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It’s been almost a year since Marvel Studios dropped one of the biggest cliffhangers of all time on the filmgoing audience with Avengers: Infinity War. As we wait with baited breath to see how the Avengers – – as well as the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know it – – comes to a close, Marvel has one last surprise for audiences in the form of Captain Marvel, the twenty-first film in the ever-growing superhero tale that Marvel Studios has been unfolding since 2008. As the final piece of the cinematic puzzle, this franchise has become, Captain Marvel feels like a necessary step forward for the MCU, as well as back to basics approach for the series that we haven’t seen since Doctor Strange. Sometimes going back to what made your series work from the beginning gives you a fresh perspective on just how far we’ve come, which makes you appreciate what Marvel has accomplished thus far.

It helps that Captain Marvel is led by Academy Award winner Brie Larson, who gets a chance to shine not only in the first female-led film in the MCU, who really embraces the role of Carol Danvers. Her performance is something almost alien at times, which makes sense because she may or not be an alien who has no memory of her past. It’s a subtle performance at times, but it also gives her the chance to really show off her fun side, something we haven’t seen from her in a long time. More than that, she’s surrounded by a great supporting cast in Samuel L. Jackson and Ben Mendelsohn, both who get a lot to do within the film itself, and really add a lot to the overall MCU. Jackson especially gets a chance to flesh out Nick Fury, a character we’ve seen for years on screen, in a way we haven’t seen before. This isn’t the world-weary Fury that we’re used to, but a more youthful version of the character who can’t quite wrap his head around the idea of life off this planet. It’s really great getting to see this character in a new way, again opening our eyes to just how far we’ve come within this cinematic franchise.

But as mentioned before, it’s really Ben Mendelsohn as Talos, the leader of the shapeshifting Marvel alien race known as the Skrulls. Instead of being just another mindless horde led by a one-dimensional villain, Talos ends up being not only one of the most interesting villains in the MCU but one of the franchise’s most endearing and relatable as well. There’s a very human story here to what he’s trying to do, much like Thanos’ story in Infinity War, which really gives Mendelsohn something special to work with. One thing is for sure, for as much flack as the Marvel films have gotten for having a “villain problem,” it seems like they’ve really figured out exactly what it is that makes the best villains, and their last few films have really shown that. However, one character that could have made a great return, but ends up not doing much sadly, is Clark Gregg’s Agent Phil Coulson, making his first appearance in the films since 2012’s The Avengers. As fun as it is to see the character again, he honestly doesn’t add much to the proceedings, which is a bit frustrating for those looking for him to have a triumphant return. Is it fun seeing him again? Absolutely, but it doesn’t add much to the film’s narrative.

One thing that makes Captain Marvel very special though is that throwback 1990s setting that gives the film a fun nostalgic throwback feel. The first thing it does is let the film have a really great nostalgic 90s soundtrack, but more than that, it also lets the film live in a time that gives the movie the chance to feel like a throwback itself. Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck find a way to give the movie the feel of Independence Day mixed with Top Gun. There’s a very real feel of those big 90s and late 80s tentpoles that we all harken back to. Carol Danvers lives so well in this time frame, and it makes the movie feel a bit different from the rest of the MCU, while still feeling familiar. It’s a great balance, and it really makes me appreciate what Boden and Fleck have done within their first go in the MCU.

Honestly, what Boden and Fleck have done with the film is very impressive, especially because they haven’t made a film quite like this before. They manage to juggle some fantastic character work with great character drama, in particular, the relationship between Carol and her friend Maria Rambeau, played by Lashana Lynch in the film. For how much is happening in the movie, the character work never takes a backseat to the action, which is fantastic considering how often big blockbusters put character work in the backseat. It’s also great that instead of doing a straightforward origin film, it’s told in a more broken narrative that builds to her past through what’s happening in the present. Storytelling like that doesn’t always work, and while at times it creates a few pacing issues towards the film’s first half, but by the film’s end, it all comes together in a nice way that makes it work. For that alone, this ends up making it one of the most unique films in the MCU to date.

Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, along with their stars Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson, have saved a fun 1990s throwback science fiction film for last with Captain Marvel, reminding audiences of the MCU of yesteryear, while also wetting our appetite for what’s to come with Marvel’s ultimate finale. More than that, the film feels like a unique vision within the sprawling narrative of the Marvel Cinematic Universe which fans will have fun with. However, its Ben Mendelsohn as Talos who really gets a chance to shine as one of the best villains in the MCU to date. For that alone, it makes Captain Marvel another winner for Marvel Studios. If anything else, it’s sure to make you even more excited for what Carol is going to add to Avengers: Endgame, which at the end of the day, means the film has done its job.

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