Captain Marvel succeeded in its mission, bringing the audiences closer to Avengers: Endgame.
Warning: This review discusses plot points for Captain Marvel.
When audiences last left the MCU, at the very end of Ant-Man and the Wasp, Hope, Janet and Hank were vaporized in Thanos’ snap while Scott is collecting particles in the Quantum Realm, essentially trapping him there. In other words, a bad day got worse.
So, when Captain Marvel opened this weekend, it had three jobs:
- Give viewers some hope that someone, somehow could maybe tip the scales in the Avengers’ favor as they fight Thanos in a post-snap universe when Avengers: Endgame opens in April
- Give viewers an origin story for Carol Danvers which would retcon what can only politely be called a “convoluted comic book history”
- Answer the critics who accuse the MCU of being extremely slow to have a female-led movie without isolating the fans who do not see that gap
Captain Marvel succeeded in its jobs. The film is fun, satisfying, and adds a new chapter into a well-developed MCU. Brie Larson is excellent as Carol Danvers who is absolutely going to give Thanos trouble, the connections from this story to the rest of the universe are logical and do not feel forced, and the empowerment story is subtle, but well told.
All that being said, this movie, like Doctor Strange and Antman (two of the most recent origin stories) does not try to do any more than introduce audiences to a new character and showcase that hero’s powers. That is fine. If the twenty-one movies in the MCU are indeed a series of film, introducing new characters into that series must be done cleanly, quickly and without upsetting the well-established tone and rhythm.
They Need a Hero
Larson plays Vers, a Kree warrior with no memory of her past, beyond occasional flashes. She is a skilled member of Starforce with the ability to discharge energy from her fists but lacks some of the seriousness her team leader, Yon-Rugg (Jude Law) wants her to have.
When a battle with the shapeshifting Skrull goes poorly, she must go to Earth to find a light speed engine before it falls into the wrong hands and engulfs the Earth in an intergalactic war. To do this, she teams up with Nicholas Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, who deserves credit for giving us glimpses of the Director Fury we know while portraying a less seasoned and cynical man), an agent of SHIELD who did not think Earth’s enemies would come from the atmosphere.
Naturally, finding the engine requires her to connect to her past, so by the time Vers finds the engine, she has reassumed her identity as Air Force pilot Carol Danvers and reunited with her best friend, Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch from the UK’s Bulletproof). She learns more about the powers she got in a test flight accident and gains a better understanding of the Kree/Skrull war (thanks in large part to Ben Mendelsohn having an excellent time as General Talos and adding to his list of science-fiction movie franchises he has been a part of).
During her journey of self-discovery, she unlocks more of the power she got in a test flight accident. In the final battle, she flies and throws plasma around and generally is a force to be reckoned with. I watched that final battle and realized the next time we saw her, she had twenty years to hone her power and gain experience in combat. Thanos is in trouble. That is what Marvel wants us to think.
Simplifying the Backstory
Captain Marvel just as a name has a convoluted history. So much so that CNN ran the headline “Shazam! Brie Larson is ‘Captain Marvel,'” after the Comic-Con announcement without realizing that they were thinking of the wrong Captain Marvel.
The DC/Marvel battle over the name was much of the problem, as Marvel Comics put out Captain Marvel “Mar-Vell” comics mostly to protect the trademark, and several people used the title, including initially a male Kree agent named Dr. Walter Lawson.
Once you remove the trademark confusion from the equation, you are left with Carol Danvers confusion, as she had three superhero names before becoming Captain Marvel. In the comics, Danvers became Captain Marvel in July 2012.
What is a movie to do? Simplify.
Carol Danvers is our hero but the name “Captain Marvel” is never spoken in the film. However, like in the comic, Danvers gets her powers from a Kree device explosion while with Mar-Vell. Carol joins the air force and eventually becomes part-Kree thanks to a blood transfusion. Both Mar-Vell and Danvers are involved in the Skull-Kree war. The film even introduces us to the Flerken, a creature which Carol Danvers has, although by a different name.
It is clean. It is easy. There are enough nods to the comic book for hard-core fans to feel seen and not so many that MCU fans new to the character feel as if they are missing it. It is the right balance, and it is something the MCU has gotten quite good at.
“What Happens When I’m Finally Set Free?”
Carol Danvers, for all her superpowers, is incredibly relatable and easy to root for. She is cocky, as one would expect a pilot to be with a strange sense of humor. There are a few lines in the film I assume were supposed to be deadpan jokes, thanks to a little Larson smirk, but I was one of the few chuckling so who knows? She is one of a few military female characters who seem like fun.
As her story starts, she is sparring with Yon-Rugg. He tells her to keep her power in check. To be a better Kree and a better warrior, she must not rely on her ability. If she cannot control the energy from her fists, Yon-Rugg might have to take it away.
What is given, Yon-Rugg says early in the film, can be taken away.
This is where the empowerment story shines. Think about it. What other MCU hero has been told not to use his full powers? Bruce Banner was literally pushed into a pit during Avengers: Age of Ultron so the Hulk would emerge.
Through Rambeau and her daughter, Danvers remembers. And as she remembers, she realizes her potential and how awesome her powers are. Does Danvers tend to “leap and then look?” Yes, but that is precisely what one would expect from someone who has spent her entire life being told her gender is the reason she cannot do things.
For those of us in the audience who wanted to make the connection that it is through the mentorship of an older, power woman (Annette Bening’s character) and her role as a friend that Danvers not only gains but realizes her power cannot be taken away, it is powerful and empowering. For those in the audience who just want to watch the good guys win and the bad guys lose, it is fun. Danvers figures it out and beats the villains, ends the fight and saves the day. There is a line of dialogue during the final battle that got some women cheering in the theater when I saw it. There was also a gesture that got the whole audience fired up, which I think was equally balanced across the genders.
The empowerment was there if you were looking for it. Most of it is female empowerment, but not entirely. The main message is you are yourself control your life and claim your rights and power. For example, there is a moment between Talos’ child and Monica Rambeau (daughter of Maria Rambeau) in which Monica tells the Skrull never change her eye color because they are beautiful.
But this movie was not going to be a story about empowerment and “other.” It was not designed to take risks, and it did not. It was a story to introduce a character, how she fits in this universe, and how her ability to “stop the fighting” was precisely what the good guys desperately need in Avengers: Endgame. So while yes, the story of a woman breaking out of the place assigned to her was presented in a movie that absolutely stayed in its place, it was a satisfying film that gave us an MCU female leader. And I am confident when she finds out what happens to Fury, she is going to go fix some things. So, maybe the bad day got a little better.
Beth Keithly is a graduate from The University of Missouri’s School of Journalism and works on grant development at a North Texas university. She is a fan of most science fiction and fantasy, especially Star Wars, Star Trek, Supernatural, DC comics and the Arrowverse, and the Marvel movieverse. When she is not teaching her children about her fandoms and the importance of a quality pen, she is reading, running or discussing fictional universes and their impacts on reality with her husband. She is @beth_keithly on Twitter.