The Marvel Movies Debrief: Captain Marvel Recap, Legacy, and MCU Connections
It's time to catch up with the last MCU movie before the Endgame – a '90s-set origin tale in which Carol Danvers finally takes flight
This article comes from Den of Geek UK. It contains spoilers for Captain Marvel and the wider MCU.
Here we are, then – the last MCU movie before the Infinity Saga-capping behemoth, Avengers: Endgame. Given its unique placing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it might not be that much of a surprise that Captain Marvel powered its way to a $1 billion (and counting) box-office haul. It’s still a huge achievement though (especially given some of the less-than-savoury online flak it had to contend with in the lead-up to its release) – alongside Black Panther, it’s only the second MCU movie that isn’t a sequel or team-up to reach that milestone.
Captain Marvel is more than just the starter to Endgame‘s main course, though. Obviously, it’s most notable for being the first big-screen solo outing for a female Marvel hero (21 movies into the series, it’s about damn time). It’s also the MCU’s first proper period movie since Captain America: The First Avenger back in Phase One. And it’s the first time that Marvel has deployed the de-aging tech used in the likes of Ant-Man and Guardians 2 for an entire film, with a much younger-looking Samuel L. Jackson getting his biggest MCU role to date thanks to some impressively uncanny VFX.
Aside from all that, though, Captain Marvel deserves credit for attempting to do something different with the all too familiar birth-of-a-superhero story. When we first meet “Vers” (Brie Larson), she’s already gained her powers, but lost her memories. She’s a member of the Kree Starforce – a group of elite “noble warrior heroes” waging war against the sinister, shapeshifting Skrulls. But after a mission gone wrong sees her crash land on planet C-53 (aka Earth), she soon starts to realise that all is not as it seems: Vers is actually Carol Danvers, a human pilot bestowed with incredible gifts. Not only that, but her Kree teammates aren’t as noble as she first thought, having duped her into fighting on the wrong side of an unjust war…
The backwards, Jason Bourne-style approach to our new Cap’s origin doesn’t always work – it makes for an intriguing mystery, sure, but it also means she’s not exactly immediately relatable; by the time we come to realise why we should be rooting for Danvers, it’s almost a case of too little, too late. Luckily, directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck have an ace up their sleeve in Larson herself, who’s more than likeable enough to keep us interested, despite the fact that the largely space-bound first act falls surprisingly flat.
read more: How Captain Marvel Fights Everyday Sexism
In fact, considering the plot involves a conflict between two technologically advanced alien races and is centred around a galaxy-savvy hero with Superman-level abilities, the film’s cosmic element feels weirdly muted. The directors deliver some solid set-pieces, but there’s a lack of the sort of colourful world-building and dynamic storytelling that propelled more “out-there” MCU stablemates like Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: Ragnarok to greatness (the fact that the location title graphics deliberately recall those of James Gunn’s striking space opera only serves to highlight the difference).
Once Danvers gets down to Earth, though, it’s a different story. Boden and Fleck are best known for smart comedy-dramas Half Nelson and Mississippi Grind, and this feels much more in their wheelhouse. From the moment Carol teams up with Fury – here a younger, sprightlier SHIELD agent – the film really kicks into gear as the sort of buddy movie that 90s Hollywood did really well. It helps that Larson and Jackson spark up a natural onscreen chemistry, trading their fair share of playful jibes while developing a believable friendship. The filmmakers have a lot of fun with the period setting, too – there are 90s references and in-jokes aplenty, not to mention a killer, grunge-tastic soundtrack.
The relevance of the film – and the character – is not lost on them, either. Captain Marvel makes an important, if not exactly subtle, statement: Carol is held back from achieving her potential by the men throughout her life – specifically Jude Law’s mentor turned villain Yon-Rogg – constantly telling her that she’s too “emotional.” When “new guy” Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg, also de-aged in a small but welcome appearance) makes a pivotal decision, Fury notes that he “went with his gut against orders.” “I get in trouble for that,” Carol retorts.
But when she truly fires up, it’s a powerful hero moment – and if we’ve struggled to get to know Carol at the beginning, by the end we know exactly who she is. “I’ve been fighting with one arm tied behind my back,” she realises. “But what happens when I’m finally set free?” With the film’s success making a sequel pretty much inevitable – hopefully, one in which Danvers isn’t saddled with heavy exposition and origin-story trappings – we can’t wait to find out.
