It’s no secret that the three of us have been eagerly anticipating Captain Marvel, the first film in the MCU to center a female character, ever since it was first announced. Based on one of our favorite Marvel Comics characters — former U.S. Air Force colonel and current half-Kree superhero Carol Danvers — Captain Marvel is the twenty-first entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and comes more than a decade after 2008’s Iron Man, the film that kicked off the franchise. That it took so long for Marvel to finally make a movie centered on a woman is disappointing (DC kicked off their Extended Universe in 2013 with Man of Steel, and still beat Marvel to the punch with 2017’s Wonder Woman), but we’re glad they got here eventually.
So after all that anticipation, how did Captain Marvel stack up against our lofty hopes and expectations, as well as against the other films in the MCU? We all saw Captain Marvel on opening weekend, while we all generally enjoyed ourselves, we came away with… a lot of thoughts, to put it mildly.
Instead of doing a traditional review for the movie, we’re going to try something a little different today and collaborate on more of a roundtable discussion, in which we’ll cover what we think the movie got right, what we wish it had done better, and what we hope to see from this character going forward. This post goes long because we’re deep-diving pretty much everything about the movie, from the soundtrack and the production design to the plotting and the characters. Basically, pee now, because there’s not another exit for 40 miles.
If you haven’t seen the movie yet, it’s probably best that you stop reading here. From here on out, spoilers abound.
To start off, let’s talk a little bit about our individual attitudes going into this movie. How we felt about Carol, the significance of Marvel choosing her to helm their first feature about a female character, what our hopes were going into the film, that sort of thing.
TEIJA: Carol Danvers is the reason I read comics at all. For years, I couldn’t — or rather, wouldn’t — get into them at all. I’d tried for beloved titles, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Last Unicorn, but for the most part I got frustrated by the short format of a single issue, and if I did read something, I’d wait until it had been compiled into an omnibus. But it wasn’t until Kelly Sue DeConnick took over Captain Marvel and breathed new life into her that I actually became someone that read comics, and I have Sarah to thank for shoving KSD’s run into my hands like “READ THIS NOW.” I’ve written about that here before (http://www.avengingforce.com/?p=1273), so I won’t retell the whole story, but safe to say I’ve read everything I can get my hands on at this point, and now that I’ve done a lot of reading in Marvel’s universe, I can confidently say that Carol Danvers is my favorite Marvel character. There are years and years of Carol Danvers stories, so I haven’t gotten to them all yet, but I feel like for the film, it’s Kelly Sue’s run that you really want to be familiar with anyway.
As for Marvel choosing her as their first solo female lead, I thought it was a brilliant choice. Her story is so unique and ties Earth to the rest of the universe, I think that she can bring a new angle to an already broad MCU. Ever since the Kree were introduced in Guardians, I’d been waiting for them to get to Carol, so when they announced that they were finally going to do the thing, I was over the moon. And with her as a rogue Kree, rather than a cohort of Ronan the Accuser, we’re going to see a whole new take on the galactic part of the MCU. She’s going to add so much to this canon.
SARAH: As Teija mentioned, I read Kelly Sue DeConnick’s run of Captain Marvel as it came out. I was fresh off an Avengers high and consuming everything I could find, which was what led me to pick up Carol’s story (alongside Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye). That series was AMAZING. The only exposure to Carol I’d had prior to that was her appearance in the X-Men, where she was not exactly my favorite. But I fell in love with her in that first issue and that love only grew the more I read.
I think for the MCU, Carol was the perfect choice for Marvel’s first solo female lead. She clearly had a large following (yay Carol Corps!) coming off of DeConnick’s comic and people were excited to see her finally join the onscreen crew. She’s a strong character, who was inspirational even before she was given her powers which makes her infinitely relatable and a perfect role model. Plus, her powers are completely different from anything we’ve seen in the MCU before and I was excited to see how they could work in this extensive universe.
