In the latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe we meet the first on-screen appearance of Captain Marvel. The film, set in 1995, is a nostalgic, campy, and timely add to the Marvel family. In fact, this story explores how she actually started it all. This film does not only serve as Captain Marvel’s origin story, but also the start of modern-day S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Avengers Initiative. Captain Marvel brings in much needed female blood into the MCU and provides a new format for an origin story.
Who is Captain Marvel?
Well, she doesn’t know. The best part of this film is that we are trying to learn about the character, initially known as Vers, right along with her. She has nightmares about a life she doesn’t remember, she has powers she can’t control and is part of a military group of Kree with a singular mission she cannot challenge. When captured by the Skrulls after a failed Kree mission, they use her memories to find Dr. Wendy Lawson. This takes her to earth in 1995 where she partners with young Agent Fury of S.H.E.I.L.D. to uncover the connection between Dr. Lawson, the Skrulls and the Kree and in the process unearth her own earthly story.
Eventually, we learn that she is a human named Carol Danvers. A pilot for the US Air Force working with Dr. Lawson at Project Pegasus. There Dr. Lawson was developing new planes. The most secret of which runs on an engine harnessing the power of the Tesseract. Carol and Lawson take the plane for a test drive, but after a dog fight, they crash. When Carol destroys the engine, per Lawson’s instructions, she absorbs the powers of the engine. This makes her a daughter of the Tesseract’s Infinity Space Stone. We learn, the Kree are not so great. They have been fighting the Skrulls, yet they consider themselves as refugees looking for a homeland. Carol, now Captain Marvel, offers to help the Skrull families.
Some critics have been all too critical of this film because they felt Brie Larson was disconnected from the role or was miscast. I couldn’t disagree more. Larson’s snark fits well with Fury’s already stiff and professional (yet, very cat-friendly) exterior. The duo are close friends off-screen, so they had strong chemistry and played off each other’s comedic timing well. She is a welcomed addition to the MCU family.
This film is designed around different forms of flashbacks which is refreshing from the standard, non-diegetic flashback sequence. We traveled through dream sequences, mind control, a table full of photos and finally one clear vision of the events sparked by the Black Box tape. The film’s pacing doesn’t stall with strategic exposition. The Skrulls needed to see into her memories to find Lawson, while the dreams were originally perceived as nightmares to be avoided. Yet, when looking over her family photos she saw evidence of her life on earth for the first time that wasn’t scary, but a long missed positive memory. Her past no longer troubles her, but empowers her as she works through the details.
This film hinges on its ability to navigate through Carol’s complicated history. The smart choice was to let her learn as we do. Unlike fellow MCU-Phase 3 origin story, Black Panther, this film offers a non-linear style to explore this character’s history. With Black Panther, the story focuses on King T’Challa challenged for his crown and thusly, the Black Panther suit. A pretty straight forward narrative. Captain Marvel is a bit quieter and smaller than Black Panther, yet the complexity of the story makes way for this new structure. The fractured nature of her mind laces in with the storytelling allowing the viewer to empathize with her inability to connect to her past as we too have fractured visions of events.
A Hero for a New Age
The character of Captain Marvel joins Wonder Woman as the only female superheroes with stand-alone films. Interestingly, both films take place in the past, with Wonder Woman set during WWI and Captain Marvel set in 1995. In this moment of female empowerment, I hope to see a stand-alone film for a present-day female superhero in conversation with today’s cultural shifts. The next Wonder Woman film is set also in the past called Wonder Woman: 1984, so I may have to wait for a Captain Marvel sequel or Black Widow film to see a modern female superhero.
For Captain Marvel, despite the timing of 1995, the film still feels current as they avoided pushing too hard on political messaging, reinforcing Captain Marvel as a superior fighter and stronger person than her foes. This isn’t a vision of the stale “strong-female-lead” attitude toward female led films, but a complicated and emotional personal journey. At the end, this story wasn’t about winning the day, but rather finding her power and helping those in need.
Her final battle wasn’t a typical superhero death-match. With bit of muscle flexing, she scared off Ronan’s fleet. Further, she didn’t even attempt to kill Jude Law’s Yon-Rogg, but sent him back to Hala with a message for the Kree higher-ups. This is drastically different from the final Wonder Woman battle to the death against Aries. Though both are displays of what happens to powerful women losing the devices designed to limit their abilities. In the first moments of the film Yon-Rogg tells her to stop fighting with her heart and use her head. The opposition of this is the core of Captain Marvel; a character whose limitless power is best controlled by her good heart.
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