Marvel Studios perfected the art of adapting superhero comics to film with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). MCU’s films are consistently polished, fun, colourful, highly-enjoyable pieces of mass entertainment, making it the most reliable blockbuster brand of the 2010s. MCU perfectly captures the tone of decades worth of comic books with faithful adaptations, and feature clever world-building that allows cosmic pirates and sci-fi gods to credibly coexist on-screen with a billionaire inventor, a 1940s-era super-soldier and a teenager with spider-like abilities. )
After much success Marvel Studios even began loosening control over its filmmakers, allowing creators like Ryan Coogler and Taika Waititi free rein to apply their highly-distinctive approaches to the MCU. However, after 20 films in just over a decade the MCU ran the risk of becoming at best familiar and at worst formulaic. For example, a brilliant jerk of a character that learns altruism through trauma and becomes a superhero worked brilliantly in
Iron Man (Favreau, 2008) so why not do it again in Doctor Strange (Derrickson, 2016)? Doctor Strange distinguished itself in other ways, but the basic character arc was familiar. Moving forward, every MCU film needed to distinguish itself to avoid seeming formulaic.
Design Face Eye by Geralt (Pixabay License / Pixabay)
Which brings us to
Captain Marvel (Boden and Fleck, 2019). The film features familiar elements that bring to mind such previous MCU films as Thor (Branagh, 2011), Guardians of the Galaxy (Gunn, 2014) and Black Panther (Coogler, 2018), threatening to turn it into the greatest hits of the MCU. Despite the familiarity, however, Captain Marvel avoids being formulaic because its central hero is a woman. This is the first female-centric film in the MCU, and only the second female-centric Marvel Film (after Bowman’s 2005 Elektra).
If handled superficially, producing a typical MCU film and simply swapping the sex of the main character, this could have felt like a cynical attempt by Marvel Studios to pay lip-service to diversity in the studio’s films. Fortunately, the filmmakers at Marvel Studios are more thoughtful than that. The female experience is baked into every aspect of
Captain Marvel. In fact, this superhero blockbuster is a metaphor for female empowerment in the face of misogynistic suppression and gaslighting in the culture. Captain Marvel features many elements familiar to fans of the MCU, but it uses them in service of a unique and definitively female character study, resulting in another huge success in the MCU canon.
The comic book basis for the film has a lengthy, overcomplicated history. Mar-Vell/Captain Marvel was created by Stan Lee and Gene Colan for Marvel Super-Heroes #12 (December 1967), before spinning off into his own series six months later. Mar-Vell is a warrior from the alien Kree race sent by the leader of the Kree, the Supreme Intelligence, to spy on humanity as a military scientist named Walter Lawson. His work is complicated by his growing appreciation of the humans and, at times, by the machinations of his jealous Kree compatriot, Yon-Rogg.
The character was never overly successful, but he is important to a massive cosmic story orchestrated by writer Jim Starlin throughout several books in the ’70s. This same story introduced the Infinity Gems and Thanos. It’s possible that Marvel continued publishing Captain Marvel to maintain a copyright on the name that was disputed by DC Comics. The character is perhaps most famous for his death in the 1982 graphic novel, The Death of Captain Marvel. In the story, the character dies of cancer resulting from numerous fights with a radioactive villain. Such a sad, normal death for a cosmic superhero made the story an instant classic. Over the decades, several other characters took the Captain Marvel name, including the otherwise unrelated Monica Rambeau in the ’80s.
Meanwhile, Carol Danvers was introduced in Marvel Super-Heroes #13 (March 1968), the second story to feature Captain Marvel. Danvers is an Air Force security officer at the same base as Mar-Vell, and she’s frequently caught up in his adventures. In Captain Marvel #18 (November 1969), a nefarious machine built by Yon-Rogg explodes, and Mar-Vell shields Carol from the explosion. It’s later revealed that the explosion fused Mar-Vell’s DNA with Carol’s, making her a human-Kree hybrid with all of Mar-Vell’s abilities.
Carol re-emerges as the superhero Ms. Marvel in Ms. Marvel #1 (January 1977). Initially, she was one of a string of female derivatives of male superheroes, such as Supergirl, Batgirl, Spider-Woman and She-Hulk. Her book focused on her changing careers to become the editor of a Woman’s magazine in Manhattan and pushing the ideals of ’60s and ’70s second-wave feminism. Her book was short-lived, but she soon joined the Avengers.
