By Marc S. Sanders

Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck directed the Captain Marvel installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film has some successes, but some failures as well. Fortunately, where it lacks happens early on and then the film continues to get better.

Boden & Fleck must have directed a film that was never released because this Captain Marvel begins in the middle of a story with exposition that’s terribly hard to follow. I’ve seen it three times now, and it’s still hard to piece the first 40 minutes together. The title character is known as “Vers” (pronounced “veers”) played by Brie Larson. She dons a green uniform space suit and is part of a civilization called Kree. Her mentor is Yon-Rogg played by Jude Law. They head a team on a mission to rescue a spy of their own held captive by the shape shifting Skrulls. The mission goes awry and Vers is captured. Small snippets of a life lived on Earth flash in her subconsciousness as the Skrulls study her mind. When Vers manages to escape, she ends up on Earth in 1995. Gradually, with the assistance of a young Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson with hair, a clean CGI complexion and no eye patch), Vers learns of her true history that she seems to have forgotten. Reader, I just summed up the first third of this film better than the movie ever did.

Boden & Fleck have some nice touches to this film but only in the second and third acts. Captain Marvel salutes the grunge music of the 90s while also taking inspired narratives from films like The Terminator. There’s some nice twists in the film too.

However, the whole first act should be thrown away and redone. It’s terribly confusing with dark cinematography on what is to be an alien planet at night and a dimly lit unfamiliar space ship. Hardly any characters are fleshed out yet but they talk in conversations that lose me. The Skrulls are shape shifters that can adapt the image of another person or creature but because it’s all so dark, it’s difficult to decipher who is who. Not much payoff comes when you are finally able to piece some material from this whole sequence later on, based on what Vers uncovers about herself, the Kree and the Skrulls.

Brie Larson is fine in the role while primarily playing it straight. Nothing special, but nothing terrible either.

Samuel L Jackson plays this Nick Fury with more naivety than seen before. He’s a younger version of himself after all. So that’s somewhat humorous, especially his chemistry with an odd cat called Goose.

Ben Mendelsohn continues to break into these mainstream film franchises as an antagonist of some sort but sadly no one remembers him, I would think. He needs to be regarded in the same league with guys like Gary Oldman and Christopher Walken. What’s next for him? How about a James Bond villain?

Annette Bening is a welcome presence as the “supreme intelligence” for Vers. Accompany her sashaying to Nirvana’s “Come As You Are,” and I’m entertained.

There was a better film here. Due to a weak beginning, I can only mildly recommend Captain Marvel. Pop culture references and a redeeming two thirds of the film rescue it from utter confusion. Still, if I have to pause the film on occasion to explain to my wife and daughter what is going on, I think that is more an issue with the film than with the viewer.

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