Captain Marvel is a delightful and funny origin story. While the format may be very familiar — Marvel Studios origin stories have a formula to them — it’s the details that make Captain Marvel shine; both in the way they bring Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) to the screen and alter aspects of her history to fit the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It also does something which will drive “fans” of comics crazy.
But if the reaction we witnessed last night is any indication, most moviegoers will never notice this change to the lore.
Thanks to the groundwork laid by Guardians of the Galaxy, the film opens on the Kree homeworld of Hala without much effort made to bring anyone up to speed about the place beyond a title card telling the viewer where they are. It is a testament to the film universe Marvel has built where it no longer needs to spend ten minutes explaining things like the Kree or the Skrulls; who receive a very brief explanation. Instead, we focus on Carol, whose essential “Carol-ness” is a source of consternation for her superiors, like Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) and the Kree Supreme Intelligence. For the audience, it is endearing. Or, at least it would be as the film makes a very deliberate choice to portray those essential parts of her as incompatible with Kree society. This means scenes which should feature a greater sense of camaraderie between Carol and the members of her Starforce squad come off oddly muted. The reason behind it is once of the more satisfying aspects of the film’s script.
Soon, the action moves to Earth — or Planet C-53 by Kree reckoning — where Carol quickly meets Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and begins to unravel a mystery concerning her own lost memories and a mentor she cannot identify.
While most Marvel Studios origin stories are about the main character finding their soul within the superhero action, Captain Marvel inverts this somewhat by acknowledging Carol’s was born to be part of that action. When we meet her, she is already a super-powered solider. So instead of scenes in which she discovers her powers and slowly learns to master them, she is already an accomplished fighter. This leads to great action set-pieces throughout the film. It also allows the film to more directly address the hero learning about their soul by making Carol actively search out her own origin story. It has already happened, she just needs to remember it. As with the cold open on Hala, it allows the film to have a breezy pace. Which is a good thing considering its 136 minute runtime. But within that pace, the film has plenty of time to breathe and focus on something few Marvel origin stories center around: the hero finding their friends.
Earlier, we mentioned the oddly muted interaction between Carol and the members of the Kree Starforce. We’re convinced this is intentional as it creates a great contrast to Carol’s natural ease with Fury and, later, Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) — a person very familiar with Carol despite the protagonist having no knowledge of her. This is really where the film lives, with Larson, Jackson and Lynch shining in seemingly quieter scenes and building up the rapport.
Now that we’re talking about performances, Ben Mendelsohn offers up another seemingly effortless and amazing character in the form of Skrull captain Talos. The character is just so damned charming and ends up at the center of the film’s most unexpected plot thread. He also gets a chance to build a rapport with the others, and while that might lead a quieter story than, say, Avengers: Infinity War, it is a really satisfying alteration to the Marvel origin formula. Where most focus on a brash, self-centered type learning other people exist, Captain Marvel is about reconnecting with an essential human quality.
Indeed, many of Captain Marvel‘s alterations to the established formula and comic book lore make for a better film. The origin of Carol’s powers — once she remembers it — ties her to the core of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It also cleans up various aspects of her comic books origins over the years into something digestible on film. It also pulls one of the best switcheroos in MCU history as the name “Captain Marvel” takes on a new meaning in the scene. We won’t spoil it, but it will no doubt rile up certain fake fans angry about a Carol Danvers-led Captain Marvel film in the first place.
And, yeah, it’s probably an intentional choice as well.
In fact, all of the choices made in Captain Marvel make it stronger. By quietly subverting the Marvel Studios origin formula, it reflects a new confidence in the way the studios’ films can introduce characters. And thanks to the emphasis on character, it is a fun romp with a unique group of characters. It may not have the heft of Infinity War or Black Panther, but it doesn’t need to be that. Carol is a powerhouse, but she’s also a sarcastic, fun-loving soul. The film embraces that spirit and offers a fine film introduction to her adventures.
Captain Marvel is in theaters now.