When Captain Marvel catapulted into the Earth’s orbit last week, it was instantly compared to Wonder Woman, another glass-shattering film led by a female superhero, and also balanced out by its broader place within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She hit at the perfect moment, as the cultural conversation and need for female filmmakers and female-driven stories continues to grow, and within the franchise she’s embedded in, things are pretty dire. Captain Marvel is here to save us, in more ways than one!
There’s a lot of fun to be had through this epic adventure, and one of the most striking ways is how it mimics and then subverts the tropes of superhero films. Early on, Kree Starforce member Vers (Brie Larson) trains in combat with her male mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), conditioning her to control her emotions and her abilities. In frustration, to wrap the fight up, Vers uses her powerful fists to throttle energy toward Yon-Rogg, winning the fight not through hand-to-hand combat but through the mysterious power she’s being told to conceal. The seeds of a “chosen one” narrative are being planted, through the archetypal mentor figure teaching to use one’s head over one’s heart.
Of course we come to learn Vers’s abilities weren’t birthright, or even meant to be hers. She was “chosen” back when she lived on Earth, as a United States Air Force pilot Carol Danvers working with Dr. Wendy Lawson (Annette Bening) to fly a ship fast enough to travel at the speed of light. Lawson selected her for her stellar piloting abilities, but tragedy does strike, the plane goes down, and Lawson’s dying request is for Danvers to destroy the power source before someone else gets to it. Danvers tries, but inadvertently sets off an explosion and absorbs the energy herself.
Lawson is the closest thing Danvers has to a mentor figure, though we learn of Lawson’s own complicated past as Mar-Vell, member of the Kree race with a mission to develop a weapon on Earth to wield across the galaxy. Mar-Vell / Lawson fortunately changed course, but we hardly get any screen time of this interesting figure acting out her true intentions.
In fact, the last scene featuring Mar-Vell at all is as the Supreme Intelligence, a Kree authority figure who takes the shape of someone different for every member of the Kree race. The Supreme Intelligence, appearing as Mar-Vell, taunts Danvers, mocking her as weak, fragile, and human. On the one hand, it would have been great to have more screen time of Mar-Vell as a positive mentor figure for Danvers, but I also find the choice to deliberately push her memory out as an interesting way to emphasize Danvers’s isolation and realization that she can only count on herself.
Ranking lists will be made, and everyone (myself included, admittedly) is speculating about how Captain Marvel fits into the Cinematic Universe. I can’t wait to find out what happens come the Endgame, but on its own merits (just like the cultural juggernaut Black Panther) Captain Marvel is a great film on its own, especially for how it’s so different from other Marvel films. The sense of friendship, loss, and reunion is maybe stronger here between Danvers and fellow USAF pilot Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) than any duo in the MCU. The Kree race slander and demonize the Skrull people, who turn out to be only refugees looking for a home. The dehumanization of Vers herself as the oppressor, a military cog in the wheel, and the oppressed, are deeply felt and earned throughout the film. The arcs of destruction, guilt, and responsibility that took Iron Man several features to get through are expertly crafted in this stand-alone entry.
Yes, I’m curious to see how Captain Marvel will save the day from Thanos (I don’t doubt that she can do it), and can’t wait to see what else lies ahead for the former Carol Danvers. She may not be a “chosen one,” but she made herself into a peerless superhero with boundless strength, intellect, and heart.