I consider myself a lite version of a comic book/superhero fan. On a really basic level, I love the suspension of reality while watching supernatural forces battle each other. I love a storyline that focuses on a nerdy, underestimated kid finding strength within themselves, sometimes with the help of radioactive chemicals. And I think it’s wonderful that someone who feels like an outsider can watch these stories and feel like they belong when society is telling them otherwise. To prove my questionable commitment to comic book life, I even dressed up for Comic Con — as Harley Quinn before she went mainstream might I add (a phrase I will keep repeating until the day I die).
That all being said, I’m bit of a faux fan. I find it way too much work to actually keep up with all of the superheros (how are there SO MANY of them??) and my non-drawing self can’t quite appreciate the artistry in the comic books (or am I supposed to call them graphic novels now?). I don’t have a particular “fandom” I follow, and don’t have an opinion on the age-old Marvel vs. DC debate. It will surprise no one to hear that everyone hated me at Comic Con.
To put it mildly, I have very a basic, superficial knowledge of mainstream superheroes. I enjoy what they represent, without being able to critique the accuracy of adaptations on the silver screen.
That takes us to Captain Marvel. As with Wonder Woman, I was excited that there was a superhero movie with a female lead, and Avengers: Infinity War did a great job of piquing my interest in this character. I’m not a major Brie Larson fan for reasons that I really can’t explain; I know it’s frowned upon to call a woman unlikable, but sometimes the shoe just fits. Despite that, I enjoyed the Captain Marvel trailer and particularly liked the backstory of her being a pilot (was this in the comics? Again, faux fan over here).
The story opens with Captain Marvel (or as she’s known for the better part of the movie, Vers), on a futuristic planet called Kree. We learn that she’s part of an elite fighter squad that combats invading terrorists, and she struggles with controlling her emotions– women, amirite? We are also not supposed to question that Jude Law is inexplicably some kind of brilliant sensei when it comes fighting (there’s that suspension of reality again). Vers doesn’t remember a lot of her past, which only comes to her in bits and pieces through dreams of herself in a wreckage with another woman (the fabulous Annette Benning) before waking up.
The fighter squad, led by Master Jude, embark on a mission to save a nearby planet from Skrulls – shapeshifting beings that have invaded and attacked the planet’s inhabitants. The mission goes awry and Vers gets captured by the Skrulls (thanks for nothing Jude). During her capture, Vers is implanted by fleeting memories of her past; she sees herself as a child, teenager and adult overcoming various obstacles in her journey to becoming a pilot. She also briefly sees the woman from her dreams, but can’t place her. For those who worry that this movie will have too much of a feminist slant, this is really the only scene where it comes out.
She escapes the Skrulls and lands in a Blockbuster on Earth. The Blockbuster is a great way to signify the time period we’re in (1995) but also creates a huge wave of nostalgia for us cool people who went to Blockbuster every Friday night to stock up on movies for the weekend (something tells me that the people who did that and the people who saw Captain Marvel are one and the same).
Decked out in her black and green Kree superhero outfit, it doesn’t take long before a security guard calls SHIELD on her (this is where my superhero ignorance comes in because I’m not quite sure what SHIELD is/does…some kind of Superhero FBI?). She meets Samuel L. Jackson, aka Fury, who is fabulously de-aged through the magic of movie technology. After initially disbelieving her story (fair enough), he comes around after he sees a Skrull for himself. From there, the two unite to help Vers track down Dr. Wendy Lawson, the woman that appeared in Vers’ newly discovered memories.
Through this journey, Vers learns that she was born Carol Danvers and 6 years ago, had accompanied Dr. Lawson on her final ill-fated flight. Vers also discovers that during that flight, Dr. Lawson had told her the truth about the Kree: they invaded other plants and took people from their homes. Vers realizes the lesson that Lawson had learned too late — that by supporting the Kree, they were supporting the wrong team. During this flight, Dr. Lawson attempted to destroy a tesseract (some kind of magical orb thingy, from my technical understanding) to keep it out of Kree hands; Jude Law and the Kree show up and he shoots Lawson. Carol shoots the tesseract before Jude can get to it and in a short but truly stunning scene, becomes infused with the tesseract’s powers. She passes out from the blast, and Jude Law realizes the value that she could add to the Kree. He wipes her memory and takes her back to Kree for his extremely believable role as a master fighter (seriously, were there no other actors available for this part??).
Armed with the truth about the Kree and her own powers, Carol takes on the Kree in a fight to the tune of No Doubt’s “Just a Girl” — which feels a tad too on the nose. The battle eventually leads to a one on one with Jude Law, where he repeatedly tells her to prove to him that she’s a fighter and can take him on. I expected her to go along with the request, harness her powers and energy to deliver the predictable knockout punch.
But in a delightful twist, she delivers my favourite line of the movie by telling him “I have nothing to prove to you” and walks away. After being told repeatedly throughout the movie to control her emotions, fight harder and prove that she’s earned her place, this line was a breath of fresh air. It was a powerful scene that cemented my support for Captain Marvel and what she represents.
Being a Faux Superhero Fan meant that I couldn’t really appreciate the nuances and Easter eggs that I’m sure were thrown in this movie. For example, a true Marvel fan might have been excited to see that other SHIELD guy alongside Samuel L Jackson’s character, but all I knew was that he was the guy from the TV show Agents of SHIELD.
I also still maintain that Brie Larson was a smidge unlikable in this role, and not overly charismatic. But I could give the same criticism of many others, including Chadwick Boseman in Black Panther or the entire cast of the cringeworthy Batman vs Superman. But I do love that Brie Larson delivered a strong, no-nonsense lead who uses her powers to become an even stronger version of herself. There was never an implication that Carol/Vers wasn’t always a force to be reckoned with, marking a pleasant departure from the “timid girl finds her voice” trope.
A huge bonus in this movie is the merciful absence of a love story, despite the obvious option to have Jude Law fill that role. I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie without a romantic subplot, least of all in a female-led movie. The fact that Vers had a purely platonic friendship with Fury was further icing on the cake.
While the origin of Captain Marvel’s name wasn’t fully explained, we do learn that she inspired Fury to assemble a team of superheroes, naming them after Carol Danvers’ pilot callsign – Avenger. It’s a powerful message, particularly given the male-dominated world of Marvel (and its sometimes misogynistic fan base).
Overall, this is a fun superhero movie that has the basic elements you’d expect – an outlandish storyline, funny quips and good prevailing over evil. It’s not a cinematic masterpiece, but superhero movies rarely are. It’s groundbreaking for its message and what it represents, and I’m hopeful that it will pave the way for more female-led movies.