With the biggest superhero crossover event happening just last year, and the next, “even bigger” biggest superhero crossover event happening next month, it feels a little bit like a step down a different, smaller path, to have Marvel put out an origin story for a new superhero. It’s been a while since we’ve gotten a true origin story movie from this company. Yes last year’s biggest massive Marvel success Black Panther was the first solo outing for the character, but Black Panther was introduced to movie audiences in Civil War with a lot of his origin taken care of in that particular plot. To get to the most recent true origin story movie from Marvel we have to go back three years to Doctor Strange. And this time, we’re not only getting a origin story for Captain Marvel, but the movie also works as an origin story for the modern day MCU as it’s a prequel to everything else set in the mid 1990s. (Yes, with the exception of Captain America which was during WWII.)
Even though it is an origin story, Captain Marvel still inverts the traditional origin story formula with the woman who will eventually be Captain Marvel (played by Brie Larson) already having her powers, and not being able to remember where she came from or how she got them. Going by the name Vers, she is a member of the Kree empire, a type of intergalactic star force that are at war with the Skrulls, shape shifting aliens. When Vers gets captured by a group of Skrulls, and taken aboard an earthbound ship, she escapes in a pod and lands, along with a handful of Skrulls in 1990s downtown LA.
The sudden appearance of visitors from the sky call to attention SHIELD agents including a younger version of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) who looks like he stepped right off the set of Pulp Fiction. Marvel has played with their de-aging technology in the past, but until now it had been pretty much regulated to flashback scenes. For the first time, Captain Marvel has a character that spends the entire movie playing a younger version of themselves, and it’s impressive how easy it is to forget that there is computer magic in every scene that Nick Fury is in (as well as for Clark Gregg who reprises his role as Agent Coulson). Though initially suspicious of the woman in the space armor warning about shape shifting aliens, Fury soon encounters Skrulls himself, leading to a team up between Fury and Vers as they try to stop the Skrulls from accomplishing their mission on Earth.
By the end of the first act, we have the setup that carries pretty much the rest of the movie. Carol (Vers Earth name as she eventually discovers) and Fury form a buddy cop relationship as they head off to unravel the mystery of Carol’s past and what exactly the Skrulls are trying to accomplish. The two quickly fall into a pattern of being able to trust each other (extremely quickly where the main villains can shapeshift) and develop an affectionate partnership. Larson’s Carol is a smart, sarcastic, overconfident character, the kind you can see will easily be able to share the screen with Iron Man or Thor in the future. Her charm is a big part of being able to carry the movie.
Jackson does an incredible job of portraying a Fury that isn’t quite the same character we’re used too. This is a younger Fury, one who doesn’t quite hold all the cards that we’re used to seeing. The Fury of modern day Marvel movies is constantly interacting with everything from heroes, to monsters, to aliens, to literal gods and he always gives off the impression that he can’t be impressed because he’s seen it all before. This movie is the before, where we get to see Fury trying to grasp things that are bigger and greater than he was ever lead to believe.
Marvel movies have grown bigger as the years have gone on. Each phase seems to dwarf the previous one in terms of scale, and this movie is sandwiched between their two biggest events yet, possibly ever. In contrast, Captain Marvel seems like an intentional decision to make a smaller movie. There are hints to the bigger universe with the scale of the Kree empire on display at the beginning of the movie, and obvious connections to Thanos and the Guardians movies among other things, but comparatively this doesn’t even feel like a movie where the whole world is a stake much less the whole universe. Of course, that means that there is plenty of room to grow for the eventual spectacle that Captain Marvel 2 and Captain Marvel 3 are sure to be, but as the next generation of Avengers starts to take shape, it’s good to see that it’s possible for Marvel to scale back for more of a character piece, or at least the closest thing that Marvel can do to a character piece while still having $150 million worth of action on the screen.
Tags: Brie Larson, Captain Marvel, Disney, film, Marvel, Marvel Cinematic Universe, MCU, movie, Nick Fury, Samuel L. Jackson, superhero