Standout scene: See above. Carol is captured by Yon-Rogg during the battle on Mar-Vell’s ship and plugged into the Supreme Intelligence, which attempts to beat her into submission. But a defiant Danvers fights back. Shorting out her inhibitor chip, the full extent of her superpowers begin to manifest as the musical score stirs and Carol cycles through a montage of “I get knocked down, but I get up again” memories from throughout her past. Rising up, breaking her shackles and blasting free from the Kree’s control, Captain Marvel goes full Captain Marvel – finally sporting a dazzling, full-body energy glow.
First appearances: Aside from Captain Marvel and Yon-Rogg, there are lots of introductions here. We meet Carol’s Earthbound bestie and fellow Air Force pilot Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) and her daughter Monica (Akira Akbar), who Danvers affectionately refers to as “Lieutenant Trouble” – a character that might well have a superheroic future of her own if the comics are anything to go by. The film also marks the MCU debut of the Skrulls, including Ben Mendelsohn’s commander Talos – a pointy-eared villain-turned-ally with a broad Aussie accent (the Animal Kingdom star brings a surprising amount of humour and pathos to the role despite his heavy prosthetics). And then there’s Danvers’ feline pal Goose: an alien Flerken that parades around as a cute ginger kitty and pretty much steals the show (as well as Fury’s heart).
So long, farewell: Two major hello-goodbyes here. First up is Annette Bening’s Mar-Vell/Dr Wendy Lawson – the anti-war Kree scientist who mentored Danvers pre-memory loss and who created the Tesseract-powered warp engine responsible for Carol’s powers – who’s gunned down by Yon-Rogg in a flashback. Meanwhile, Gemma Chan’s Starforce sniper Minn-Erva barely gets a chance to make an impact before she winds up on the losing side of an aerial dogfight with Rambeau. She does get one of the film’s best lines, though – when asked if she’s ever been to Earth before, she replies: “Once… It’s a real shithole.”
Best quip: “It’s a cat, not Hannibal Lecter…” Nick Fury doesn’t get why Talos is so scared of loveable fluff Goose, until the alien’s tentacled form is revealed later on – inspiring another classic Jackson exclamation: “Mother-Flerken!”
It’s all connected: Captain Marvel’s major MCU connections involve setting up her appearance in Endgame and firmly installing the film as part of the Infinity Saga…
• The Tesseract returns! Mar-Vell used the ubiquitous blue box to power her experimental warp engine – meaning it is likely at least partly responsible for Carol’s god-like powers. When she destroys Mar-Vell’s ship, the energy she absorbs is distinctly blue in colour… Danvers later tells Fury to keep the Tesseract hidden on Earth.
• Starforce member Korath (Djimon Hounsou) and Kree ‘Accuser’ Ronan (Lee Pace) both appear in Guardians of the Galaxy, which takes place around 20 years later in the MCU timeline. They’re no longer working on behalf of the Kree empire, though; both have become radicalized after disagreeing with the Kree-Xandar peace treaty.
• “Last time I trusted someone, I lost an eye,” Nick Fury informs Steve Rogers in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. We now know that “someone” is Goose, who scratches the besotted Fury in the face when he gets too close. A nasty infection is not quite the heroic story the future director of SHIELD would want people to know about, we imagine.
• The Avenger Initiative – Fury’s future supergroup project designed to protect the Earth from alien threats – is named after an old photo he finds of Carol in the cockpit of her plane, which is decorated with her pilot call sign: Carol ‘Avenger’ Danvers.
• Before she leaves Earth to help the Skrulls find a new home and finish off her beef with the Kree, Danvers modifies Fury’s pager to expand its range to “a couple of galaxies at least”. She tells Fury that the communicator is for emergencies only. He’s seen using it at the end of Avengers: Infinity War, right before he gets dusted along with half of the population. We’d say that’s a pretty big emergency.
Credit check: “I’ve had better nightmares…” Set in the present day, the mid-credits sequence leads directly into Endgame. Snap survivors Black Widow, Cap, Bruce and Rhodey are holed up at Avengers HQ, assessing the devastation caused by Thanos and monitoring the pager device Fury left behind. It stops blinking, when suddenly Carol Danvers appears, demanding to know where Fury is. The end credits sequence jumps back to the 90s, where super-kitty Goose coughs up the Tesseract she swallowed earlier – right onto Fury’s desk.
Are you a fan of Captain Marvel? Are there any other aspects of it that you love, or anything that we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments below!