I never quite liked Carol Danvers. When she was first introduced in the 70s as Ms. Marvel, she felt like a concession to the then-prominent Women’s Lib movement and thus nothing more than a cypher. The character had changed names – from Ms Marvel to Binary to Warbird and back to Ms Marvel again – nothing seemed to stick until Marvel Comics decided to make Danvers the new Captain Marvel in 2012.
Perhaps this decision was made with a view to introducing the character in the MCU as a major female superhero. Especially after the success of Warner Bros’ Wonder Woman adaptation, it became imperative for Marvel to introduce its first female superhero solo movie. And the new Captain Marvel fit the bill.
Considering the complicated history of both Danvers and the Captain Marvel moniker – not forgetting for a time the name was held by Monica Rambeau, it was a complicated trick to find a balance between presenting a simple origin story to mass audiences without alienating the Marvel comic geeks.
The 90s setting is a masterstroke as nostalgia is big amongst movie-goers with the numerous references points – like the slow loading CD-Rom – eliciting guffaws from the knowing audience. It gave diehard Marvel geeks a chance to find out what the MCU was like in the pre-Iron Man era.
Thus we are given the treat of a young Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and rookie Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) working the ground as Agents of SHIELD as they encounter Captain Marvel in her pursuit of the Skrulls.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
Captain Marvel is essentially an origin story but a fundamentally very different one from the previous ones we have seen in the MCU. Carol Danvers starts the movie on Kree homeworld Hala believing herself to be a Kree warrior, part of the elite Starforce, and imbued with powers she intends to use in the service of the Kree in their war with the villainous Skrulls.
That’s all she knows because she has no memories of her past. But as the story unfolds, she begins to see glimpses of this past which contradicts her life on Hala. She also has visions of a woman (Annette Benning) – a personification of the Kree Supreme Intelligence – which we are told will take the form of someone whom the person greatly admires when connected to the Intelligence. Danvers has no idea who that woman is.
Slowly, the plot reveals that nothing is as it seems. The Skrulls are not villains but refugees from a war waged upon them by the evil Kree. Danvers’ Starforce commander Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) has – with the Supreme Intelligence – been manipulating Danvers to use her powers for the Kree. The mystery woman is actually Kree renegade Mar-Vell, embedded on Earth as scientist Dr. Wendy Lawson, on a secret mission to aid the Skrulls against her own people.
Controversial departures from the comics here as the Skrulls have always been portrayed as villains and of course, Mar-Vell is a man and was the original Captain Marvel in the comics. Initially, I was upset by this but grew to accept that the changes were necessary in the context of the MCU and Danvers’ specific origin tale. Intriguing twists which were definitely not evident in the various trailers.
Ultimately, with the help of former colleague Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) and the Skrull leader Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), Danvers regains her full memory and realises that Yon-Rogg had killed Mar-Vell and she gained her powers when she destroyed Mar-Vell’s energy-core, absorbing the energy from the ensuing explosion at the cost of losing all her memories.
This origin ties in somewhat with how Danvers got her powers in the comics. Mar-vell is involved and there is an energy explosion resulting in Danvers’ powers. Quite neatly done so that it made sense in the MCU, while still respecting the source material. Kudos.
The third act is straight-forward enough. Talos is reunited with his family and other Skrull refugees, the source of Mar-Vell’s energy-core is the Tesseract, Danvers is captured by the Star Force and must encounter the Supreme Intelligence one last time before she is fully realised as Captain Marvel. True to the hype, Captain Marvel is the mightiest hero in the MCU and she makes fairly short work of Yon-Rogg and the Starforce and even Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) who comes to Earth to destroy it.
The fact of Captain Marvel’s powers again gave me pause. She seemed thoroughly over-powered for the MCU. Remember that in the comics, considering the number of highly super-powered individuals, Captain Marvel’s powers seemed appropriate but in the MCU? But then again, perhaps it makes sense as only someone like Captain Marvel will be able to help the Avengers to defeat Thanos in the upcoming Endgame movie.
Also the appearance of the Tesseract was a head-scratcher. In the timeline, the last time we saw the Tesseract was during WWII as Howard Stark recovered the infinity stone from the wreckage of Captain America’s aircraft at the end of The First Avenger movie. Presumably, as Dr. Lawson was working at Project Pegasus (a joint initiative amongst SHIELD, NASA and the USAF), she probably had access to the Tesseract and somehow managed to get it onto a cloaked ship in orbit above Earth. I am sure that story will be told somehow somewhere!
Like I said in the beginning, I never liked the Carol Danvers characters but Brie Larson – whom I loved in the TV series United States of Tara (2009 – 2011) – has put in quite a shift to make this MCU version of Captain Marvel work and bowled me over with a convincing performance. The thematic resonance of the female plight in a male-dominated world is handled very well and the emotional beats are delivered expertly by directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck.
In the final analysis, I rate Captain Marvel higher than Wonder Woman, Black Panther and Aquaman in terms of recent superhero origin movies. The narrative was smooth enough for me to think that the movie seemed short when in fact it was 125 minutes long! Proof positive that I was thoroughly enjoying Captain Marvel!
And that glorious first post-credit scene will leave you in eager anticipation for Avengers : Endgame as Captain Marvel’s answers Fury’s page! Can hardly wait!