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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 March 2019

Review: Captain Marvel is a triumph not just of girl power, but of the plain old power of a great movie

Brie Larson shines, quite literally, as the latest entry to the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) and Captain Marvel (Brie Larson). Film Frame / Marvel Studios
Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) and Captain Marvel (Brie Larson). Film Frame / Marvel Studios

Captain Marvel has a lot to live up to when she bursts on to screens in a flurry of brightly glowing action this weekend. The superhero, played by Brie Larson, is the first female character ever to front a Marvel Cinematic Universe film.

She’ll have to deal with the inevitable comparisons to DC’s 2017 overwhelmingly successful Wonder Woman. She’ll have to convince MCU fans that she’s a vital part of the cinematic universe, despite being introduced fully only in this penultimate film of the current Marvel cycle. And she’ll have to attempt to give a successful critical and box office riposte to a bizarre online campaign against the film that took off when Larson made comments about a lack of diversity in the Hollywood press, enraging a large number of keyboard warriors in the process.

She will succeed, because Captain Marvel is a blistering two hours of action, comedy, awesome '90s tunes from the likes of Hole, No Doubt and The Breeders (that could do for Riotgrrl and Grunge what The Guardians of the Galaxy did for '70s pop and funk), knowing nods to the rest of the MCU (and Top Gun), and an overpowering sense of female empowerment.

Some had expressed doubts about Larson’s ability to front a big budget comic book flick, coming as she does from a background of worthy but understated indie cinema.

They shouldn't have. She is in fine form as Vers (otherwise known as Carol Danvers), a woman who, at the start of the movie, is a member of an elite Kree (a race of noble alien warrior heroes) strike team fighting a war against the evil, shape-shifting Skrulls. The big catch for her is that she has no idea who she is, having completely lost her memory in unknown circumstances. Larson straddles the line between mighty warrior and confused, scared young amnesiac perfectly.

She continues to handle these polar facets of her character with aplomb as the movie progresses, relationships from her past begin to fit into the jigsaw, and simultaneously she learns more about the true strength of her powers.

The chemistry with Samuel L Jackson, who reprises his role as a digitally de-aged Avengers mentor Nick Fury, albeit in the '90s before The Avengers existed, sparks from the offset, with Jackson frequently playing the stooge to Larson’s straight man.

In fact, if there’s one criticism here it’s that Jackson gets too many of the laughs, almost as if the writers felt the only way to play a strong female hero is straight and sullen and humour would somehow weaken her.

Then again, this is a woman with no idea who she is, adjusting to learning that she’s the most powerful weapon in the universe. It can’t all be one big laugh for her.

Critics had earlier questioned whether Brie Larson could front a film in her own right. Marvel Studios
Critics had earlier questioned whether Brie Larson could front a film in her own right. Marvel Studios

The other comedy revelation is Ben Mendelsohn as Skrull leader Talos. Marvel has often received criticism for its failure to develop fully rounded villains in their films, but in Talos they have a loveable, comedy masterpiece on their hands, flitting effortlessly between his main roles in buttoned up, shape-shifted, human form and laconic, sarcastic Kree form.

There are more powerful female roles too. Given the fact that neither we, nor Vers, learn much about her back story until late in the movie, it’s hard to give too much away about the nature of Annette Bening and Lashana Lynch’s roles as Dr Wendy Lawson and Maria Rambeau without spoilers, but suffice to say that Lawson is ultimately perhaps the most important character in the film, while Rambeau is Vers’ true sidekick, rather than the bumbling Fury, who spends much of the film in need of rescue.

Brie Larson plays Captain Marvel in the MCU's first female-fronted superhero movie. Film Frame / Marvel Studios
Brie Larson plays Captain Marvel in the MCU's first female-fronted superhero movie. Film Frame / Marvel Studios

Marvel has long had a knack of dissecting continuing social issues, without preaching, through the medium of super hero yarns (see Black Panther) and while all the attention here will be on the female roles, there really should be an extra gold medal issued for the way the film successfully brings in the equally topical matter of attitudes to refugees when we were least expecting it.

Final bonus marks are also awarded for the coolest feline in cinema since 1978's The Cat from Outer Space, and its role in shaping the Nick Fury we will come to know in future films, and protecting one of the later movies' most vital relics.

Go and see this film. Now.

Captain Marvel is out in UAE cinemas today.

Updated: March 8, 2019 04:30 PM

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