‘Captain Marvel’ is Only Human

And her name is Carol Danvers.
Captain Marvel

It is easy to listen. We are surrounded by others telling us who we are. As children, our parents define the world around us. That definition is continued through our teachers, our friends, and our colleagues. They all claim to understand. Don’t believe their authority. They have none. When you become a character in their narrative, you cage yourself from infinite potential.

Captain Marvel champions heroism through self-knowledge and resistance to classification. Talent is meaningless if outside manipulation steers its action. A cause must belong to you, and if you don’t know yourself, then your pledge is a hollow gesture easily perverted. Eventually, you must ignore incoming transmissions and embrace internal conviction.

At this point in the timeline, the MCU screams in distress. Thanos has eradicated half the population of the universe with one magical snap of his fingers. The Avengers, a team that has never truly contemplated loss, has failed. A heavy hitter is required to accomplish what gods, super soldiers, and iron men could not. Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) is a superbeing of such confidence that she’ll look at their failure with disgust and happily pick up the pieces…or brush them into a dustbin.

However, like all Marvel heroes, Carol did not drop onto this world a fully functioning god-killer. To establish her supremacy before Avengers: Endgame, the MCU takes a step back a la Captain America: The First Avenger. We meet Carol living in an alien skin under a different name, thirteen years before Tony Stark constructed his first Iron Man armor, and we spend most her introductory film listening to others explain her character to her. It makes for a unique and somewhat bizarre foundation, but by the climax, the switchbacking origin story actually highlights her realization of self. The newly-formed mindfulness becomes as much a part of the superhero catalyst as the cosmic powers bestowed upon her.

Vers awakens on Hala one day to discover another person’s blood flowing through her veins and an unexplainable ability to propel photon blasts from her fists. She has no memory of where she came from or who she was before this moment. The Kree tell her that they saved her life and that her fiery fists are a gift of their genius. If Vers would like to repay them, then she must join their military Starforce and aid in their righteous conflict against the Skrull expansion. A disease demands vaccination.

She’s a good fighter and takes pleasure in the combat. When dreams of an unknown woman dying at the hands of a Skrull keep her up at night, Vers seeks rest through physical action. Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), her superior officer and sparring partner, tells her that reliance on the photon weapon that resides within is a weakness. A sci-fi chip in her neck gives him control of her ability, and he’s happy to remind her that he can shut her down whenever. Yon-Rogg enjoys jabbing his finger at her chest and forehead. He tells her emotion is the enemy, and she must lead with her brain instead of her heart.

Such blather makes sense to an audience bred on Yoda musings regarding anger’s path to the Dark Side. Command your passion, don’t let your passion command you. Sure, sure, sounds good.

Her Starforce unit receives orders from the Kree Supreme Intelligence (Annette Bening) that an undercover operative has been targeted by a Skrull cell on one of their border planets. During the rescue mission, the Skrulls ambush Starforce and Vers is taken hostage by their villainous commander Talos (Ben Mendelsohn). Aboard their vessel, they open her up and scrounge around her blocked memories. Suddenly, Vers has access to familiar but forgotten memories. The woman from her dreams wears the same face as the Supreme Intelligence, and she holds much interest to the Skrulls.

From Vers’ mind, they rip the location of her dream woman Dr. Wendy Lawson, a military scientist who holds the key to lightspeed travel. Vers busts free from the Skrulls using her photon energy and crashlands an escape pod on Planet C-53 a.k.a. Earth a.k.a. The 1990s a.k.a. “a real shithole.” Her explosive pursuit of the Skrulls immediately gains the attention of S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and a buddy-cop dynamic is instantaneous. Their investigation develops quickly into an exploration of Vers’ past as unlocked memories reveal her humanity.

The bread crumbs lead Vers to another person eager to explain her identity. Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) was Carol’s USAF BFF. She tells Vers that she’s not Vers, but instead, she’s Carol Danvers, the badass test pilot. When they were denied combat missions due to their gender, they found satisfaction traveling higher, further, faster than anyone else. Carol was courageous, loyal, and a loving aunt to Maria’s daughter Monica (Akira Akbar). She was there for Dr. Wendy Lawson when lives were at stake, and she didn’t need more reason than that to put herself in harm’s way.

Is Vers, Carol? Is Carol, Vers? As the film builds to its ending, our hero is neither. Both versions are shattered, and it’s impossible to reconstruct either image. What she stitches together is Captain Marvel.

Given the opportunity to exchange words with Talos instead of fists, Captain Marvel discovers that the reptilian, devil-eared Skrulls she spent the last six years learning to hate are in actuality a fleeing group of refugees on the hunt for a new home after the Kree obliterated their last one. Dr. Lawson’s lightspeed engine is their chance to free themselves from the war. Oh, and by the by, Dr. Lawson is not Dr. Lawson either, but rogue Kree scientist Mar-Vell who died protecting the Skrulls from a murderous Yon-Rogg. The chip in Captain Marvel’s neck is not regulating her photon energy but restricting it.

