Note: There are no spoilers in this article beyond what has already been shown or referenced in trailers, ads, and merchandise. Nothing mentioned herein will spoil a major plot point.
1. How good is it?
Captain Marvel is good; not great, but good enough. It’s really a classic superhero origin story, except it’s told out of order, and the fact that it’s pretty formulaic isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s the first woman-led movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), so the fact that they followed the formula shows a certain equitability; and if the origin story weren’t enough, the film even has a MacGuffin. It’s easily the most feminist superhero movie ever made. I realize that being the “most feminist superhero movie” sounds sort of like being the “most nutritious kids’ breakfast cereal,” but the film is better than it has to be to merely earn that title. The main character (known for most of the film as “Vers,” pronounced with a long ‘e’) never wears anything skimpy, or even shows her knees; there’s never even the suggestion of a love interest for her; and nobody rescues her except herself. The acting is generally very good, and Brie Larson is solid in the title role.
It should be noted that Captain Marvel also serves as an origin story for Nick Fury, in a way not very unlike the beginning River Phoenix part of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. This is a lot of fun, because Fury is such a good character as Samuel L. Jackson portrays him, and because it’s really the only way they could give him an origin story.
2. Should I bring my kids to see it?
If you’ve seen the MCU film Doctor Strange, it has a pretty similar level of violence, peril, and blood. The plot is complicated enough that younger kids may have a hard time following it, particularly as the movie features Skrulls, who are shape-shifters. There are a lot of flashbacks that explain how the main character got her powers, why she was no longer on Earth, where she had grown up, and why she could only remember bits and pieces of her own history. Captain Marvel is also set in the year 1995 (with many flashbacks to 1989, and some earlier), and people who weren’t alive then and don’t know much about the time may not get a lot of the jokes, but I don’t think that would detract much from the experience.
It should also be noted that there is an 11-year-old girl character who’s in the film for a while, steals many scenes she’s in, and has the best line of dialogue in the whole movie. And then there’s the cat named “Goose,” who has much more in her than typical cats have.
3. What do I need to know about the MCU before seeing it?
Since Captain Marvel is set 24 years ago, it doesn’t have much to do directly with other MCU films, which with the exception of Captain America: The First Avenger are primarily set at the same time they were released. It features two characters, though – S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Nick Fury and Phil Coulson – who have had significant roles in other MCU movies. To achieve this, the actors Jackson and Clark Gregg were digitally de-aged, and of course act like younger versions of their original characters. This would be lost on anyone who’s unfamiliar with their other MCU appearances, of course – and particularly the huge ways in which the younger Nick Fury is different from his older self.
What would be very useful, though certainly not essential, to reduce confusion with the film’s somewhat convoluted plot, would be familiarity with the Kree and the Skrulls. If you’ve seen the Guardians of the Galaxy films or the TV show Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., you know something about the Kree. (In fact, the Kree warrior Korath, played by Djimon Hounsou, is in some of Captain Marvel after being first introduced to audiences in Guardians of the Galaxy.) The Skrulls have not been seen in the MCU prior to Captain Marvel, but have certainly been in many Marvel comic books going way back.
I will suggest that, if you have read comic books featuring the Kree and Skrulls, you avoid looking at the IMDb page for the movie before you see it, because some of the characters’ names may spoil some of it for you.
4. How good is that digital de-aging?
Any time an actor’s face is heavily modified digitally, and especially when they’re still playing a human, you run the risk of them falling into the uncanny valley, but they did a very convincing job in this case. The younger Nick Fury is in a large part of the movie, and while there’s still something just a little not-quite-right about him, he did look a lot like Samuel L. Jackson did in the third Die Hard movie, which came out in the real 1995. It is a little weird to see Fury with hair and without an eyepatch, of course, but you get used to it.