However, the early-’80s began a sharp decline for Carol Danvers. In The Avengers #200 (October 1980), she’s mind-controlled by a cosmic being into carrying his child with no objection from the Avengers in one of the most tone-deaf superhero stories ever told. The retroactively-named “Rape of Ms. Marvel” was rebuked by another Marvel writer in Avengers Annual #10 (October 1981), but in that same issue, Carol loses her powers to the mutant Rogue. She joins the X-Men and soon gains new, cosmic powers of flight and energy absorption in the pages of Uncanny X-Men, calling herself Binary.
Over the next two decades, Carol’s powers shifted, she called herself Warbird, and became an alcoholic. She was often present in Marvel Comics, but never particularly well-treated.
Views on the character began to shift in the mid-’00s. Writers such as Brian Reed and Brian Michael Bendis reformed Carol, having her strive to become a superhero despite past trauma. Ms. Marvel was increasingly featured in Marvel’s biggest stories. The character didn’t fully come into her own, however, until writer Kelly Sue Deconnick began a new Captain Marvel series in July 2012. In Deconnick’s run, Carol Danvers finally ditches the derivative ‘Ms. Marvel’ name to become Captain Marvel (30 years after the male Captain Marvel died). The series was a massive critical and commercial success, raising the character’s profile to make her one of the central characters of Marvel Comics in the ’10s. Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel rode this wave of success right into the MCU.
In 2009, Marvel Studios launched the Marvel Writers Program to develop lesser-known characters as cinematic properties. This program resulted in the earliest development of Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange, Black Panther and Captain Marvel. The film began development so long ago, in fact, that the first drafts were titled “Ms. Marvel”. By the time Captain Marvel was announced in October 2014, Marvel Studios was facing increasing calls for diversity in its films, particularly female superheroes. The initial announcement slated the film for the summer of 2018, but other factors eventually pushed it to early 2019. A female superhero film was coming, it would just take nearly half a decade to arrive. The character was almost introduced in Avengers: Age of Ultron (Whedon, 2015), but the Marvel producers felt they would do more justice to the character by introducing her in a solo film.
Captain Marvel was developed exclusively by female screenwriters over the years, who condensed the convoluted comic book histories of Mar-Vell and Carol Danvers into one succinct film. One of the triumphs of the screenplay is the clever ways it touches on key comic book elements of Mar-Vell and Carol Danvers, while streamlining them into a satisfying, Carol Danvers-centric story. Other challenges were finding a satisfying place for the character in the increasingly crowded MCU, and imbuing her and her story with an inherent femininity that character deserves. The film is set in the ’90s to allow Carol Danvers to make an impact on the MCU, and interact with previously established elements, without affecting the modern stories. Inspired by Robocop (Verhoeven, 1987), the writers took a new approach to the origin story by having Carol Danvers attempt to restore and make sense of her memories.
In July 2016, Brie Larson was publicly announced as the star of Captain Marvel just months after winning an Academy award for Best Actress for Room (Abrahamson, 2015). In an awkward bit of scheduling, Larson filmed her scenes for Avengers: Endgame (Russo Brother, 2019) before filming Captain Marvel, making this film her second time playing the character. In April 2017, the directing team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, known for small-scale dramas and television, were announced as the directors and new writers of the film.
Boden became the first female director of an MCU film, and second female director of a Marvel film (after Lexi Alexander for Punisher: War Zone (2008). Captain Marvel is also the first MCU film to be composed by a woman, Pinar Toprak. Much like Black Panther strove to demonstrate diversity in front and behind the camera, the production of Captain Marvel features key female filmmakers. Some have criticized this move as a cynical, superficial attempt by Marvel Studios to appear enlightened. Functionally, however, it simply doesn’t matter.
Female screenwriters, a female director, a female composer and a female editor, among others, coming together to craft a major blockbuster centred on a female hero sends a powerful message to audiences and future filmmakers. Captain Marvel is not the first massively-successful female superhero film, that honour belongs to Wonder Woman (Jenkins, 2017), but it’s still an important example of representation.
