Our full look at Captain Marvel! Warning: Spoilers ahead
It finally happened. After more than ten years of pumping out thrilling, action-packed films about some of Marvel’s greatest superheroes, the MCU finally released its first female-led film–about their namesake, no less. However, despite this being a long-awaited film that fans should be celebrating, Marvel didn’t quite stick the landing with this one.
The year is 1995. Brie Larson (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Room) stars as Carol Danvers, aka Vers, a soldier in Starforce–a Kree military unit–who has been living on the planet Hala for six years. Other than occasional flashes of memory, she has no recollection of who she is or what her life was like prior to training for Starforce. Her commander and mentor, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law, The Crimes of Grindelwald), tells her that she must learn to control her emotions and not default to using her powers during combat. He alludes to an implant on her neck that supposedly grants her powers and says, “What was given can be taken away.”
Starforce goes on a rescue mission to recover one of their spies who has been captured by the opposition, the Skrulls, which are a shapeshifting alien race. After being ambushed and captured herself, Vers learns that the Skrulls are looking for a woman named Dr. Wendy Lawson (Annette Bening, Mars Attacks!). The Supreme Intelligence, A.I. leader of the Kree, takes the form of Dr. Lawson when Vers communicates with it; the Supreme Intelligence is supposed to take the form of whoever one admires most, but she has no memory of who this woman is to her.
After gathering this information and escaping from the Skrulls, Vers falls to Earth, aka Planet C-53, and crashes through the most ‘90s place possible: a Blockbuster video store. She encounters S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, Glass) and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg, The Avengers) and warns them about the Skrull infiltration. After a chase scene involving a moving train and a Skrull who escapes, Danvers finds a bar that she has seen in her dreams. There she finds evidence that she had a life on Earth and was involved in something called PEGASUS. Fury had followed her to the bar and decides to help her.
They travel to the military facility where Dr. Lawson’s PEGASUS project took place. They meet Goose, Dr. Lawson’s pet cat/Flerken, and discover that PEGASUS was a project to build a lightspeed engine. They find more evidence that Vers was involved with the project, and she finds the name and picture of Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch, Still Star-Crossed), whom she also recognizes from her dreams. The Skrull that escaped in the earlier chase, Talos, arrives at the facility; Vers, Fury, and a stowaway Goose escape with one of the aircrafts.
The trio finds Maria at her home in Louisiana. Maria fills Vers in on who she was before she disappeared, informing her that her name is Carol Danvers, and she was a human pilot in the U.S. Air Force who was presumed dead after she and Dr. Lawson crashed in a covered-up test flight. Maria’s daughter, Monica, brings out all of Carol’s old things, including photographs, and begins telling her more about her life before the crash. Talos and another Skrull show up at Maria’s house, and he tells Carol that he just wants to talk.
Talos tells her that the Kree-Skrull war has been happening due to the Kree’s attempts to rule over the Skrulls, resulting in destroying their homes, killing thousands of the Skrull people, and leading to war. He tells her that they are all refugees searching for a new home and that Dr. Lawson was a rogue Kree named Mar-Vell who was helping them before she was killed. The technology she was creating was intended to end wars.
He plays the recording from the aircraft’s black box, and Carol starts to remember what happened. Mar-Vell had survived the crash, but she was killed by Yon-Rogg when he caught up with them. To prevent him from taking the energy core, Carol had shot the core, which was actually harnessed energy from the Tesseract (the Space Infinity Stone). It exploded, causing her to absorb its power and lose all of her memories. Talos is searching for Mar-Vell/Dr. Lawson’s lab, which he thought was somewhere on Earth, but the lab is actually in orbit. The other Skrull makes modifications to the aircraft, allowing Carol to lead Talos to the lab. Upon arriving, she realizes he was looking for the lab because his family, along with other Skrull refugees, were in hiding there.
She locates the Tesseract, Goose Flerkenly swallows it so it can be transported safely, and Starforce catches up with them. They capture Carol and force her to face the Supreme Intelligence in a last-ditch effort to convince her that she’s weak and should just give up. She sees a series of flashbacks from her childhood through early adulthood that are moments of her “trying to hang with the big boys” but failing. She crashes, falls, is knocked down, etc. but in that moment, she realizes that what has given her strength is her persistence. She may be “an emotional human,” but there is power in that. She realizes that the implant has been suppressing her powers, not giving her powers, and she rips it out. This allows her to become the glowing, full-fledged version of Captain Marvel that Carol was meant to be.