LAUREN: I think of the three of us, I’m the least well-versed in the comics version of Carol. I’ve read a few volumes of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s run, and have read bits and pieces of other storylines in which Carol has popped up, but that’s about it. So I’d say I went in with a comfortable familiarity with the character, but still felt pretty open-minded. I obviously wanted the film to capture Carol’s bravery, intelligence, wit, and nobility, but I wouldn’t say I was married to any specific vision of Carol. At this point in the game, I have a lot of faith in Marvel’s ability to reimagine their comics characters for film, and so if they messed around with Carol’s origin story or relationships with other characters, I was fine with that, provided it worked on the screen.
As far as how I felt about Marvel choosing Carol as the first female character to lead her own solo movie in the MCU, I thought she was a fantastic choice, for all of the reasons mentioned above. As the mother of two pre-teen daughters (who have dressed up as MCU heroes for multiple Halloweens), I was thrilled that Marvel was finally giving us a character who could be an aspirational figure for girls in the same way that Steve Rogers is for boys. Plus, Carol’s powers are pretty freaking awesome, and I thought they’d translate really well to the big screen.
Going in, we all had some reservations about Brie Larson. Now that we’ve all seen the movie, how do we feel about that casting choice?
LAUREN: I will readily admit, when she was first announced, I was disappointed. I thought she was way too young (personally, I was Team Katheryn Winnick), and while I thought she was an excellent actress, I just didn’t know if she was right for Carol. However, I’m happy to report that she totally won me over. I thought she was just the right balance of personable, tough, and subtly funny. I think her presence is going to add a really fun dynamic to the MCU, and I’m excited to see her interact with everyone else in Endgame.
TEIJA: I was also Team Katheryn Winnick, so I had some hesitations when Brie was announced. However, she won me over really quickly–well before she even put on the suit. Her reaction to getting the role and her excitement about joining the MCU was palpable through her social media presence. By the time we got that first trailer, I was already super fond of her. Seeing her bring the role to life proved to me that Marvel made a good choice. She’s got the confidence and sense of humor that Carol has in the comics. She proved to me she can do this on her own, and I can’t wait to see how she does as a member of the bigger team.
SARAH: It’s probably no surprise that I was also Team Katheryn Winnick as Carol; in fact Teija and I had her as our top pick when we fancast the role back in 2014. And to be honest, one of the reasons I wanted her in the role was because I felt that in order to give Carol the backstory and credibility she deserved, the actress needed to be a bit older. However, Brie Larson very quickly won me over and from the moment I first saw her in the suit, I was completely onboard. By the time we got to the end of the movie, I was convinced that she was Carol just as much as Chris Evans is Steve and Robert Downey Jr. is Tony. She embodied the role and I love what she did with it.
What about the rest of the cast? Captain Marvel gave us a few new faces with Jude Law as the Kree commander Yon-Rogg, Lashana Lynch as Carol’s Air Force bestie Maria Rambeau, and Annette Bening as the Kree Supreme Intelligence/Carol’s mentor Dr. Wendy Lawson, as well as a digitally de-aged Samuel L. Jackson as a younger Nick Fury.
LAUREN: While I have no complaints with the actual casting choices, I do have some qualms with how this film chose to divvy up screentime between its characters. I never thought I’d say this, but I could’ve used significantly less Jude Law. Yon-Rogg felt very one-dimensional to me, and once we got past the first symbolic training scene with him and Carol where he keeps hammering home that her emotions are her weakness, I just didn’t felt like his presence added very much. Conversely, I did very much enjoy getting to watch a young Nick Fury discover just how much bigger the universe is than he thought, and found his dynamic with Carol thoroughly entertaining.
But even though I like Nick Fury quite a bit, I would’ve happily sacrificed some of his screentime for more with Maria Rambeau. I feel like this film barely scratched the surface of her relationship with Carol (which ties into a bigger issue I have about the plot/stakes of this film in general, which we’ll get into later), and I would’ve really liked to dig into their friendship before Carol lost her memories, as well as Maria’s emotional state over the course of the film. We don’t get a great sense of how Maria feels about having her best friend mysteriously return sans any memory of her, six years after mourning her as dead, and we also don’t get much of a look at how it feels for Maria when Carol decides to leave again at the end of the film. Brie Larson has gone on record as believing that Carol and Maria’s friendship is the ‘great love’ of the movie, but I just don’t think that came through as well as it could have.
