More than a decade after Robert Downey Jr donned Iron Man’s armour and rocket-launched the wildly successful Marvel cinematic juggernaut, we finally have its first female lead in Oscar winner Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel.
Sure, Evangeline Lilly technically beat her in last year’s Ant-Man and the Wasp, but there she had to share top billing with Paul Rudd.
Either way, it was a long wait, particularly given rival comic house DC managed to get Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman out in 2017, four years into its franchise.
Sadly, this fanfared debut falls oddly flat after raising such high hopes.
As brilliant as Larson is, she’s sorely hamstrung by a confused and ponderous story in which she has way too little to do.
Writer-director duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Mississippi Grind) open with an exposition-heavy half-hour set on the previously unseen Kree homeworld.
Here we meet Larson’s space warrior with energy-blasting hands, ‘Vers’, an amnesiac who pushes back against her overly controlling commander Yon-Rogg (an under-utilised Jude Law).
Preparing for war with shape-shifting alien race, the Skrulls, for reasons not entirely clear, Vers not knowing who she is or how she got there is a tortuous delaying tactic in an already generic origin story.
Things get more interesting when she crash lands on Earth in the 1990s, after a Skrull assault led by Aussie star Ben Mendelsohn.
Cue TLC, Garbage and Hole on the soundtrack, but the drops are less organic than they were in Guardians of the Galaxy, with No Doubt’s Just a Girl particularly on the nose.
Encountering a youthful SHIELD boss Nick Fury, with Samuel L. Jackson’s digital de-aging even more distracting, the film spends way too much time with him and nowhere near enough with Larson’s female co-stars – bizarrely.
Lashana Lynch barely gets a look-in as test pilot BFF Maria, as do Golden Globe winner Annette Bening, as a mysterious scientist, and Crazy Rich Asians’ Gemma Chan as a fellow Kree fighter.
A cat upstages them all – both worrying and cool at the same time.
But this is unlikely to match Black Panther, which was weightier and had more warrior women beating down on nasty blokes.
The stakes are far too small for what should be a momentous Marvel movie, and Larson doesn’t get to kick anywhere near enough shape-shifting butt.
If Captain Marvel leaves you wanting, hang out for fellow Oscar winner Nicole Kidman’s staggering turn in Karyn Kusama’s Destroyer later this month.
A gut punch of a detective thriller, it has a smarter, non-linear structure and an aching heart.
I have no idea why Kidman wasn’t up for an Oscar. She’s incredible in a harrowing turn as Erin, a grizzled detective plagued by a cold case gone horribly wrong, dragged back in when Toby Kebbell’s brutal bank robber shows up again.
Sure, the haggard make-up job is a lot (way more than Kidman’s nose in The Hours), but she totally sells it as the movie switches between a more together Erin falling for her undercover partner Chris (Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s Sebastian Stan) and the hard-drinking loner she has become.
A smaller film, it packs a far bigger emotional punch, all while making room for great work from both Orphan Black star Tatiana Maslany and Jade Pettyjohn as Erin’s daughter Shelby. Now that’s real solidarity.
Captain Marvel is out now, with Destroyer in cinemas on March 21