Folks, it’s time to dip back into the Marvel Cinematic Universe once again. I’ve been a big fan of this incredibly bizarre cinematic experiment from the beginning, and while there’s certainly something to be said about the lasting ramifications that the MCU has placed upon cinema as a whole, I’m still a huge sucker for them. I’ve been a comic book geek for quite some time, and Marvel has always been my brand. I’ve gotten to see some of my favorite characters of all time flying around the silver screen in a way that actually appreciates what makes them great, telling their stories in way that I can fully enjoy, instead of just thinking that they’re pretty good for a comic book movie. And, after more than ten years of this series being an ongoing concern, we’ve reached a film that’s a milestone. Not only is it the first MCU film with a female lead, which is insane, it’s the introduction to one of my favorite superhero characters, Carol Danvers, Captain Marvel. Just the other day I talked about Carol on Marvel Madness, where I got more into her history as a character, but I’m just a big fan of Carol, regardless of what super identity she’s rocking. And, ever since she was revitalized as the new Captain Marvel, I’ve been loving her exploits. Yeah, there’s been some rocky moment (never read Civil War II!) but by and large her transition into becoming Captain Marvel has been pretty fantastic, and the idea that we were going to get to see Carol on the big screen had me incredibly excited. And, thankfully, the film delivers on giving us a great Captain Marvel story wonderfully.
The film begins on the planet Hala, home-planet of the Kree empire, where a woman known as Vers is living as a member of an elite commando team fighting a seemingly never-ending war against a shape-shifting alien race known as the Skrulls. Vers arrived on Hala six years ago, and has no memory, but has been turned into a soldier, capable of wielding a mysterious energy blast. She and her mentor, Yon-Rogg have been assigned to investigate a possible Skrull outpost on a planet by the leader of the Kree, an artificial intelligence known as the Supreme Intelligence, which takes the form of whoever the viewer most admires, and who Vers doesn’t recognize. She and her team arrive on a planet where the Skrulls may be lurking, where she’s almost immediately stunned and abducted. The Skrulls then begin accessing her memories, convinced that somewhere buried in her forgotten life she knows about a faster than light engine that they need. And, their process ends up pointing them to a Podunk planet known as Earth, where it seems Vers may have been from. She manages to escape the Skrulls, specifically their leader Talos, and ends up crash landing on Earth, a planet that feels oddly familiar to her, but that doesn’t seem to mean anything to her. So, she gets to work trying to get off Earth, while also becoming fascinated by these newly surfaced memories, including a vision of an older woman, who is the person she sees when she talks to the Supreme Intelligence, who appears to work at a government facility for something called Project Pegasus. And, shortly after she lands on Earth, she comes into contact with a man named Nick Fury who works for an organization called SHIELD. Vers tries to explain to Fury the whole thing with the Kree and the Skrulls, and he kind of assumes that she’s insane, until he sees her using her energy powers and finds a Skrull trying to become his partner Coulson. So, Fury is on board, and he wants to help Vers figure out what’s going on.
Using Fury’s connections, they travel to the secret facility holding Project Pegasus, looking for this mysterious woman, Dr. Wendy Lawson. Unfortunately, Fury and Vers immediately raise a lot of red flags, causing Fury to call in his boss. And, unknown to Fury, his boss has been replaced by Talos the Skrull. Some SHIELD agents arrive and attempt to kill Vers and Fury, while they’re able to get some information on Lawson, along with her pet cat Goose. They escape, and Vers learns something shocking. Lawson and a pilot named Carol Danvers supposedly died six years ago while testing a plane with a new experimental engine, and Vers is almost certainly Carol Danvers. She begins remembering all sorts of things about her life on Earth as Carol, and they decide to go find Carol’s best friend from the past, Marie Rambeau. Marie is pretty shocked to find her supposedly dead friend, but she helps piece together Carol’s past, while she and Fury attempt to make a plan. And, that plan is immediately ruined when Talos shows up at Marie’s house. But, he has something shocking to tell them. He’s not the aggressor. Talos explains to everyone that the Skrulls are no longer really at war with the Kree, and the Kree are just trying to exterminate them. He only took Carol because her energy blasts are similar to the engine that Dr. Wendy Lawson, who was actually a Kree, were making for them so they could escape the Kree. And, while explaining all of this, Carol remembers the day that she “died,” and realizes that it was actually Yon-Rogg who killed Lawson and who causes an explosion that sent all of the energy of the engine into Carol, givin her her powers. So, Carol decides to help Talos, and complete with Marie and Goose, who turns out to be some horrible alien, they travel to Lawson’s hidden space laboratory where the engine is kept. Yon-Rog and his soldiers, along with the Kree fanatic Ronan the Accuser arrive to kill Carol and the Skrulls, but they all do battle, and Carol is able to save the planet while also coming into her own as a hero. And, at the end of the day, she decides to accompany the Skrulls, and take them to their new world, promising Fury to return if he ever needs her.
