written by Kate Spencer
Higher, further, faster…but enough about the box office earnings of the most recent film boycotted by angry internet dudes, let’s talk about Captain Marvel!
I have been eagerly anticipating this movie since the day it was announced in 2014. Finally, after five years and a few delays, I got to sit down in my local theater to watch Carol Danvers kick butt on film. In the superhero movie boom that’s been happening in the last decade, I’ve finally come to understand the feeling that people had seeing the Christopher Reeve Superman in theaters. I felt it with Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger, and even way back in the day with 1989’s Batman; but it’s been different for two recent films. In Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel, I got to see two of my favorite lady heroes on the big screen.
That feeling was the strongest during a part that’s seen in the trailers, when Carol goes “super saiyan”. I teared up a little. This was my Captain Marvel.
If you don’t know, Captain Marvel is a Marvel Comics superhero originally known as Ms. Marvel before taking the mantle of the late alien hero Mar-Vell. Her origin in the comics is as a supporting character for the original Captain Marvel, who got caught in an explosion before granting her some of his powers. Then there was a whole thing where she lost her powers and gained new ones and now she has a sort of combination of the two. This is a very roundabout way of saying that the film has thankfully streamlined her origin.
Yes, it’s an origin story. I know people groan and complain when superhero films are just another origin story, but you’ve got to start somewhere. And quite frankly, I’ll gladly sit through the origin of a hero who has never had their own movie before I sit through Thomas and Martha Wayne or Ben Parker getting shot for the fifth time.
Like any good adaptation, it reimagines the story in a way that’s faithful to the source material while putting a new spin on it. I’ll go into more detail when I get into spoilers, but I do want to say if you haven’t looked up plot details or which actor is playing what character, keep yourself unspoiled. If you still want to see it for yourself and be surprised like I was, I’ll give a spoiler warning before I get into the juicy stuff.
Brie Larson is fantastic as the titular character. I’ve read complaints that she’s wooden or bland and emotionless, and I don’t see that at all. She laughs, she jokes, screams “woo!” as she flies, and several scenes have her being a cheeky little shit to people trying to exert authority. She doesn’t show what a friend referred to as “Standard Hollywood Woman Emotions.” In fact, Brie Larson shows the same or greater range of emotion as Chris Evans does as Captain America. There are reasons within the story for Carol keeping her emotions in check, which makes the displays of emotion she does have all the more meaningful.
Samuel L. Jackson is an entirely different Nick Fury than the one we’ve seen up till now. This Fury is over twenty years younger (accomplished by fantastic digital de-aging) and less experienced. Jackson and Larson play off each other so well that I really hope he’s included in a sequel just to see how their interactions would change after the years they spent apart.
Visually, the film is stunning. The space stuff looks straight out of Star Wars and the Earth stuff looks so much like ’90s Earth that I had to remind myself it was set in the past a few times. ’90s references never get as bad as some of the cringy ’80s references in Guardians of the Galaxy, but they are plentiful. There’s a Blockbuster and a Radio Shack, an old Game Boy, signs and posters, and a funny computer joke later in the film that I won’t spoil. As for the rest, it’s great. The aliens look alien, the suits look awesome, and the special effects are all believable. To alter a tagline: You will believe a woman can fly…and go pew pew!
If there’s any real complaint I have with the film, it’s that the pacing near the beginning is really awkward. We’re introduced to some characters, we’re given some basic stakes, there’s a short action sequence, and then we’re dumped into a bizarre and visually disorienting flashback sequence that I could best describe as watching TV with someone who’s more interested in flipping through channels than actually watching anything. It serves its purpose in teasing what’s to come, but it may have been better to space the flashbacks out throughout the movie.
I want to discuss some important themes that will get into deeper spoilers, so I’ll put a spoiler break before that. To wrap up the non-spoiler part and give a review/recommendation: Captain Marvel is fantastic. It has all of the action elements and personal character drama we’ve come to expect from the Marvel Cinematic Universe while introducing a new character in a way that perfectly captures the spirit of her comic incarnation. The film pays tribute to Carol’s original origin and more modern interpretations, particularly Kelly Sue DeConnick’s excellent run on the character that turned her into the Captain Marvel we know today. Like Spider-Man: Homecoming and Black Panther, it gives me hope for the Marvel Cinematic Universe beyond Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor. If you’re already a comic or MCU fan, this one is worth the watch; but even if you’re not into comics, you’ll be able to find something to enjoy in this tale of a woman turned hero.