Captain Marvel is a polished, hugely-entertaining film that draws from some of the best elements of past MCU films. It’s the kind of film that Marvel Studios has been reliably producing for over a decade, the kind of film the studio seems to be able to make in its sleep. Indeed, Marvel Studios has set the bar for mass entertainment so high that it takes truly remarkable, large-scale storytelling, such as Avengers: Infinity War (Russo Brothers, 2018) and Avengers: Endgame, or a strong unique vision, such as Black Panther or Thor: Ragnarok (Waititi, 2017), for an MCU film to make a greater impact.
Audiences have become so used to high-quality entertainment from the MCU that simply a very good, well-made film seems mundane in comparison. What sets Captain Marvel apart is not simply its female superhero, but the way in which it uses the tried-and-true MCU approach to present a strong, clear story of female empowerment. It works perfectly well on the surface as an entertaining superhero romp, but the feminist message is what makes it truly remarkable. I really enjoy the film, although I didn’t find it quite as incredible as the films listed above. I believe that’s just a matter of too-high expectations. But it remains a great film with a powerful message and a unique approach in the MCU.
Captain Marvel opens in 1995 with Vers, as in Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) waking from a nightmare on Hala, the central planet of the Kree Empire. Vers has no memory older than six years, but she remembers snippets of an explosion, a woman (Annette Bening) and an attacking Skrull (a green, shape-shifting enemy alien) in her dreams. The Kree Empire has given her the power to shoot energy from her hands and trained her to be a member of Star Force, an elite special forces unit.
Vers is mentored by Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). They have a playful training relationship, but he’s constantly urging her to avoid being influenced by emotion or relying on her powers during fights. Vers occasionally plugs herself into the Kree Supreme Intelligence, the leader of the Kree Empire which takes the form of the person the observer most respects. In Vers’ case, it takes the form of the woman from her dreams, but she doesn’t know why. The Supreme Intelligence finally approves Vers for her first Star Force mission, to extract a Kree spy before Skrull terrorists can get to him.
The mission goes bad. Vers is separated from Star Force and captured by a Skrull leader, Talos (Ben Mendelsohn). Talos plugs Vers into the mind-fracker, a device that can sift through memories, and he searches for information on a specific scientist and an energy core she was developing. Instead of Kree memories, however, we see a very neat stream-of-consciousness montage of Earth memories: an Air Force Base, go-karting at a county fair, military basic training, a lot of misogyny, and the mysterious dream woman, identified as Dr. Lawson. The Skrulls and Vers are equally confused by the memories, but Vers breaks free and escapes from the Skrulls to planet C-53 (Earth).
As she waits for rescue from Star Force, Vers decides to investigate her unfamiliar memories. Unfortunately, her crash landing attracts SHIELD in the form of Agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and she’s pursued by the Skrulls. Talos even takes the form of Fury’s boss. Fury and Vers soon join forces to investigate Lawson in an effort to stop the Skrulls. They infiltrate Project Pegasus, the top secret base where Lawson worked, and make some shocking discoveries. Lawson was actually a Kree scientist named Mar-Vell who was using a unique energy core to develop an engine that could end the Kree-Skrull conflict. Mar-Vell died six years earlier in a test flight, and the pilot appears to be Vers.
Vers and Fury escape from Talos and visit Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), the last person to see Lawson and Vers before the crash, and her daughter Monica (Akitra Akbar). Maria claims that Vers is not a Kree, but a human named Carol Danvers. She was an Air Force test pilot, thought to be killed in the crash. Talos soon arrives with the black box from the crash, and this finally fills in the rest of the story.
Mar-Vell had discovered that the Skrulls were not terrorists, but intergalactic refugees displaced and demonized by the Kree Empire. She hoped to use her new engine to rescue the Skrulls and bring them to safety. The test flight was attacked by Yon-Rogg to stop Mar-Vell’s plans. Mar-Vell was killed, but Carol Danvers shot the energy core to prevent Yon-Rogg from getting it. In the explosion, Carol Danvers was infused with the energy of the core, giving her powers. Yon-Rogg then took Carol Danvers to Hala where the Kree suppressed her memories. They convinced her she was Kree, the Skrulls were the enemy and that her powers were controlled by the Empire. With her world turned upside-down, Carol Danvers agrees to help Talos.
