Indeed, the Skrulls work as a very good foil here. There’s nothing quite like watching Larson throw down with a surprisingly spry old woman in a crowded train, and Mendelsohn (still super weird seeing him in all these Disney movies) is his usually wonderful self, even when covered in green makeup. But the Skrulls also aren’t simply a faceless malicious force; “Captain Marvel” makes it clear that war is rarely as simple as good guys versus bad guys. Mendelsohn has to bear the brunt of that dichotomy and does so beautifully. And the Skrulls existence in the MCU opens up all sorts of avenues for the future, whether it’s a full blown Kree/Skrull War (certainly referenced here) or perhaps a Secret Invasion. That intrigue is when the film feels its freshest. Well, that and whenever Goose, the adorable orange tabby who effortlessly steals the show, makes an appearance.
As the sort of white male cis film critic who so dominates the discourse, it wouldn’t feel right to talk about how Captain Marvel works as both a character and a film to the female audience who has seen them play second fiddle in these movies for eleven years, so I won’t broach that subject. But it’s plain that she is an inspiring presence even within the framework of the film itself. Look no further than young Monica Rambeau (Marvel comics fans will know that name), who is so awed by the power and poise of this woman. That’s obviously the aim, though from my perspective, I’m left wishing we got a little more from her, left wishing she could break free from the rigid formula that makes all of these movies watchable and so few of them memorable. As a long time fan of Marvel Cosmic, it’s still super surreal seeing famous actors like Annette Bening (who could have been given much more to do here) and Jude Law talk about the Supreme Intelligence with such gusto. But as a movie itself, Captain Marvel seems held back, shackled to the “fine-ness” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, its wings clipped and a rope tied to its leg so it can’t soar too far from the nest. It’s fun, and it’s rousing at times, but it always feels like something isn’t quite there. It does the job it needs to do; we’ll know who Captain Marvel is and what she’s about leading into her pivotal role in “Avengers: Endgame,” and for Marvel and for Disney, that’s what matters at the end of the day. Mission accomplished, I guess.