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“Captain Marvel” is a totally ’90s blast from the past that has a clear and concise message: The future is female.

Marvel Studios may have been late to the superhero party when it came to finally making a movie with a female lead, perhaps its biggest stumbling block in an otherwise dominant decade at the box office. But Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers isn’t here to be a social-trend setter — she’s ready to tip the scales as the most powerful Marvel Cinematic Universe hero we’ve ever seen.

Set two decades ago, “Captain Marvel,” directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, is the first MCU film to not instantly feel like a narrative set up just to connect Infinity Stones and future Avengers films (but look for slight hints). Boden and Fleck give subtle nods to Kelly Sue DeConnick and Jamie McKelvie, whose writing and artistic redesign, respectively, ushered in a new comic book era that established the character as a heavy hitter. That cool mohawk/mask Captain Marvel sports when in battle mode? DeConnick and McKelvie did that. (Don’t blink or you’ll miss DeConnick’s amusing cameo.)

The film explores the impact of Captain Marvel and the influence she’ll have on the eventual assembling of the Avengers, as seen through the eyes of two stalwarts of a still-growing MCU: Samuel L. Jackson (as a young and two-eyed Nick Fury) and Clark Gregg (a much-fuller-head-of-hair-having Agent Coulson). When the pace of “Captain Marvel” feels a little slow, with much of the movie devoted to the main character discovering a past she can’t remember, Jackson is there with much-needed MCU flare.

Both Jackson and Gregg are digitally de-aged to fit the story’s timeline. And if that doesn’t convince you you’re in the ’90s, the craftily selected music throughout the movie will do the trick. There’s also a Blockbuster Video, dial-up Internet and digital downloading so slow it should be considered torture.

Jackson’s younger Fury, two-way paging his way out of trouble at times, is just getting a grasp of the world’s unknowns in “Captain Marvel” — a stark difference for a character that has always been the glue of and an authoritative voice in the MCU. His discovery of a secret shape-shifting alien race (the green and pointy-eared Skrulls) and team-up with a superpowered woman he views as a rogue soldier serve as a deserving origin story.

The Skrulls are shape-shifting aliens who can hide in plain sight. (Marvel Studios)
The Skrulls are shape-shifting aliens who can hide in plain sight. (Marvel Studios)

Larson’s Carol Danvers is a rebel warrior caught in the middle of a war between two classic alien races from the pages of Marvel Comics: the Kree and the Skrulls. She’s got the blue blood of a Kree, but the original red blood that flowed through her leads to a past on Earth she can’t remember. Struggling to hold on to those memories serves as a mental stumbling block toward her vast and seemingly unlimited power. The Kree way is to soldier on and forget what’s behind you, but Carol has always marched to a different set of orders. This causes conflict with everyone she encounters.

If you’ve seen the “Captain Marvel” trailer, you already know that Carol Danvers eventually breaks free of what has been holding her back and becomes an ultimate power with seemingly no equal. The mystery of “Captain Marvel” is how she gets to that point. It will likely surprise you.

It’s a film designed to make you think you’ve got everything figured out, but it hits you with a plot twist you won’t see coming. On the way to unlocking the unstoppable power of Captain Marvel, you realize the MCU throws a curve when you’re looking for a fastball.

As to why Captain Marvel eventually ditches the Kree teal and blue for her trademark superhero look? That ends up being one of the movie’s most fun moments.

The rest of the cast also puts on good performances, with Ben Mendelsohn slippery as ever as Talos, the leader of the Skrulls, and Lashana Lynch playing Maria Rambeau, the best friend who gives Carol a chance to reclaim a little of her humanity during an alien war — while also leaving open the possibility of having a bigger role in future galactic battles. And Jude Law is a Kree soldier who is as noble as he is predictable.

This is also the first Marvel feature since the passing of Stan Lee, and the acknowledgment of that moment is handled with class.

Up next for Marvel Studios is April’s “Avengers: Endgame.” And while “Captain Marvel” was meant to finally give the spotlight to a female hero, the film also serves as a look at the help that’s on the way in the fight against Thanos, as we saw at the end of “Avengers: Infinity War.” She’s the cosmic wild card in a battle that otherwise has the team looking outdone. And if there’s anything this new movie taught us, it’s that if the Avengers need saving, Captain Marvel is the obvious person — woman or otherwise — for the job.

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