Captain Marvel ★★★

With “Captain Marvel,” the MCU introduces its first female lead. And although it’s not completely surprising that it took this long, given the dearth of source material, I’m still mildly disappointed by the end result. After so much time, I feel like Kevin Feige and his team should have done better.

The story opens with Vers (Brie Larson), a member of an elite Kree military unit called Starforce, receiving training from her commanding officer Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). Vers suffers from disturbing dreams in which she sees an older woman who seems familiar (Annette Bening), but that her amnesia won’t allow her to place. Yon-Rogg tells her she must control her emotions to be an effective warrior. The alien Kree are in a long-running war with the shape-shifting Skrull and on a Starforce mission to rescue an undercover operative, they capture Vers. The Skrull commander Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) attempts to extract some of Vers memories, in which the older woman comes up again. Using her superhuman powers, which include flight, extraordinary strength and the ability to project powerful energy bolts, Vers escapes. Using the memory fragments as a guide, she heads to Earth in an attempt to learn more about her past, the mysterious woman in her dreams, and why the Skrull deem any of this important.

Most of the film then is set on Earth, circa 1995. Vers encounters Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), early employees of S.H.I.E.L.D., who eventually form an uneasy alliance with her. Much of the movie becomes a sort of buddy-cop, odd couple, fish-out-of-water story, with Fury playing the straight man to Vers powerful, but naïve alien figure. The scenes between the two are entertaining and provide the comedic backbone of the story. Parts of this reminded me more of “Men in Black” than of anything else in the MCU.

Unsurprisingly, the film has a feminist agenda. Yonn-Rogg tells Vers she is too emotional and he uses various techniques to regulate and dampen her powers. He also keeps the truth about her past from her. It is a classic tale of a man controlling a woman and suppressing her voice. Eventually, Vers will learn who she is and where her power comes from and then there will be a reckoning (or so we assume). Some critics and fans have been upset with this film because that final reckoning does not look the way they wanted it to look. Frankly, that part didn’t bother me at all.

What I did find a bit disappointing was the build-up to the final series of revelations and confrontations. The final scenes don’t carry the emotional wallop they should, and that has to do with how things are set up earlier in the script. We are given to believe that Vers has been dismissed, ignored, oppressed, repressed and more. But what we see is that she is part of an elite fighting force and that her commanding officer gives her a number of significant responsibilities and even listens to her advice. We are also led to believe that Vers’ past is being intentionally kept from her. But there are few scenes to give us a sense of what the emotional cost of those missing memories really is. We don’t feel the pain of Vers’ losses at all. She seems a competent, well-rounded, and strong character almost from the beginning. Sure, she has a bit of tension with her mentor, and yeah, she’s having some bad dreams. But the delta between her state of oppression and her place of realizing her true power simply isn’t big enough to provide us with the emotional payoff we want. Or at least that I wanted.

None of which is to say that “Captain Marvel” is a bad movie. Given all the t’s it has to cross and i’s it needs to dot, it handles itself remarkably well. There is a solid origin story here, a light action comedy, and another missing link in the enormous MCU landscape. Larson and Jackson provide an entertaining pairing and the special effects work used to de-age Jackson is so realistic, it tells me that we can no longer believe anything we see on film.

This is a B-grade entry in the long-running franchise. I just really wanted it to be an A.