Spoiler section after the lazy cat.
So, let’s talk about deeper themes and major plot points of the film. First off, the romantic subplot:
There wasn’t one. Didn’t need to be one.
Carol and Fury don’t fall in love in a few hours and their relationship never moves beyond a friendly working relationship – as it should be. It’s so refreshing to have a female lead in something without there being some forced romance tacked onto it just because the two leads have heterosexuality in common. Now…I don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up, including my own, but there is a fan theory about Carol in this movie that I feel needs mentioning.
At the start of the film Carol isn’t Carol Danvers, she’s Vers of the Kree Starforce. She believes she’s Kree and has never been to Earth, but she starts recovering memories of being an Air Force pilot and having a life on Earth. The trail of memories leads her to fellow pilot Maria Rambeau and her daughter Monica, who haven’t seen Carol since she was presumed killed in a crash six years ago. Monica refers to her as “Aunt Carol” and brings out a box of her stuff, showing her photos and saying that she and her mother were Carol’s surrogate family since Carol doesn’t get along well with her real family.
The implication being that Carol and Maria, two Air Force pilots living and serving in the mid-’90s after the implementation of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, were raising a child together. Now I’m going to say that I personally see this as little more than wishful thinking, but I do like the theory, and it would be nice to have some high-profile LGBTQ representation in the MCU.
Let’s talk about the villains. The promotional material and the first half of the film tell us that the villains are the Skrulls, but something doesn’t seem quite right with that. We learn that the Skrulls are just trying to find a place to call home and the Kree are hunting them down. The Skrulls are refugees, and whether that’s an intended allegory in the current political climate or not, it does make a very interesting twist, especially because Skrulls are rarely portrayed as anything but villains in the comics. They’re not a conquering race of aliens trying to blend in and infiltrate the human race; they’re just people trying to survive an unjust and one-sided war that’s been declared on them.
The true villains in this are the Starforce, and it becomes more insidious when Carol finds out they’ve just been using her the whole time and holding her back. She’s told to keep her emotions in check and not rely on the powers the Kree claim to have given her. Jude Law’s character Yon-Rogg spars with her at the beginning of the film and scolds her for using her photon blasts against him, saying she’ll only be better once she proves she can beat him without those powers. Predictably, the final fight between the fully powered Carol and Yon-Rogg has him reiterating that point and challenging her to fisticuffs.
She blasts him.
Y’all, that may be one of the most anti-climactic final battles I’ve seen in a movie, but it’s probably the most cathartic. Hilariously, this spawned a “DEBATE ME” Twitter meme featuring Yon-Rogg. Carol says herself that she doesn’t have to prove anything to him, and it’s a great subversion of a really macho trope.
Lastly, I want to talk about the changes in the origin. There’s no Doctor Walter Lawson/male Captain Marvel whom Carol chases after. She doesn’t spend time as Ms. Marvel. There’s no Psyche Magnetron explosion that makes her a human/Kree hybrid. There’s no connection to a white hole to give her the Binary powers. Instead, Carol’s origin begins when she agrees to help Doctor Wendy Lawson test a new engine. Unbeknownst to her, Lawson is actually a Kree scientist named Mar-Vell who is secretly helping the Skrulls find a new homeworld by developing a new lightspeed engine. Lawson says lives depend on it and that’s enough for Carol. “If there are lives at stake, I’ll fly the plane.”
The test flight goes poorly when Yon-Rogg shoots down the experimental jet and Doctor Lawson’s blue blood reveals her to be an alien. Carol takes this surprisingly well. Lawson tries to destroy the engine to keep it out of the Starforce’s hands, but is shot dead by Yon-Rogg so Carol does it herself. She shoots the engine and it explodes, granting her powers. Carol’s origin is no longer defined by some accident while following around a male hero; it’s defined by heroic sacrifice. She probably thought that her proximity to that engine and its experimental nature would kill her and maybe Yon-Rogg too. She was in a no-win situation against a superior foe, Lawson had convinced her that if the engine fell into the wrong hands it would do more harm than good, and she did the thing that would save lives.
That’s Carol Danvers to me. A serious but sometimes goofy soldier, lover of snark, seeker of new heights and faster speeds, and maybe a bit of an adrenaline junkie. But above it all, when lives are at stake, she will fly the plane.
Kate can be reached on Twitter @WearyKatie.