Carol Danvers, Fury, Maria and Talos fly to Lawson’s lab, a cloaked spaceship in orbit. There they find the energy core — actually the Tesseract from many other MCU films — and a group of Skrull refugees that include Talos’ family. Yon-Rogg and Star Force arrive, however. They shut off Carol Danvers’s power, capture everyone and plug her into the Supreme Intelligence. But Carol Danvers now realizes that the Kree didn’t give her the energy power, the explosion did that. So they’re not able to control her.
This realization allows Carol Danvers to fully access her powers. She throws off her shackles and fights Star Force to allow her friends to escape to Earth. When several Kree bombing ships arrive, Carol Danvers flies through space to destroy their bombs, and single-handedly destroys one of their ships. Carol Danvers has basically become the MCU version of Superman. On Earth, Yon-Rogg attempts to fight her one more time, but Carol Danvers simply blasts him and sends him back to Hala with a message: she’s going to end the war. Inspired by Mar-Vell, whose name Fury mispronounces as Marvel, Carol Danvers decides to help the Skrulls find a new home. She leaves the Tesseract and an emergency pager with Fury, and flies into space with the Skrulls in tow.
I appreciate how Captain Marvel incorporates so many aspects of the comic in clever ways. Mar-Vell is a Kree who goes undercover at an American Air Force base, just like the comics. Early drafts had a male Mar-Vell as a love interest for Carol Danvers, but the filmmakers make the much more interesting choice to depict Mar-Vell as an older, female role model for her. Instead of Walter Lawson, the character’s cover is Wendy Lawson.
As in the comics, Carol Danvers is an Air Force officer. The film leans heavily into her role as a pilot, which was much more central to her later comic book stories. Mar-Vell and Yon-Rogg are involved when the machine explodes to give Carol Danvers her powers, just as in the comics, but it’s a more active decision by her. The explosion doesn’t give her Kree DNA, but rather she’s given a transfusion from Yon-Rogg as part of the lie that she is Kree. Her powers in the film (energy blasts, flight, glowing) are examples of her comic book stories as Binary, but it makes more sense to include them from the beginning. All of this impressively streamlines decades of convoluted Mar-Vell and Carol Danvers stories into one clear, focused narrative.
The Kree were previously introduced in Guardians of the Galaxy, but the Skrulls appear for the first time on film. They were the first major alien race introduced in the Silver Age of Marvel Comics in the ’60s, first appearing in Fantastic Four #2 (January 1962). They’re nearly always villains in the comics and are typically in conflict with the Kree. Depicting them as demonized refugees of Kree expansion is both a timely political reference and a nice way to surprise longtime comic book fans.
There are other references, such as the Star Force uniforms sporting the green and white design of Mar-Vell’s earliest appearances before Carol Danvers, inspired by an Air Force t-shirt, changes her colour scheme to the current red, blue and gold design in the comics. The helmet of the suit closes on her head but leaves room at the top for her hair to form into a long mohawk, a hairstyle from recent comics. And finally, her cat in the comics is named Chewie, after famous Star Wars copilot Chewbacca. After some time, Chewie is revealed to not be a common cat, but rather a dangerous alien named a Flerkin. In the film, Chewie’s name is changed to Goose, after the famous copilot from Top Gun (Scott, 1986), but remains a Flerkin. These are all astute and appreciated references to the Captain Marvel comic book history.
The film digs even deeper into the comics than plot points and aesthetics. Kelly Sue Deconnick’s landmark run on Captain Marvel was defined by strong, supportive female relationships. Changing Mar-Vell’s character to a woman changes her dynamic with Carol Danvers before the crash, and makes her an example to emulate. Her best friend, Maria, builds up Carol Danvers when her world turns upside-down. Larson and Lynch have excellent chemistry that sells the idea that they are longtime best friends.
Carol Danvers is also an inspiration to Maria’s daughter Monica. In the comics, Monica Rambeau takes the name Captain Marvel in the ’80s. Given that the film is set in 1995, there’s certainly an opportunity for a grown-up Monica to appear in later films as her own superhero. Carol Danvers’ relationships with these women define and strengthen her, just like in the comics, and the film would have done a disservice to the character not to include them.