Similarly, I feel like there was a lot more to explore in Carol’s relationship with Dr. Lawson (who turned out to be the Kree scientist Mar-Vell hoping to end the Kree-Skrull war). We got enough so that the plot made sense, but I still didn’t end the film with a really good grasp of who Lawson was as a person. And don’t get me started on how disappointed I was to find that the amazing Gemma Chan, whose casting I was so thrilled about, barely even had any lines.
Basically, I wish that the first MCU movie to center a woman did a better job actually centering women, and not just Carol.
TEIJA: I think that Lauren has really hit the nail on the head about the screentime in this movie. I really enjoyed the casting of this film — I don’t think there was a single weak point as far as acting was concerned — but I think that the way the filmmakers prioritized the screentime between them was a little unfortunate. I loved all the scenes with Carol and Fury, and thought that their dynamic was fantastic. I also liked Annette Bening as Dr. Lawson (and the Kree Supreme Intelligence). But what I wanted far, far more of was Maria Rambeau. Getting the glimpses we got of her obviously intense friendship with Carol was a delight, but I feel like we only got an appetizer-sized portion of something that should have been the main course. And lastly… I, too, could have done with far less of Jude Law as Yon-Rogg, but I get what they were going for. Watching Carol straight up Indiana Jones him mid-diatribe was definitely satisfying.
I also enjoyed that they allowed Samuel L. Jackson to flex his comedic chops (the stink-eye he leveled at Talos-as-his-boss in the elevator was gold) and gave him such a fun side arc with Goose. If someone was going to have a romantic arc in this film, I’m glad that’s the one we got (and I’m only mostly kidding).
SARAH: One of the things that the MCU has managed to nail time and time again is their casting. They do an incredible job of picking actors that so embody their characters that it becomes difficult to separate them, and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury has long been one of the best examples. As Lauren and Teija mentioned, the casting in this movie was pitch perfect as always, but they didn’t give me enough of these new characters to ever feel truly invested in them. I wanted so much more of Lashana Lynch as Maria Rambeau, and I think focusing more on on her character and her friendship with Carol would’ve provided more of an emotional touchstone to really connect me to the film in the way I wanted to. And, like Lauren, I’m highly annoyed at how they seemingly wasted Gemma Chan, an actress who is beyond phenomenal in everything I’ve seen her in and deserved so much more here.
Captain Marvel is set in the ‘90s, well before the formation of the Avengers. What did we think of that choice? Did the film use its ‘90s setting to its full potential?
LAUREN: As someone who was a teenager in the ‘90s and still has a ton of nostalgia for all sorts of ‘90s pop culture, I was pretty stoked when I first learned we were getting a ‘90s MCU film. However, I was honestly a little disappointed by the final product. While some of the broader trappings of the ‘90s were present — I swear I recognized every single one of those blurry VHS covers in that Blockbuster — it never really felt like the ‘90s to me. I’m currently rewatching the show Party of Five, which aired from 1994-2000, so the look and feel of that time period is fresh in my mind, and I feel like Captain Marvel fudged a few too many of the details to really make it feel authentic. Carol’s flat iron curls aside (because okay, maybe the Kree are about 25 years ahead of humans in their hairstyling), I didn’t get much of a ‘90s vibe from the film’s aesthetic. Sure, Carol wears a Nine Inch Nails t-shirt for most of the film, but it’s a modern womens’ cut, which she pairs with a flattering pair of Boyfriend-fit jeans that look straight off the rack of a modern Old Navy. Where were the baby tees and tube tops, the hugely oversized T-shirts, the miniskirts and Doc Martens, the tattoo chokers, the cargo pants, the heavy eyeliner and facial glitter and brown lipstick? Where were the women in the background sporting perms and The Rachel? Why did all the men’s suits fit them so trimly, when suits in the ‘90s were so baggy you could fit three people inside (even Coulson’s suits in the first two Iron Man movies were roomier than what he wore in Captain Marvel)?