5. Is there a tribute to Stan Lee?
This is the first MCU release since Stan Lee passed away in November, so it shouldn’t be surprising that they took the opportunity to include a tribute to him. They take care of it right at the very beginning, and do it very nicely. And Lee has his usual cameo as well, though not his last ever, as Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige has said there will be at least one more.
6. Is it worth paying more to see it in 3D and/or IMAX?
The preview screening I attended was in IMAX 2D, and the large screen definitely worked well – and it’s nice to see a little extra because of the aspect ratio – so I’d say that’s definitely worth going to if you can. Added: I’ve seen it in non-IMAX 3D now as well. I barely noticed the differences in depth, and when I did they added nothing to the experience; and, as always happens with 3D conversions, the whole film was darker than it really should have been. IMAX is absolutely worth spending a bit more money; 3D is definitely not.
7. How does it compare to Wonder Woman?
Captain Marvel is very different from Wonder Woman, but their status as the first two recent (and first watchable) superhero films with a female title character does seem to invite comparison. I like the fact that the primary male character in Captain Marvel is Nick Fury, but despite his reputation from the previous (but in-universe chronologically later) MCU movies he’s the softie who coos over Goose and even sings, while Vers is the brash but well-trained ass-kicking soldier who can shoot energy bolts out of her hands. Vers’ Kree tough-love mentor, played by Jude Law, kicks her ass several times, but she gives as good as she gets, and smashes a few mentor-mentee tropes along the way.
Wonder Woman is a very good film, but its main character, Diana, starts her life in an otherworldly place with otherworldly abilities, whereas Vers starts out as a human. This makes it considerably easier to identify with her. Each character spends much of their film in a fish-out-of-water setting, but Vers is coming from a technologically superior world and so doesn’t spend much time having to be led through and acclimated to unfamiliar situations by a handsome young spy played by one of the Four Chrises. And it’s also certainly worth noting that, while both Diana and Vers are played by conventionally very attractive women, Diana displays way more skin than does Vers, and there’s virtually no sexual innuendo in Captain Marvel, while there’s quite a bit in Wonder Woman.
It is interesting to note that in neither Wonder Woman nor Captain Marvel is the main character actually referred to by the superhero name that gave their movie its title.
8. How many end-credits scenes are there?
Only two this time. The first, as you’d probably expect, brings you forward in time to sometime after the end-credits scene from Avengers: Infinity War in which we saw Fury activate a pager with Captain Marvel’s emblem on it just before he dissolved into dust. This does lead one to wonder why he didn’t activate the pager in one of the previous MCU movies, particularly the first two Avengers films, the first of which had an alien invasion of Earth and the second of which had the entire population (instead of just half) of Earth in danger of imminent destruction by a small country being used a bomb by an evil, sentient artificial intelligence.
Anyway, you should absolutely stay for the first end-credits scene. The second one, at the very end of the credits, isn’t really important in any meaningful way, and was clearly added just for fun, so if you have to run to the bathroom, you can watch it on video in a few months without having missed anything crucial.
9. Speaking of which, when’s the best time for a bathroom break?
Captain Marvel moves pretty quickly for the first half of the film, then slows down for a little while, then speeds up like crazy. When Vers and Fury arrive at Vers’ friend’s house, you won’t miss a lot of action if you take a break then. You might miss some important exposition, but it’ll be reiterated a bit later in the film, so you’ll catch up if necessary.
10. So, bottom line: Go see it in theaters, wait for it to come out on video, or skip it?
If you don’t like superhero movies, I don’t know why you’ve bothered to read this far in this article, but you should probably avoid it.
If you’ve seen at the very least the MCU movies Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Avengers: Infinity War, you should go see it in the theaters, and you should go soon to reduce the likelihood of anyone spoiling something for you. If you haven’t seen all of those, or don’t know the MCU at all, you should still go see it in theaters, but first you should go to Netflix or the digital video store of your choice and watch the movies listed.
Disclosure: I was invited to a free preview screening of Captain Marvel. All opinions expressed herein are my own.