An epic fight scene ensues, in which the members of Starforce get their asses handed to them. Carol single-handedly fights off the missiles that Ronan the Accuser shoots toward Earth, and he retreats. Yon-Rogg crashes to Earth where Carol catches up to him. He tries to goad her into fighting without using her powers, knowing that she would end him faster than Thanos can snap his fingers. She uses her powers just to subdue him, though, and sends him back to Hala to tell the Supreme Intelligence and other Kree that she is coming to end the war and all of the lies.
In general, Larson gave a great performance. She is clever, funny, and charming. She and Jackson play off of each other really well. Her friendship with Marie and Monica are heartwarming. And by the end, I became invested in her and wanted her to win. All that being said, my biggest issues with this film are that the storytelling was somewhat unorganized (which was likely an editing issue), the dialogue wasn’t quite where it needed to be at times, and the attempts to incorporate Girl Power fell short of what they could have been, causing this film to smack of a Phase One film far more than it should have. These elements caused Larson to seem wooden and difficult to care about at times, especially in the beginning.
The first scene of the film shows Vers waking up from a hazy dream about her past. As an audience member, it isn’t very clear what this dream was about or what it means for her. She engages in a training session with Yon-Rogg, and this is where he first tells her she needs to learn to control her emotions. However, she isn’t really expressing any perceptible emotions, other than a bit of frustration from sparring with Yon-Rogg. The phrase “control your emotions/you’re too emotional” becomes a motif throughout the film, but it’s never at a time where Carol is expressing any strong emotions. There are some underlying hints that she’s too emotional because she’s a human, but there the film conflates her humanity with her womanhood. Because of this, it’s hard to identify with her in the beginning or understand what is motivating her. As far as I could tell, she wasn’t truly grappling with her emotions or her past until she went to Earth, which was about 30 minutes into the film. This issue also ties into the Girl Power theme that Marvel tried but sort of failed to incorporate.
The flashbacks of the times she failed or was knocked down hinted that she was failing because she was not as good as the men. However, nowhere in the film is this ever explicitly stated, which to me, is a problem. It’s as if Marvel dances around the topic without ever fully bringing it into the spotlight. Why, in your FIRST female-led film, would you not blatantly address this? Sure, there are a couple moments where the film frowns on sexism, such as when a biker tells Carol she should smile then having her steal his bike or when Maria tells Carol that women weren’t allowed to fly combat in ‘89 and having them be some of the best damned pilots in the universe. But they’re half-assed and they’re not enough. I want Marvel to blatantly, in-your-face, on-the-nose, no-doubt-about-it SHOUT from the rooftops that sexism is stupid and they’re not going to stand for it. Having No Doubt’s “I’m Just a Girl” blaring while Captain Marvel single-handedly demolishes the entire Starforce unit was a nice touch, but Marvel can do better. One could argue that releasing this film period should be enough, but again, they can and should do more. They have the money, resources, support, and platform to do better, and they need to do it.
I acknowledge that for the character of Captain Marvel, this is a Phase One film and that introducing such an iconic character this late in the game probably took a lot of planning and finagling. If this film had actually been released during Phase One, I definitely wouldn’t have been so nit-picky. Because of this, I’m not judging the film as harshly as I did Infinity War. Despite the areas of the film that needed a bit more polish, I am excited to see her return in April for Avengers: End Game, and I can’t wait to see how Captain Marvel interacts with the other Avengers and Marvel characters. I just hope that with her return comes an improvement in the ways that her humanity, womanhood, and leadership capabilities are handled.
Captain Marvel is currently playing in theaters. Keep following Poor Man’s Spoiler for all of our coverage of the film, and check out our previous articles below.
Captain Marvel 101
Exploring the MCU in the 90’s
Captain Marvel: Spoiler-Free Review
Captain Marvel – A Feud That Shouldn’t Exist
Our Favorite Female Film Heroes
Goose the Cat
Supreme Intelligence: Explaining The Kree AI