Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck have been a team for over a decade. Together they have made a series of excellent independent films that have grossed just over ten million dollars domestically. Their last film together, the great Mississippi Grind, didn’t even gross over two hundred thousand at the domestic box office. So, it came as quite a surprise when the announcement came they would be helming Captain Marvel. Though they have made some excellent films together, nothing on their resume seemed to say they have the proclivity to helm a massive tent pole film.

Now, the final product is here and all I can say is that their sensibilities, for the most part, translate well to the Marvel format. Directing a superhero film is always a bit of thankless task in some ways. The true auteur is Kevin Feige and as the director of an individual film you have to understand that at least a quarter of the run time will be dedicated to action set pieces. Part of their job is to infuse the rest of it with some spirit and life.

This origin story treads no new ground in the Marvel formula, but it is buoyed by deft performances and a richly felt emotional punch that few of these films have. The proceedings kick off to a rather precarious start as we are introduced to Carol Danvers training on an alien planet with Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). They are looking to eradicate the Skrulls when Carol is captured. She quickly escapes and finds herself falling through the roof of a Blockbuster Videos in 1995 America. This got some hearty laughs, but being a former Blockbuster employee I was annoyed that the movies weren’t in the right sections and didn’t follow any alphabetical cataloging… but I digress.

Danvers teams with a young Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) as she begins to slowly piece together her former life. This middle portion of the film is the type of buddy cop film that we don’t really see in 2019. It has a genuinely throwback vibe to it that was incredibly enticing. The chemistry between Larson and Jackson is a true highlight of the film.

The villain, Talos, is played by a deliciously fun Ben Mendelsohn. This storyline brings in a layer of political relevance with a plot that centers on Talos being a refugee and truly a citizen of nowhere. Boden and Fleck, who have dealt intimately with immigration in their film Sugar, elevate the Talos backstory by tying it to modern day politics.

Larson commands the screen as Danvers, even when the script might let her down some. She brings the kind of righteous sincerity to her role that is very reminiscent of the first few films with Steve Rogers. Most importantly though, she is genuinely having fun with her powers. Captain Marvel has not been burdened by the excess of her abilities and finds them as a genuine joy to behold.

Brie Larson might be a very solid Carol Danvers, but the real star of the show here is Goose, the feline friend that Nick Fury finds. Goose takes up a lot more screen time than you might imagine and he proves to be a very good boy indeed. Jackson’s interplay with him is one of the great running gags of the film. The relationship garners many laughs throughout.

Like many Marvel films, the effects are a mixed bag. The opening twenty minutes feels like we are in the first Thor, but the de-aging of Samuel L. Jackson is truly a remarkable feat. I don’t think we are far from entering a world where there are no physical limitations put on actors ages. The action is serviceable, if unmemorable, and very similar to last year’s Black Panther. It falls into the typical format of an overly CGI finale that can’t sustain the emotional heft of the preceding hour.

On the whole though, Captain Marvel is a very strong addition to the superhero genre. Carol Danvers is bold and brash, emotional and powerful, empathetic and righteous. This is one of the best Marvel origin stories to date and as a lead up to Avengers: Endgame, it serves as a great appetizer for that gargantuan film. Captain Marvel isn’t weighed down by the heavy portent we are likely to get when that comes out in a few months. Yet, at its core, Boden and Fleck have made one of the more character driven superhero films in recent years. With this, Carol Danvers has emerged as one of the most compelling characters in the MCU, particularly in this most recent phase.

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