Even more than the clever comic book adaptation, the strongest element of Captain Marvel is the female empowerment metaphor at its centre. At the start of the film, Yon-Rogg and the Supreme Intelligence seem supportive and protective of Carol Danvers. They keep telling her to not trust her memories, not to rely on her powers and to suppress her emotions, which initially seem like helpful pieces of advice. When Yon-Rogg and the Kree are revealed to be the villains, their insidious gaslighting is laid bare. They didn’t want her to trust her memories, because the memories have been altered to make her their ally. They wanted her to suppress her emotions because emotions are a direct line to her human past. They didn’t want her to rely on her powers because they were afraid of those powers being turned against them.
They claim to have given Carol Danvers her powers, and to have the ability to take them away. They use this to control her, to keep her beholden to them. Furthermore, Yon-Rogg takes pride in his blood transfusion making her a Kree. He sees her as an extension of himself. Her triumphs belong to him, but she may never dare to defy him. Yon-Rogg and the Supreme Intelligence are abusive partners or bosses. By doling out Carol Danvers’s true backstory bit by bit, Captain Marvel takes the audience through the experience of a woman escaping these abusive, oppressive forces to find her own voice, her own life. That’s a powerful arc for a superhero blockbuster.
Carol Danvers’ (literal) empowerment in the third act is exhilarating for that reason. The Supreme Intelligence calls her “cute”, and belittles her by displaying memories where she failed or fell short in her life. But she continues playing those memories to their conclusion, when she gets back up and becomes more determined. Her past failures make her stronger, as depicted in a lovely montage at all ages getting back up from a fall, fist clenched, ready to try again. Rather than past failures making her feel weak, the ensuing determination gives her strength.
The memories montage is a visual depiction of Carol Danvers recontextualizing her fallibility to not let her abusers use it as a weapon against her. It’s a powerful moment. She breaks the control of the Supreme Intelligence in her strongest moment, but she does so with a tear on her cheek. Strength doesn’t mean lack of emotion. In fact, her emotions give her strength. The film uses emotions as a sign of humanity, as opposed to Kree, but the subtext of men criticizing women for being “too emotional” is clear.
Carol Danvers is a superhero who’s gaslit and held down by those who seek to use and control her. Her story is one of breaking free, accessing her inner power, and finally reaching her full potential. That message, delivered in such a sleek, entertaining package is compelling. In her final confrontation with Yon-Rogg, he puts away his weapons and says he’s proud of her. But, he says, she will not truly prove herself until she suppresses her powers and beats him in a fair fight.
She blasts him away, saying “I’ve got nothing to prove to you.” This is the best moment in the film, the moment when she stops playing by her abuser’s rules or engaging on his terms. He still tries to control her, right to the end, but she’s above his games. This was originally scripted as a conventional fight but, thankfully, the filmmakers realized the better resolution. This scene makes the film. Indeed, this full realization of the female empowerment metaphor gives Captain Marvel one of the strongest climaxes in the MCU.
The central female character differentiates Captain Marvel, but there are many familiar MCU elements in the film. For example, Guardians of the Galaxy centres on a main character who was pulled from Earth in the late-’80s with only his Walkman. Throughout that film, he makes constant outdated references to ’80s Earth culture and plays a great retro soundtrack. Captain Marvel is set in 1995, and the filmmakers never miss an opportunity for a nostalgic reference. Whether it’s Carol Danvers crashing into a Blockbuster Video, raiding Radio Shack for parts, using the Alta Vista search engine at an internet cafe or waiting impatiently for information to load on a ’90s PC, the film is full of them.
There are also clear references to classic ’90s films such as The Matrix (The Wachowskis, 1999), Terminator 2: Judgement Day (Cameron, 1991) and Independence Day (Emmerich, 1996), which helps place the film in that time period. The soundtrack is also filled with era-appropriate songs from mostly female artists. These are mostly diegetic, coming from radios or jukeboxes, and are effective at establishing setting. The only misstep on the soundtrack is when No Doubt’s “Just a Girl” plays during a fight. Great song, but it’s the one song that is non-diegetic and seems like a cheap way to create some energy. The nostalgia and retro soundtrack feel like conscious attempts to capture some of the magic of Guardians of the Galaxy.
