Klingons. The battle, as all battles for the stars ultimately do, makes its way to Earth. This isn’t the first time Vers has been here, and it won’t be the last.
To say much more about the plot would be either redundant or a spoiler, but suffice it to say she makes new friends (Samuel L. Jackson, playing a young Samuel L. Jackson who’s a little stockier than the one we remember from Pulp Fiction) and reconnects with old pals including Air Force pilot Maria (Lashana Lynch) and Maria’s young daughter Monica (Akira Akbar). Annette Bening also shows up, as a mysterious presence with an unexplained affinity for Nirvana.
Yes, there’s Nirvana. And Hole and T.L.C. and No Doubt, in a film that implicitly invites us to contemplate an alternate timeline in which it was Hillary, not Bill, who rose to power; and in which it was Courtney, not Kurt, who became the face of a generation. In a film co-directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the girl-power allusions may seem a little on the nose, but if this somehow leads to the return of Tank Girl, I’m here for it.
Taking command of the situation, Larson comes across as sort of a cool teacher, never getting too ruffled despite a case of alien-induced amnesia. (This forces Lynch to play an awkward scene where she tearfully explains to Larson that she’s basically the greatest human ever. And the winner is…Skeleton Crew!) A moment where Monica helps Vers pick her new suit colors more or less defines Captain Marvel’s maternal mien; it’s sort of like she’s teaching the kid how to use Microsoft Paint.
Given how far these characters have come from their original comic incarnations, the film’s most moving line may be the one that reminds us this character dates from the ’60s, that she’s been waiting over half a century to get her own movie. “My name,” she says at a climactic moment, “is Carol.”
Outside the theater, before the screening I attended, a little boy gazed at a poster. “You said we’re going to see Captain Marvel,” he said.
“Yes,” confirmed the boy’s dad.
“And it’s a girl.”
The boy nodded, said no more, and walked into the theater.