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Film reviews: Captain Marvel is a game-changing superhero

Fired up: Brie Larson as Captain Marvel

THE BIG RELEASE

Captain Marvel

(12A) ★★★★✩

UNLESS you’ve been living in the Quantum Realm for the past three years (a little Ant-Man reference there), you’ll know Captain Marvel is the very first female-led superhero movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s also the first to be directed (OK, co-directed — they can only trust the ladies so far) by a woman. That it’s being released on International Women’s Day (Friday) further heralds its flag-waving, girl-power intentions.

Yet if you actually manage to watch it (unlike those anti-feminists who trolled about it beforehand), you’ll find the most game-changing dimension to Captain Marvel is that it doesn’t club you over the head with ‘OMG, Captain Marvel is a GIRL!’ every two seconds. It just represents gender equality as remarkably… normal. By doing so, it should transform the MCU forever — for the better.

A classic origin story sees a gifted intergalactic soldier called Vers (Brie Larson), who hails from the planet Kree, crash-land in 1990s America (cue Elastica on the car stereo and jokes about slow internet speeds). Once here she’s chased by shape-shifting goblin baddies called skrulls, attempts to master the mysterious power that blasts out of her fists and reluctantly buddies up with a de-aged Samuel L Jackson (who, along with his cat, gets most of the laughs). Gradually Vers clocks that she’s been on Earth before and was a US fighter pilot in a former life. So just who is she? Why, she’s Captain Marvel, of course!

The plot is packed with Easter eggs and surprises, and the action is satisfying and assured. However, co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson) find their true strength in the real world. Their Captain Marvel is the MCU’s first, miraculously believable everywoman. An authentically tough cookie, she is defined by her own action and her sisterhood rather than her cleavage, with the heart of the film lying not with a fella but her BFF, a black single mom (Lashana Lynch) who also happens to be an ace fighter pilot.

The climax of self-realisation is so super-empowering it should’ve been scored to Let It Go. Ultimately Captain Marvel stands both as an introduction to the MCU’s most powerful superhero and a unique bridge to even greater things. Let’s hope that includes Avengers: Endgame (out April 25).

The verdict

Marvel takes a feminist leap forward with this superhero movie to change superhero movies forever.

The Kindergarten Teacher

(12A) ★★★★✩

MAGGIE GYLLENHAAL first crawled to our attention — literally on her hands and knees, an office memo in her mouth — in 2002’s Secretary, a bizarrely feel-good comedy about sadomasochism in which she played a woman who enjoyed being spanked by her boss. The #MeToo dynamics were complex, to say the least. Now Gyllenhaal’s back with another, equally unsettling and bravely provocative tale of boundary crossing. And once again she nails it — as only she could.

Softly spoken Lisa (Gyllenhaal) is a seemingly calm, kind 40-year-old nursery teacher who desperately craves more from life. Convinced her five-year-old pupil (Parker Sevak) is a poetical prodigy, she initially passes off his verse as her own, finally attracting the admiration of the hot teacher (Gael Garcia Bernal) at her creative writing evening class.

Soon plagiarism is the least of our worries as Lisa crosses line after line in her supposed duty of care towards her small charge. Originally a 2014 Israeli film, the script of this remake may not entirely satisfy but Gyllenhaal does. Director Sara Colangelo winds her borderline thriller so excruciatingly tight you’ll wonder what will snap first — your nerves or sense of belief.

Ray And Liz

(15) ★★★★✩

YBA artist turned film-maker Richard Billingham lensed this eye-catching Bafta-nominated and double-Bifa-winning debut. Terrifyingly, it’s semi-autobiographical.

Developed from Billingham’s 1996 photo studies of his alcoholic dad, Ray, and chain-smoking mum, Liz, which originally formed part of Charles Saatchi’s Sensation exhibition (also featuring Damien Hirst’s shark in formaldehyde), it’s a horrific, if gorgeously composed watch.

Structured as a triptych, it takes place as three snapshots into the depressed and depressing lives of Ray and Liz (played by different actors depending on the era), holed up in various squalid council flats around Birmingham as they enact abusive neglect upon their children, Richard and Jason (who was finally taken into care aged 11).

The adult inhabitants of this human zoo may be repellent but the searing authenticity of Billingham’s nightmarish vision ensures we can’t look away.

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Everybody Knows

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Maiden

This inspirational documentary explores how 24-year-old Tracy Edwards came to captain the first all-female crew to enter the Whitbread Round The World Race in 1989, despite a tsunami of male chauvinism against them. (12A)

Rosie

Penned by Booker Prize winner Roddy Doyle, Rosie, starring Sarah Greene (above), is a tender tale of what politicians like to call a ‘normal hard-working family’ who find themselves homeless — like thousands of others in today’s Dublin. Like Ken Loach without the bleakness. (12)