From a main character perspective, Thor is an apt comparison. Carol Danvers comes from Hala, which is depicted as a sleek, golden sci-fi metropolis much like Thor’s Asgard. In the character’s first film, Thor exhibits confident bravado. He loses his powers and plummets to Earth where he acts like a fish out of water and encounters SHIELD in the American southwest. Thor triumphantly regains his full powers in the third act.
Much of this also applies to Carol Danvers, but with slight variations that make a huge difference. Thor gets his powers back, whereas Carol Danvers discovers the full extent of her powers for the first time. This makes the third act of Captain Marvel even more rousing and satisfying. Also, audiences are used to seeing powerful, confidant men roar their way through fights. Carol Danvers is a woman with the same level of power and swagger as Thor, which is far more rare. Of course there were internet commenters who claimed that this made Carol “unlikeable” in the film, but they are confusing “unlikeable” with “strong and empowered.” So much of Carol Danvers’ character is similar to Thor, but making her character female improves on the formula.
Finally, Captain Marvel released one year after Black Panther introduced welcome diversity and social consciousness into the MCU. Black Panther uses the superhero genre to examine the deep cultural scars of slavery and the Black experience in America. It speaks to such timely events as the Black Lives Matter Movement, and the cultural whiplash of Barack Obama being succeeded by Donald Trump as President of the United States.
Audiences expected Captain Marvel to use a similar approach to examine the female experience, ingrained misogyny, toxic masculinity, and even the MeToo Movement. In its own way, the female empowerment narrative does just that. However, while Black Panther makes grand, overarching statements about issues, Captain Marvel has a lighter touch. The film puts viewers into the shoes of a woman coming to realize how much she has been abused, lied to, and controlled. The experience can be informative, but it doesn’t explicitly state its themes.
This subtlety surprised audiences who expected another cinematic rallying cry one year after Black Panther became a cultural touchstone. Captain Marvel does not, on its surface, appear to send as strong a message as Black Panther. But this speaks more to the expectations hoisted onto the film than the quality of the film itself. Meanwhile, the film does use the Skrulls to address the refugee crisis at America’s southern border and in Europe, and they way refugees are demonized for political gain.
There are other connections to the larger MCU, but these are mostly fun. By reintroducing the Kree, Captain Marvel features appearances from Ronan (Lee Pace) and Korath (Djimon Hounsou), villains who died in Guardians of the Galaxy. The film smartly held back Ronan’s appearance to avoid revealing the Kree villainy too early. The Tesseract last appeared, chronologically, in Captain America: The First Avenger (Johnston, 2011), another period MCU film, and it is central to The Avengers (Whedon, 2012). The Avengers opens with the Tesseract being examined at Project Pegasus. An even closer connection to The Avengers is the name itself. Captain Marvel ends with Fury developing a plan for combating future threats from space using extraordinary beings. He initially calls it “The Protector Initiative” but changes it when he learns that Carol Danvers’ pilot callsign is “Avenger”.
The biggest connection to the larger MCU, of course, is Nick Fury. Marvel has used de-aging effects from the VFX company Lola for scenes in previous films, such as Ant-Man (Reed, 2015), Captain America: Civil War (Russo Brothers, 2016), Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (Gunn, 2017) and Ant-Man and the Wasp (Reed, 2018). But the studio has never used it to this extent on a main character throughout an entire film. It’s remarkable to see Jackson appear 25 years younger, as he was in Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994) and McTiernan’s Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995).
The same technology is used to de-age SHIELD agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg). From a character perspective, it’s also fun to see Fury, who’s normally very much in charge, younger and behind the curve. The film also plays on the fact that Fury is missing his left eye in later films, often teasing what happens to his eye. Finally, after the climax is complete, Goose scratches Fury in the eye rather anticlimactically.
Captain Marvel is a well-made, enjoyable film. The performances are terrific, from Larson’s swagger mixed with emotional depth to Mendelsohn’s laid-back villain-turned-ally. The cast has great chemistry. The score is full of otherworldly synths that are distinct from other Marvel films. The action is competently filmed and exciting. But the real strength, again, comes from the female empowerment metaphor at the centre of the film. This elevates the whole film, and makes it stand out from the rest of the MCU. It also ensures that the film never feels like a cynical attempt at superficial diversity, but makes the focus on a female superhero in the MCU with her own film a powerful statement.
