Captain Marvel Isn’t What You’d Expect— And That’s a Good Thing

Image Credit:  Marvel Studios

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

By Angelica Martinez

March 27, 2019

It was the spring of 2012 when I attended my first midnight movie premier-- “The Avengers.” I was 14, a fresh-faced grammar school graduate, and despite the insistence a chaperone, it was my first real taste of the freedom that came with being a teenager. My friends and I sprawled out on the graying carpet of our local theatre, decked out to the nines in “Captain America” merch and giddy with excitement. It was a first of many times we would do this for a Marvel movie over the next seven years, and is a memory I look back on fondly.

There’s a reason that almost a decade later, Marvel films still have fans doing the same today. Their latest blockbuster “Captain Marvel” is no exception. The movie follows the part-Kree, part-human heroine Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) as she discovers who she is and what she’s truly capable of following an incident that wipes her memories clean. The tale shifts between Earth circa 1995 and space, predominantly the Kree planet “Hala”. The contrast between the two worlds is enticing— the high tech, advanced  Kree civilization is stark against the seemingly primitive pagers and payphones of the 90’s. The film plays heavily on this nostalgia, filling the spaces between scenes with hits from Nirvana to No Doubt. The mentions of Blockbusters and Radio Shack immediately draw a laugh from the crowd, or at least those old enough to remember it. 

Our protagonist, Carol Danvers, has a signature snark and sarcasm to her that is immediately lovable, and Oscar winner Brie Larson does an incredible job of translating this to the screen. Larson brings a complexity to Carol that, despite her superhuman abilities, emphasizes the parts of her that are genuine and human. She’s the powerful heroine we all expected and then some, remaining vulnerable and raw. Danvers is not stealthy and composed when she fights, as we often see on screen. Rather, she whoops and cheers over successes, grunts and growls in a brawl and isn’t afraid to let you know exactly what she’s thinking. Larson’s performance is packed with as much action as it is emotion, refreshing in a genre where one is often sacrificed for the other.

It’s evident that this was a priority of the director/writer duo of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. The pair follows the trend of the latest phase of the MCU: emphasizing the (wo)man behind the mask. Like Coogler’s “Black Panther” and Waititi’s “Thor: Ragnarok,” “Captain Marvel” challenges the traditional structure of  comic-centric cinema. At times it almost reminiscent of an indie, a signature of the pair’s previous work. We get a break from the photon blasts and alien battles to see Carol apart from the Captain Marvel mantel, to meet her friends and foes more personally. 

While there’s no love interest, “Captain Marvel” is still full of heart. It’s her fierce female friendship with Maria Rambeau, the unlikely roadtrip duo of herself and SHIELD agent Nick Fury, and the sister-like bond she shares with young Monica Rambeau. The heart of the movie isn’t our hero Captain Marvel at all but Carol Danvers, when she trades her suit for a pair of jeans and a leather jacket. Humanizing scenes like these have become fan-favorites in Marvel history, such as the iconic post-credit “Avengers” scene depicting earth’s mightiest heroes chowing down on post-battle shawarma or letting loose at a Stark party  in “Age of Ultron. Boden and Fleck capitalize on this, introducing viewers not only to the weapon, but the woman.

And yet, despite all this “Captain Marvel” remains at its core an origin story, complete with the typical shortcomings that come with that. The film’s pacing is inconsistent, at times feeling noticeably dragged out before speeding forward suddenly, chock full of information there’s not enough time to process. The slow-reveal of Carol’s pasts builds up suspense and anticipation as the audience unveils the truth in real-time alongside her, but also limits how much we know and when we get this information. Audiences get a taste of both Carol’s life as Kree warrior and as a pilot on earth, though neither narrative is truly satisfying. The film only scrapes the surface of Carol’s past and potential, having left me intrigued but ultimately hungry for more.

In many ways, “Captain Marvel” struggles to stand separate from the larger scheme of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It relies frequently on nods to pre-existing films, featuring characters such as Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) from The “Avengers” movies as well as Ronan the Accuser, who appeared previously as a villain in the “Guardians of the Galaxy,” without much explanation. In truth, despite being an origin movie, “Captain Marvel” is not really a stand alone at all. Sure, it’s tasked with introducing the world to Danvers, but it’s also a introductory tale of the MCU as we know it. Despite being the 22nd release by the studio, it comes second chronologically, only following the events of The First Avenger (which takes place during WWII). Further, it premiers just months before the highly anticipated Avengers: Endgame, tasked with setting the scene for how Carol Danvers fits into the modern day Avengers storyline. Boden and Fleck struggle to balance all this within a 2-hour run time, and as a result parts of Carol as sacrificed along the way. While the general story is evident, what exactly is at stake for her is muffled under the search for self and the big hero-reveal. 

Despite its shortcomings, “Captain Marvel” is a symbol of progress in the world of superhero movies and representation within them. It’s Marvel’s first female-lead film, having celebrated by opening on March 8th for International Women’s Day. The cast has a strong POC presence, with the likes of Gemma Chan, Lashana Lynch, and Samuel L Jackson. Following a long line of white, male (and Chris!) dominated films, “Captain Marvel” is a breath of fresh air. Leaving the theatre, I felt like my 14-year-old self again all those years ago: empowered, excited, and  (hypothetically) ready to kick some serious ass.