The Kree attempt one last time to place Vers under their thumb. Shackled and linked to the Supreme Intelligence, they tell her that she is weak, flawed, and helpless. She is only human, and they saved her from herself. They reach into her memory and spit images of her many defeats throughout the years. They condescend to her and chide her not to get up. “It’s cute how hard you try.”

From the time she was the smallest child, Carol Danvers never stayed down. Captain Marvel finds herself in that comfort, and she returns each memory of failure with a memory of defiance. She is only human. We make tradition from loss. After every collapse comes the rise. This kid with the hard stare is a beast and represents a bravery that rejuvenates the amnesiac battling through years of Kree programming. Captain Marvel stands raging with will and pops the inhibitor chip from her neck. “My name is Carol,” she says. Don’t tell me to sit. Fuck you, I stand.

Anger does not always serve the enemy. Injustice, whether committed against others or yourself, should get you damn hot and bothered. Own it. Use it. It’s yours. Don’t let anyone tell you anything. You know you. A person who would deny you deserves the punch coming at the end of your fist. Don’t listen to the outside. Listen within.

What Captain Marvel Contributes to the MCU:

  • Goose – This cute little Flerken sporting a pocket universe full of tentacles in her mouth that looks a lot like a cat landed on our planet along with Mar-Vell. She may reduce Nick Fury to a puddle of joyous coos, but don’t let her pleasant exterior fool you. Goose is one vicious pet that will claw your eye out just as much as free you from an invading army of Kree soldiers. She kept The Tesseract safe during combat and happily spat it up during the end-credits so that Loki could breach Project Pegasus many years later. Goose could be a handy ally, so hopefully, she hasn’t used up all of her nine lives by the time Captain Marvel returns.
  • Skrulls – Well, well, well. The Skrulls are not the terrifying army we once predicted them to be. As Talos, Ben Mendelsohn practically steals every scene, and it would be greatly disappointing if he never returned to the franchise. Let’s cross our fingers, but I think it’s very likely that these characters will return in future phases.
  • Monica Rambeau – She’s last seen in Captain Marvel staring brightly up at her Auntie Carol as she soars into space. With two totally radical parental figures to aspire towards, Monica will certainly grow into a formidable adult of the MCU. If she follows in the footsteps of her comic book counterpart, she’ll wield some serious cosmic powers as well.
  • Supreme Intelligence – Just like we’ve probably not seen the last of the Skrulls, our future will be populated with these nefarious alien dominators. The A.I. that governs them is a patronizing ass and one I’d love to see smashed over and over and over again.
  • Yon-Rogg – Thanks to Guardians of the Galaxy, we know what happens to Kree jerkwads Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) and Korath the Pursuer (Djimon Hounsou), but what happens to this handsome devil? Captain Marvel demolishes his ego, and I’m sure that would only fester over time.

What Captain Marvel Withholds from the MCU:

  • Blockbuster – Nick Fury has the 411 on the late night drop box, and I’m all about that. The 90s needle drops may have been a mixed bag of nostalgia, but the trip back in time for $9.99 three-night rentals was quite welcome. We have most movies at our digital fingertips these days, but there was nothing quite like roaming the halls of a video shop snatching up flicks with the coolest VHS box art. Be kind, rewind.
  • Secret Invasion – So, these Skrulls may have been a cheerful lot, but that doesn’t mean the thousands of others floating around outer space have a similar disposition. I still argue that the dramatic reveal of a Skrull masquerading as a popular Avenger is still too good to pass on, and this epic comic book storyline has a place in the MCU. Mark my words.
  • Mar-Vell – Annette Benning is too good an actress to contain in one film. Yes, the same can be said for Robert Redford and many others (all of whom I’m waiting to return as well). As we stretch into Phase Four and beyond, I’d love to see the Kree/Skrull War explored in great detail. Give her a solo film. I’m serious.

Further Reading: 

Captain Marvel Vol. 1: Higher, Further, Faster, More by Kelly Sue Deconnick – This is the only place to start. Sure, you could go further back into the publication history and experience adventures of the original Mar-Vell, but the reality is that they are incredibly dated and only enjoyable to those who were reared on them. Kelly Sue Deconnick revolutionizes the character of Carol Danvers in this series, and everything you enjoyed about the film can be found here rooted in one form or another. This is also a good jumping on point for anyone curious about the Marvel Universe but is afraid to dip their toe into the deep end. Deconnick explores many different character combinations with Carol, and this allows for interactions with The Avengers as well as the weirder, cosmic personalities. The writing is lively, exciting, and celebratory. Get on it.

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Brad Gullickson: Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)