But Captain Marvel walked right into a heated debate about diversity. Marvel Comics experienced a swell of diversity in the ’10s, from the rise of Captain Marvel and Black Panther, to a black Captain America, an Asian Hulk, a Black female Iron Man, an Afro-Latino Spider-Man, and a young Muslim woman inheriting the Ms. Marvel name. Most of these characters were successful, and many of the changes were temporary, but they riled up a certain segment of white, male, longtime comic book fans who wanted their comics left alone (that is, primarily white and male). Many of these “fans” argued that the attempts by Marvel Comics, followed by Marvel Studios, to diversify their characters and reflect society was unwelcome “virtue-signalling” and pandering to progressives.
Brie Larson further stoked the ire of these trolls by calling out the lack of diversity among journalists at press junkets. The trolls twisted this comment, interpreting it to mean Larson didn’t want to be interviewed by white men or, even further, that she didn’t want white men to go see Captain Marvel. As the release of the film approached, there were organized attempts to “review-bomb” audience ratings on sites such as IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes, lowering the score to discourage average moviegoers. When they were accused of misogyny, they began singing the praises of the film Alita: Battle Angel (Rodriguez, 2019), a female-centric science-fiction action blockbuster released shortly before Captain Marvel. They felt Alita, not Captain Marvel, should be wildly successful, as if there could only be one successful female-led blockbuster at a time.
This all means that, regardless of motive, the decision by Marvel Studios to introduce diversity into its films was long-overdue, certainly needed, and offended all of the right people. The attempt by the trolls to diminish the success of Captain Marvel failed. Following its release on International Women’s Day, the film earned $427 million in North America and $1.13 billion worldwide. It’s the second highest-grossing debut solo film in the MCU, behind Black Panther. Audiences were ready for female-led superhero films, and such a high gross indicates that this one succeeded with every demographic.
Captain Marvel appears less than two months later in Avengers: Endgame, and a sequel has been announced for July 2022. The hype around the film has largely worn off, especially after Endgame overshadowed its success by becoming the biggest film of all time. But the hype will ramp up again as we approach the sequel. I hope it does so with stories that are as insightful and female-focused as they are in this film.
Stan Lee Cameo Corner: This was the first MCU film to be released after Stan Lee’s death. The film opens with the typical Marvel Studio logo altered to feature only Lee’s cameos, followed by “Thank You Stan.” Stan appears on a train while Carol Danvers is tracking a Skrull. He’s rehearsing his lines for his cameo in Mallrats (Smith, 1995). That is 37 cameos in 53 films.
• In the mid-credits, the Avengers regroup after the devastating defeat at the end of Avengers: Infinity War. The pager activated by Fury in the post-credits scene of that film, which called Carol to Earth, stops working. Suddenly, Carol Danvers appears and asks about Fury. This scene was directed by the Russo Brothers, and teased her full entrance into the MCU in Avengers: Endgame.
• In the post-credits, Goose, who ate the Tesseract earlier in the film, hops up on Fury’s desk and coughs it up like a hairball
• Brie Larson appears in Avengers: Endgame and surely in future films.
• Ben Mendelsohn and Sharon Blynn appear as the skrulls Talos and Soren, respectively, in Spider-Man: Far From Home (Watts, 2019).
• Gemma Chan appears in The Eternals (Zhao, 2021) in a completely different role.
Marvel Cinematic Universe Viewing Order: Many like to stick Captain Marvel near the beginning of the MCU viewing order because it’s set in 1995. But from a narrative perspective it’s much more satisfying to set it after Fury activates the pager at the end of Infinity War and right before she shows up in Endgame. So, it’s a nice little palette cleanser between the Avengers films.
1. Iron Man
2. Iron Man 2
4. The Incredible Hulk
5. Captain America: The First Avenger
6. The Avengers
7. Iron Man 3
8.Thor: The Dark World
9. Guardians of the Galaxy
10. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
11. Avengers: Age of Ultron
13. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
14. Captain America: Civil War
15. Black Panther
16. Doctor Strange
17. Spider-Man: Homecoming
18. Thor: Ragnarok
19. Ant-Man and the Wasp
20. Avengers: Infinity War
21. Captain Marvel
Next Time: The Avengers earn their name, and the MCU releases the highest-grossing film of all time.
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