After twenty films and ten years, Marvel Studios seems to be virtually unstoppable. 2018 might possibly be the studios best year yet seeing Black Panther not only change the superhero culture but also receive the studios first Oscar nomination which is no small feet. How does one follow that up, how about with a movie that brings together the last ten years of storytelling in one massive picture celebrating achievements that didn’t seem possible or likely ten years ago. Iron Man set in motion something far greater than fans and studio executives could have ever imagined, and Avengers Infinity War was the culmination of that movement. A crowning of cinematic world building that will most likely never be duplicated or at least to this magnitude. It seems that the only thing that could even remotely stop the MCU is the snapping of Thanos’s fingers, and yet there are more films on the horizon. This year alone will see the follow up to Infinity War as well as a sequel to Spider-Man Homecoming two films that are sure to bring even more success to Marvel Studios.
With all this success one would have to believe that the MCU has hit its stride when it comes to producing winning films but relying on comfortability is something that the studio cannot afford. Superhero movies are terrific, and a proven winner at the box office, but fans can only take so much of the same formulas before growing weary of the product or turning their back on it. If Marvel Studios wants to see continued success then they need to evolve their product to prevent it from going stale. And given the track record, Marvel Studios has earned the right to experiment and tell stories that are unique to the genre while also proving to fans that they respect the source material and are willing to evolve. Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen the visually stunning and slightly trippy Doctor Strange introduce magic to the MCU. We’ve seen Thor Ragnarok display that even our toughest heroes can excel in a weird-ass comedic buddy cop-like scenario. Guardians of the Galaxy proved that the world was willing to fall in love with talking tree with no questions asked. While Black Panther was able to touch on important social and political issues while also expanding the universe into something more broad and inclusive. These are the types of films that the MCU needs to continue spinning out in order to maintain its momentum. Originality and diversity are the keys to the future success of Marvel, and as long the studio doesn’t settle on just treading water then there is no reason to believe that their model for success can’t continue. Yet, there needs to be more.
Enter Carol Danvers and Captain Marvel to kick open the doors of further evolution.
It’s almost impossible to fathom that over the last ten years and twenty films that Marvel Studios has yet to release a female-led superhero movie, but sadly that has been the case. That’s not to say that there aren’t strong kickass women within the MCU but none of them have led their own pictures… until now. Captain Marvel has arrived, and much like Black Panther last year, she has changed the landscape of the MCU, and superhero movies in general. There are so many people who fear change, just look at the overwhelming amounts of backlash on the internet concerning a female-driven superhero movie, but in the case of Captain Marvel, this is a change that is long overdue and only makes the Marvel product better.
I wish there was a way to write a review about this film without mentioning the fact that it’s only the second ever comic book movie based on a woman superhero, but it’s almost impossible. Last year’s Black Panther was a terrific film in itself but was also celebrated for giving the world its first African American superhero film. Years from now both Black Panther and Captain Marvel will be celebrated for opening the door for more diversity in our superhero films, but what shouldn’t be missed in all this is that they’re both excellent films as well. It’s one thing to start the wheels of change but in order to show the world that change can stick around the films need to stand on their own, and luckily both Black Panther and Captain Marvel have no trouble standing.
The driving force behind Captain Marvel is Brie Larson who plays Carol Danvers with a steadfast charm and strength that is built on a foundation of determination, humor, and confidence. What makes Captain Marvel a unique film is that we are given a character who is still learning who she is but also somewhat established. Any good superhero story has to be about growth and Brie Larson excels at bringing depth and clarity to a character who has forgotten so much about her life. Amnesia stories are often difficult to pull off but Captain Marvel makes it work by allowing Carol Danvers not to be weakened by her lack of memories. So often we get the damsel in distress who is almost disabled by her emotions and confusion, not with Captain Marvel. Instead, we get a character who chooses to move forward in the hopes of finding herself. Who uses her emotions as a tool for success and won’t let others manipulate them. By not allowing herself to be anyone’s tool, Carol Danvers searches for answers and takes what she learns and applies it to who she is. It’s a refreshing spin and a unique way of establishing a character.