Yeah, we got RadioShack and AltaVista and Smashing Pumpkins and Koosh balls and an agonizingly slow-loading CD-ROM, but to me, it all felt like ‘90s set dressing rather than an actual lived-in ‘90s setting. It probably didn’t help that the main plot of the film felt pretty far removed from the ‘90s (and Earth in general) since the whole thing centered around an intergalactic war. The ‘90s really weren’t relevant at all to such a futuristic conflict, which made the time period feel like more of a gimmick to me than anything. If the MCU was going to make a ‘90s movie, I really wish they’d given it a conflict that could’ve only taken place in the ‘90s, as opposed to one that could’ve just as easily (if not for the other stuff going on in the MCU) happened last week.
TEIJA: I once again agree with Lauren here — the ‘90s references were a fun romp down memory lane, and the slow-loading CD-ROM definitely got a big laugh, but it did all kind of feel like ‘90s set dressing. We definitely had a long conversation about Carol’s fashion not looking quite right, as if someone had taken modern clothing and just styled it around a ‘90s idea (that flannel, though). The hair and makeup being current and not ‘90s definitely stood out, enough that I’ve seen at least one manip of Carol Danvers with a Rachel haircut since the film came out. But I think for me the biggest miss on the ‘90s here was in the soundtrack, which I’ll come back to later on when we talk about a pivotal moment. The ‘90s were chock-full of girl rock that would have been great on this soundtrack, but whether it was because someone didn’t think of them or because they wanted to go with the safe choices, there were a few opportunities missed.
SARAH: I’m in full agreement that the movie dropped the ball when it came to using the setting and the time period effectively. And while I don’t agree that Carol would’ve had The Rachel (she left Earth in 1989, people!), her hair and looks felt far too much like something you’d see on the street now and less like she would’ve fit in at a Nirvana concert. Additionally, having Carol not in possession of her memories meant that she didn’t react to the world around her as much as I would’ve liked. She didn’t notice what had changed in the six years she was gone, and she didn’t seem to question anything she was seeing. Sure, she’s been on the Kree homeworld for a while and the tech of the ‘90s must’ve felt even more primitive to her than it did to me as a viewer, but it would’ve been nice to see her react to something that pulled the ‘90s into sharper focus.
TEIJA: Oh, I don’t think Carol should have had The Rachel; she’s obviously going to have a Kree haircut, having spent six years in space (like Lauren said, maybe the Kree are just 25 years ahead of the curve with their flat irons). But surely someone on the train would have been rocking Jennifer Aniston’s ubiquitous haircut. It was everywhere.
The plot of Captain Marvel centers around the conflict between the shape-shifting Skrulls and the militaristic Kree, and is full of (hopefully) surprising twists and reversals. How well did this plot work?
LAUREN: I think the Skrulls and Kree were a good pick for the focus of the film, as they’ve always been pretty central to Carol’s story in the comics. I like the idea of having a new hero face off against their classic nemesis on their first film outing, because I feel like it helps really crystalize them as a character in the eyes of the viewer. Captain America: The First Avenger is a great example of doing this well, as Red Skull and Hydra really helped bring a lot of clarity to who Steve is as a person. (Actually, I think Captain Marvel was purposefully mirroring The First Avenger in a lot of ways, to varying degrees of success.)
However, I feel like Captain Marvel kind of fumbled this strategy a bit, getting too bogged down in its own mythology to ever really lean into any sort of complex character work. There was so much exposition that had to be conveyed that we never really got to dig into how this conflict played into Carol’s sense of self. For example, once Carol realizes that the Kree have been lying to her all this time, she instantly sides with the Skrulls. That abrupt allegiance shifting didn’t ring true to me for a character who has spent the past six years being conditioned to hate the Skrulls. I feel like even once she realized she couldn’t trust the Kree, she still would’ve had a hard time trusting the Skrulls. Plus, once she started getting flashes of a past life that she didn’t remember living, I’d imagine it would’ve been hard for her to trust even herself.
