Captain Marvel’s 90s rock soundtrack hits all the right notes

With its shot of 90s nostalgia, Marvel shows once again just how good it is at matching the music to the action

Captain Marvel Brie Larson

At a climactic point in Captain Marvel, as Brie Larson’s titular hero attempts to face down a foe, the warbling, the distorted opening riff from Nirvana’s Come As You Are bleeds out over the soundsystem. It gave me goosebumps.

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Once again, Marvel has absolutely nailed its movie soundtrack.

There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about the selection of tunes that accompany directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s film. They haven’t unearthed beloved classics and incorporated them into the very fabric of the film, a la James Gunn in Guardians of the Galaxy. Many of the songs featured are hits that you’ll catch on a decent, rock-friendly radio station.

But Captain Marvel’s soundtrack is perfectly curated, a selection of bonafide classics that act as a cultural reference point for the 90s-set film, and add a level of oomph to fight scenes akin to Taika Waititi’s shiver-inducing inclusion of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song in Thor: Ragnarok.

It’s further proof that Marvel are keenly aware how important a great soundtrack is for its films. Their scores may be getting all the attention at the moment – Black Panther recently won the Oscar for Best Original Musical Score – but the track choices should not be overlooked.

Just like Black Panther, the soundtrack here serves to set the scene. Instead of a modern African utopia, we have 1990s USA, where Brie Larson’s character crash lands after escaping the grasp of Ben Mendelsohn’s villainous Talos.

She has been here before, but can’t quite remember it. As we learn through flashbacks, she was formerly Carol Danvers, a Guns ‘N’ Roses-loving fighter pilot in training. Somewhere deep down, she still is, but thanks to a mysterious accident, she is now super-powered, and has no real recollection of her old life.

From the get-go, Danvers’ personality – the bits she can’t recall – are suggested to us through music. She’s got a cracking wardrobe of vintage band tees – whose value will surely skyrocket after fans see Larson rocking them – from the likes of Guns ‘N’ Roses (the Appetite for Destruction cover, a classic), Nine Inch Nails and 1970s outfit Heart.

Refreshingly, she’s utterly distinct from the other heroes in the MCU. She’s not a self-deprecative quip-machine like post-Ragnarok Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) and Guardians’ Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), nor is she an angsty brooder like Chris Evans’ Captain America. She’s actually… quite chill?

Larson imbues the character with a Californian’s insouciance, and the music does the rest of the work. In a very on-the-nose but entirely appropriate song choice towards the end of the film, No Doubt’s Just A Girl plays over a battle, sapping a little bit of jeopardy, but adding tons of quirk.

At times, the 1990s references – like Blockbuster video rentals, Silence of the Lambs, slow, dial-up internet and The Fresh Prince of Bell Air – feel a bit forced.

The tunes, on the other hand – many of which are from female-led bands – just work.

At one stage, Garbage’s Only Happy When It Rains plays, as Danvers decks herself out in her old clothes: a Nine Inch Nails tee, leather jacket and classic denim jeans.

As we await the anticipated post-credits Avengers: Endgame tease, we get a blast of Hole’s Celebrity Skin. It’s hard to imagine more fitting choices.

“We can’t compete with Guardians of the Galaxy. [That] was its own special thing,” Boden said in a recent interview. “But we do have a movie that takes place in the ’90s, and you will hear some ’90s music: hopefully stuff that reminds you of the past. We’re playing a lot with songs that we forgot about or just haven’t heard in a long time, but that really bring us back to a certain moment.”

That Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack became the first with predominantly previously released songs to top the US Billboard chart. If the music here works as Boden intended, and induces that rush of 90s nostalgia, perhaps the Captain Marvel soundtrack could repeat this feat.

If not, the goosebumps will suffice.

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Captain Marvel is released in cinemas on Friday 8th March 2019