There’s no denying that the origin story is a bit played out. At this point in the game origin stories have become a bit formulaic and superhero by numbers. As a fanbase, we would much rather see our heroes in action with the pieces of their backstory just falling into the narrative instead of taking time away from it. Just look at how Spider-Man Homecoming bypassed the Uncle Ben of it all while still presenting us with a Peter Parker/Spider-Man who was familiar. With someone like Captain Marvel though, a character who has not been seen or mentioned in the MCU until now, it’s hard to navigate around that. There has to be an origin story to a degree and instead of the first half of the movie being dedicated to that, Captain Marvel takes a more unique approach allowing the origin of Carol Danvers to be the working mystery of the film. We discover Carol’s story as she discovers her story and the results are beyond welcome. We are given an established hero with powers on a journey of self-discovery and we do it by skipping over the hour set up that most origin stories take. After twenty films Marvel continues to change the game in the way they present stories and heroes.
It’s strange to think of Captain Marvel as a prequel but I suppose to some degree it is. Taking place during the mid-’90s we see the MCU before it even becomes the MCU. We are present as this universe takes shape, something that was started with Captain America The First Avenger, and we learn just how important Carol Danvers is to the MCU. With the post-credit scene of Infinity War we are told that Captain Marvel is an important character. Why else would Nick Fury reach out to her in his biggest moment of need? Captain Marvel takes that notion and shows us why that’s the case. The relationship between Nick Fury and Carol Danvers doesn’t just drive this film, but it also drives the MCU. Without his discovery of an alien crash landing in a Blockbuster perhaps who knows what becomes of the Marvel Universe. Does Captain America get discovered in his ice cave? Do the Avengers even form? The DNA of the MCU is richer because of the relationship between Fury and Danvers, and it’s so easy to accept because of how easily Larson and Samuel L Jackson are able to play off one another. Their bond is what navigates this film and consequently helps to establish the MCU that we have grown to love. Captain Marvel is one of the most important characters in the Marvel Universe, not because of her powers and abilities, but because without her it might not exist. At no point throughout the film does any of this world building seemed forced or hokey. As intended, it feels like the natural order of things and that’s no easy task to accomplish in a universe that has been existing for the last ten years.
That’s not to say that Captian Marvel limits the MCU world building to earth. No, we also get an expansion of the Marvel Cosmos, an area of the universe that we have only seen through the Guardians of the Galaxy. The introduction of the Skrulls is the most exciting thing to happen to the Marvel Cosmos since Rocket and Groot first walked on screen. Any comic fan knows the importance of the Skrulls, especially concerning major events like Secret Invasion, and we’re given a completely unique take on these shapeshifting aliens within the film. One has to believe this won’t be the last we’ve seen of the Skrulls, or the Kree for that matter a race we’ve met briefly in the Guardians films. It’s interesting to see how their history unfolds and there are still a number of blanks that need to be filled from when we originally met them in Guardians. Captain Marvel helps to expand the universe while also making us want to learn more about it.
At its core, Captain Marvel is a movie that has girl power written all over it without beating you over the head with it. Instead, we are given strong female characters with no questions asked. One of the biggest strengths of this film is how these women aren’t questioned for being strong they just are. Why do we need to question every strong female character? Can’t we just live in a world where it’s accepted that this just a thing that happens and move on? Captain Marvel does just that and it’s these quiet moments of girl power, for lack of a better term, that makes the experience so fantastic. Sure, you can get washed up in the nostalgic backdrop, the adorable kitten, and it’s exciting to see the MCU develop, but there is a pure joy in seeing a superhero movie lead by strong women that doesn’t diminish their strength by mansplaining or making them damsels in distress. Captain Marvel is here to show us that the future of Marvel Studios is changing. The old guard is moving on, and Endgame will carry that final torch, and in order to keep its head above water, the MCU needs to evolve. That evolution is centered on characters like T’Challa and Carol Danvers and because of that, the future of the MCU is as bright as Captain Marvel ripping through enemy ships in the sky. And for that, we’re very thankful.