By and large, the Marvel Cinematic Universe films have been rough adaptations of the stories that we’ve known and loved in decades of comics. They will occasionally shift things around, toss out some twists for the nerds in the audience, and take well-known characters and do something different with them. But, usually, as a geek I can get a good idea of what I’m going to be getting. That wasn’t the case with Captain Marvel. Because this film really does something surprising, and tells what is essentially a completely original story, with familiar beats and characters, but doing something very singular. The idea that Carol has spent six years on Hala with no memory is fascinating. The fact that the Skrulls aren’t the villains of this movie caught me completely off guard. The way that the movie used Lawson/Mar-Vell was a complete shock. And it told a story that was largely not based on anything in particular. And I loved that about it. This was a movie that took Carol Danvers, and told a story unlike any we’ve ever seen from her, while still feeling familiar enough not to come across as a completely different character. And, I think it worked great. I’ve been a fan of Brie Larson for a while now, and I think she does great as Carol, giving us a character who is perfectly balanced on the edge of being cocky because she knows she’s the best, and cocky because she’s terrified of everything around her and is doing her best to give off an air of confidence. Origin movies are hard to get off right, and the characters are usually not exactly what you want them to be, but I think Larson gives us as close to the Carol we want as she can with a story that’s showing her early years. It’s also impossible to ignore the wonderful performance Samuel L Jackson is giving as Nick Fury, a character who has been with this franchise since the beginning, but who has never been given a chance to shine quite like this before, reminding us what a great actor he is, and what a great character his Fury has become. Plus, I cannot give enough praise to Ben Mendelsohn, who gave a performance as Talos that I couldn’t possibly have predicted, but who really does his best to steal every scene, in a film where Larson and Jackson are already knocking it out of the park, all coming together to make a film that really feels universal.
This film meant a lot. It’s incredibly insane that it took twenty one entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to feature a female lead. The MCU has had women character before, some of which who are great and some of the most popular characters in the whole franchise, but they’ve never given any of them a starring role before. So, the idea of Marvel finally giving a film to one of its most popular female characters was always going to be a big deal. And, unfortunately, that ended up raising up a lot of completely terrible people, who have spent a shocking amount of their lives lately doing everything they can to tear this film down, all because it dared to give a voice to people who don’t normally get this kind of recognition. Thankfully, if you can unplug yourself from the internet, you quickly realize that these sorts of people have no power, no one cares about them, and the reality is that people are hungry for a character like Carol. And, wonderfully, this movie wasn’t just a token gesture towards people who were begging for a female-superhero movie, something that wasn’t handled with care and was just done to check off some sort of diversity box. Instead, it was a film that really seemed to have something to say, specifically about being a woman with power. Now, of course, I’m a guy, so I’m completely talking about of my ass right now. So, apologies if this isn’t actually something that hit women like it hit me, and I would love to hear from people who disagree. But, I was completely struck by the final confrontation between Carol and Yon-Rogg, who has spent the entire film manipulating Carol into thinking that she’s less than him, that she’s too emotional, and that she has to fight on his terms. Carol has spent years being told she’s not as powerful as she could be, that she needs to be quiet, not be herself, and just be a useful tool to the Kree. And, by the end of the film, she realizes that all of that’s bullshit. She shatters every expectation of herself, and sees that there’s one constant in her life. She falls down, and she picks herself back up again. She realizes she doesn’t need to play by anyone else’s rules, and that she can succeed any way she can, she doesn’t have to do what’s expected of her. And, I’m a huge sucker for superhero stories that revolve around characters realizing that the most important thing is to keep getting up when the world gets them down. So, combining that with the fierce revelation that she can be whoever she wants to be, and live however she wants to has given us an incredibly insightful film that really hit me hard. I love Carol Danvers, and this film has done right by her.
Captain Marvel was written by Nicole Perlman, MegLaFauve, Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, and Geneva Robertson-Dworet, directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, and released by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 2019.
Categories: Reel Talk