Short Term 12: The Indie Movie That Caught Marvel’s Eye

Short Term 12’s star and director will play key roles in the MCU’s Phase Four, so what is it about the film that’s impressed Marvel?

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

Premiering at the South by Southwest film festival in 2013 and becoming an indie favourite almost immediately, Short Term 12 is a fascinating watch in 2019. Not only starring Brie Larson and boasting upcoming Shang-Chi director Destin Daniel Cretton at the helm, but it also features early turns from actors including Rami Malek and Lakeith Stanfield.

It’s the former pair that may prove to be the film’s most memorable finds, with both having been folded into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the years since. While Larson is now a pivotal part of the MCU’s future as Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel, Cretton will get to prove himself once Shang-Chi hits cinemas.

Short Term 12 follows Grace (Larson), a woman working at a home for troubled kids who is also wrestling with her own demons. When she discovers that she’s pregnant, she must figure out where her life is headed and how her past has impacted her present. As incredibly brief and vague of a description of the film that is, Short Term 12 has grown to primarily become a showcase for some incredible, subtle performances from actors who would later become huge stars.

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Considering the direction Marvel eventually went with the lead character in Captain Marvel – as a pilot who loses everything suddenly and has to piece herself back together – it’s easy to guess what the studio may have seen in Larson’s performance. The character is prickly and reluctant to trust, but Larson brings an innate likeability to her as well as a believable commitment to the greater good.

The “greater good” in Short Term 12 is of course slightly lower-stakes than it is in Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame, but to Grace, the things she deals with on a day-to-day basis are no less important. And it’s also true that both Carol and Grace have to deal with forms of abuse that have informed their current personalities and learn to rely on others where they would have operated alone.

Larson shows the same grit, determination and vulnerability in her role as a kidnapped mother wrestling with what freedom means in Room, which won her a much-deserved Oscar. As such, Larson was seen as a considerable boon for the MCU which, up until recently, had found some of its greatest success in choosing actors who weren’t otherwise enjoying the kind of mainstream success the franchise could give them.

Larson was already recognisable as a movie star, but both the publicity tour and the actor’s wider public persona could actually be argued as having worked in Captain Marvel’s favor. Larson is an advocate for equality in the industry, which is very much a part of her character’s journey, and her being known before her MCU casting means there’s an added gravitas to her position as possibly the most powerful Avenger in Endgame and beyond.

Speaking of beyond, Shang-Chi is an enticing prospect in a number of ways, not least because it will feature the MCU’s first Asian lead superhero. But it’s also notable for being the second of the franchise’s films to be directed by an Asian filmmaker (the first being The Eternals, for which Marvel has hired Chloe Zhao). The decision continues the tradition of hiring smaller directors for massive tentpole movies, which has paid off in spades in the cases of Ryan Coogler on Black Panther and of course the Russo brothers on Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Destin Daniel Cretton first caught the eye of Hollywood with his Short Term 12 short, which was shown at the San Diego film festival and subsequently translated into the full-length film of the same name. To date, he has released just two more films – I Am Not A Hipster and The Glass Castle – also starring Brie Larson, and has another, Just Mercy (also starring Larson along with fellow MCU alum Michael B. Jordan), set for release in 2020.

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Shang-Chi would be an impressive jump for any filmmaker, but one Marvel is obviously comfortable with Cretton making. One of the reasons the MCU has found success where others have failed is its commitment to character, and Cretton’s work has proven more than anything that he’s a director who can create the smaller, quieter moments that the best superhero films make sure to prioritize.

While there have been some rather epic failures stemming from the relatively recent practice of hiring blockbuster-untested directors for massive franchise films, this is also one of the more intriguing moves for Marvel. Whether it’s Taika Waititi on Thor: Ragnarok or James Gunn on Guardians of The Galaxy, these filmmakers can launch or reinvigorate franchises with a fresh approach.

We currently have very little idea of what Shang-Chi will look like, or even where it might fall in Marvel’s upcoming release schedule, but Cretton and Larson are both symbols of where the post-Endgame Avengers could go. Both are incredibly adept at delivering compelling character moments and emotional through-lines, whether that’s through direction or performance, and their key roles in Marvel’s upcoming slate means Short Term 12 may be in the future looked back on even more as a breeding ground for the industry’s next generation of talent.