Captain Marvel (4 stars)

Captain Marvel

Brie Larson is a cool customer in the first female-led feature from the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Scourge of intergalactic ne'er-do-wells and, now, a certain breed of fanboy, the Carol Danvers incarnation of Captain Marvel blazes onto the screen in all her womanly glory. 21 instalments in, we finally get our first female-led MCU entry, while it's also the first to be directed by a woman – Anna Boden, working alongside her writing and directing partner Ryan Fleck. The duo behind low-key, character-led dramas such as Half Nelson and Mississippi Grind are joined by Tomb Raider's Geneva Robertson-Dworet on the screenplay.

Oscar-winner Brie Larson plays Danvers, a character who first appeared in comic book form in 1968; previously known as Ms Marvel, she didn't assume the regular mantle of Captain Marvel until 2012. Continuing cinema's current love affair with the mid 90s, the film is set in 1995 to a soundtrack of Garbage, No Doubt, Elastica and Hole. When we meet Danvers, she's a fighter in the Kree Starforce, her photon-blaster fists kept in check by her mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), while there's a big hole where her memory should be.

Following a dust-up with the shapeshifting Skrulls, led by Ben Mendelsohn's Talos, Danvers crash-lands on Earth, in a place that seems familiar, and comes to the immediate attention of Agent Nick Fury (series regular Samuel L Jackson). The pair join forces on the hunt for a light-speed engine that's the brainchild of a mysterious figure from Danvers' past (Annette Bening) – a journey that reunites her with Air Force pal Maria (Lashana Lynch).

Inspired by Terminator 2 and RoboCop and with nods to Top Gun and Superman, little is as it seems in a film which initially appears pretty po-faced but loosens up nicely, giving its supporting characters room to flex their acting muscles as they mix it up from villainy to comedy to nobility. It puts male controlling behaviour at the centre of a narrative that also considers the consequence of these endless wars, in the shape of refugees. Although the amnesiac storyline doesn't give her tonnes of time to establish a persona, Larson makes it fly with her easy charm, grungy style and credible, sometimes effortless ass-whooping; one thing's for sure, she shoots straight to the top of the league as Marvel's coolest customer.

Its scandalous femininity aside, Captain Marvel is actually something of a fan-pleaser: from Danvers' buddy dynamic with a convincingly de-aged, suitably sarky Fury, to its tendency to fill in the Universe's backstory, as Fury gets to grips with the existence of aliens and the potential of superheroes. And, with Avengers: Endgame about to drop, there's some inevitable scene-setting.

Captain Marvel lacks the heart of DC's Wonder Woman but makes up for it in sheer likeability. Its fight scenes could have benefited from more character and punch, yet are pleasingly trim – a world away from some of the franchise's more elongated action. If the film's feminist credentials are fairly subtly imparted throughout, then it builds to a furiously empowered ending which unleashes its heroine in a way that should surely place her at the forefront of the Avengers' fightback. It'll be interesting to see what comes next.

General release from Fri 8 Mar.

Captain Marvel

  • 4 stars
  • 2019
  • US
  • 2h 4min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
  • Cast: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Jude Law, Gemma Chan, Ben Mendelsohn, Robert Kazinsky
  • UK release: 8 March 2019

Danvers (Larson) is a fighter with the Kree Starforce who finds herself on Earth, and encountering Agent Nick Fury (Jackson). The storyline doesn’t give Larson a lot of time to establish a persona, but her charm, style and ass-kicking make her Marvel’s coolest customer and whatever it lacks in heart, it makes up for with…