Captain Marvel breaks new ground in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and not just because it introduces the first female superhero to carry a Marvel movie.

It’s also the first to be co-directed by a woman, Anna Boden, who together with Ryan Fleck scripted one of Ryan Gosling’s best films, Half Nelson (2006).

Moreover, Captain Marvel throws audiences into the deep end from the off. The character is instantly enigmatic. Is Vers (Brie Larson) a Kree soldier fighting a war against the goblin-like alien Skrulls, or is she a human fighter pilot who’s been snatched from Earth to play a part in a galactic skirmish?

All will eventually be revealed of course, but this non-linear opening – a puzzle of fragmented memories and timeline shifts – is atypical for the MCU and a great way to establish the duality of this tough and disciplined heroine, who’s torn between her head and her heart.

Following a rescue mission to a Kree border planet, Vers winds up on Earth in the 1990s – an era of Blockbuster Video stores, CD-ROMs and dial-up internet – where she joins forces with rookie S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to uncover her true identity, stop an invading group of Skrulls, and track down a missing scientist.

Now that the MCU has raised the stakes with behemoth ensemble adventures like Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, new character origin stories can come off as second tier Marvel movies – think Ant-Man, Doctor Strange and Ant-Man and the Wasp.

While Captain Marvel does fall into this category, it’s also an opportunity to reinvent the wheel. Where Ant-Man and the Wasp was a heist comedy, Captain Marvel is a buddy movie with lashings of Top Gun and Star Trek, and scored to a girl-powered ‘awesome mix’ of nineties’ hits from Hole, Elastica and No Doubt.

The chemistry and repartee between Larson and Jackson is a delight, and SLJ’s youthful CGI makeover is astonishingly seamless. And as the Kree warlord, Talos, Ben Mendelsohn delivers one of the strangest performances in his universe-hopping career.

The MCU has always been gender inclusive (Scarlet Witch, Black Widow, the Wasp) and now it has a poster girl. Captain Marvel puts female empowerment front and centre. When the extent of her power is finally revealed, this Cap’s glowing fists make Wonder Woman’s abilities look like a flickering candle, and she’ll be a powerful ally for the Avengers when the Endgame arrives.

In cinemas: March 7, 2019
Starring: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn
Directed by: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck