Ok, so Carol Danvers isn’t the first female superhero to get her own Marvel movie (although perhaps the less said about Elektra the better). But with 2008’s Iron Man came something of a clean slate for Marvel: the launch of both a new studio and a shared cinematic universe to go with it. And now we’re 21 films deep and finally getting a female-led outing. It’s taken a while to get here, sure, but let’s put all that external baggage to one side for a moment and answer the most fundamental question: is Captain Marvel any good?

The answer, thankfully, is yes.

Acting as something of an origin story in reverse, the film opens with an amnesiac Brie Larson. She’s a Kree soldier on the planet Hala, and a member of Jude Law’s black ops team, Starforce. Or is she? The questions of who she is, where she’s from and what happened to her aren’t the hardest to work out, but her journey to discovering their answers is sort of the point.

Honestly, the way the movie front loads its mysteries is perhaps its biggest weakness. The opening act is stuffed to the brim, introducing a gluttony of planets, characters, species, wars and powers. It’s a lot to take in – at times maybe too much. Miss a line of dialogue and you might not realise that the baddies of the piece – the Skrulls – are shapeshifters. Fail to pay attention to every member of Starforce and you’ll struggle to work out whether someone has been replaced by the enemy. It doesn’t help that the first big action scene is pretty darkly lit (more so in 3D), which just adds to the feeling of confusion.

Of course, in true shared-universe style, some of the heavy lifting has been done in other Marvel films. The Kree, you’ll recall, are the blue-skinned aliens we first met in Guardians of the Galaxy – a movie which serves as a cosmic touchstone of sorts here. And as Captain Marvel progresses and lets the main story kick in, it definitely finds its groove.

This is helped enormously by the addition of Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury. Given the film is set in the mid-90s, Fury is a younger, two-eyed man here. He’s in full-on sidekick mode, providing much of the film’s humour and acting as the audience’s way into the crazy world of Kree warriors and Skrull shapeshifters.

And what of the Skrulls themselves? They’re pretty big in the comics, responsible for the excellent Secret Invasion storyline, where it was revealed they had slowly been replacing many of the heroes – including members of the Avengers – over a number of years. It was excellent paranoia-inducing, who-do-you-trust stuff, and that element definitely translates well to Captain Marvel. For a species we’ve never met before in the MCU, they’re given a great introduction here, and Ben Mendelsohn is fantastic as their leader.

Which, of course, leaves us with Captain Marvel herself. Carol Danvers’ journey of discovery is a lot of fun, and Brie Larson does a superb job in the part. There are other strong female characters in the MCU – Black Widow, Gamora, the Wasp and so on – but this is Larson’s movie and she shines in every scene she’s in (which is pretty much all of them). She’s clearly having a blast being a superhero, and it’s nearly impossible not to enjoy it just as much as she is.

It may sound obvious, or perhaps even a little strange, but having a female-led superhero film in today’s age is important. It perhaps shouldn’t be, it perhaps should be pretty normal, but given the recent output of Marvel and DC combined have given us a grand total of two, that’s clearly not the case. Like Wonder Woman before it, Captain Marvel will be subject to far deeper levels of scrutiny than their Spider-Man or Batman counterparts (the clue’s in the name). Sure, this will hopefully fade over time, but the online furore surrounding the release of Captain Marvel shows there’s still plenty of basements out there with an internet connection and a mother who’s prepared to pay for it.

The best thing this film can do to really rile up the trolls is succeed; a weak outing would only serve to fan their flames. But if directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck are aware of the pressure on their shoulders – and they surely must be – they don’t let it show. Captain Marvel handles its subject matter well, introducing another strong female character to the MCU, one who will be instrumental in the upcoming battle against Thanos. She’s superpowered without losing her humanity, sexy without being sexualised. Her costume isn’t revealing – it’s the same as what the guys wear. It’s her character at the forefront, not her gender. Its message isn’t as overt as Wonder Woman’s, but it’s no less important or successful because of it.

As a movie, you’ll know without reading this whether you’ll enjoy it or not. Captain Marvel doesn’t reinvent the Marvel wheel, but that’s not necessarily a criticism. They’ve pretty much perfected the formula these days – a insurmountable obstacle, some over-the-top set pieces, a large dose of humour and a twisty-turny storyline that leads you straight into the next one. It worked back in 2008 and it’s still working today. And just as Tony Stark signalled the beginning of what was to come, maybe Carol Danvers is doing much the same.

Directed by: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Written by: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Geneva Robertson-Dwore
Cast: Brie Larson, Jude Law, Ben Mendelsohn, Annette Benning, Gemma Chan, Djimon Hounsou, Clark Gregg, Lee Pace
Released by: Marvel Studios
Running time: 124 minutes