There was a lot of setup here to really explore Carol’s sense of trust and identity, and help figure out who she is and what she cares about beyond being this highly trained and competent supersoldier. But I felt like because the film had to move so quickly from one plot point to the next, that it left all of that character development potential on the table, and we exited the film without a clearly defined sense of who Carol is as a person, beyond the broad heroic traits that could apply to any number of characters in the MCU.
SARAH: I agree with Lauren that pulling in a character’s classic nemesis is a solid move for an origin story. It creates a touchstone to the comics and gives the audience an immediate connection. However, while the movie established that the Kree and Skrulls were at odds and fighting a great war, we never really saw any indication of that. We saw some small instances of conflict and we of course saw Ronan ready to blast any and everything out of the sky, but it felt more like it was happening for the sake of conflict than to actually tell us a story and add to character development. At the beginning, Carol was clearly on the side of the Kree, but other than losing her memory, we never really saw why she made the choice to fight for them, or what she felt she was fighting for. And then it felt all too easy for her to simply switch allegiances without taking the time to question the whys and the hows and her personal feelings of betrayal.
I’m also incredibly conflicted on the choice that they made with the Skrulls. It certainly subverted my expectations and was an interesting creative choice to see the Skrulls portrayed as a sympathetic race just looking to find a new home for their people. However, the movie was never clear if it was only this specific group of Skrulls that didn’t want to fight the war, or if they were speaking for the entirety of their species. If it’s the latter, it’s a huge deal for the MCU to take one of Marvel Comics’ classic and most popular villains and decide that they’re now the good guys. However, if Carol now sees them as allies or friends, it could create an interesting conflict if the MCU decides to tackle the Secret Invasion storyline and show us a different side of the Skrulls.
TEIJA: I, for one, do not trust the Skrulls at all, Ben Mendelsohn or not, after this movie. This all felt too easy. Lauren and Sarah both already covered Carol’s far-too-quick leap of allegiance — she went from suspiciously barring the door to Maria’s neighbor because he might have been a Skrull to cooperating with Talos in about 10 minutes, which was narratively a whiplash moment. I get that Marvel wanted to introduce the war between the Kree and the Skrulls, but I get the very strong feeling that there is far more to this story that we really aren’t seeing yet. I think the introduction of the Skrulls in this film is just setup for a long game, and if Secret Invasion is where we’re ultimately going to end up, then giving us both Skrulls and Kree as complex characters is a smart move on Marvel’s part. While in this movie, the Skrulls were secretly not the bad guys after all, I wouldn’t count on this being proof that they are “good guys” now — more like this is just setup for the Kree and Skrull war not being black and white at all.
With the notable exceptions of Killmonger in Black Panther and Loki in Thor and The Avengers, Marvel has seemed to struggle with creating compelling antagonists in their cinematic universe. How successful was Captain Marvel in creating its villains?
LAUREN: The MCU has always had a problem fleshing out their film antagonists, failing to give most of them much motivation or characterization beyond ‘nefarious,’ and I felt like that issue came into play again here. I thought Ben Mendelsohn was great as Talos, but once it was revealed that Talos was “good” (a twist I’m still kind of side-eying), we were left with Yon-Rogg, who was never really defined beyond his characterization as anthropomorphized toxic masculinity. Sure, watching Carol smack down a personification of sexism was satisfying in its own way, but I never really got a great sense that there was a person behind all that conceptual symbolism.
As has been mentioned above, I still suspect that the Skrull-Kree conflict is much more complex than what is presented here, and that Carol’s decision to unequivocally side with the Skrulls against the Kree will ultimately come back to bite her down the line. But if that hunch is correct, I wish we’d gotten some hints of it in this movie. Maybe we could’ve gotten the impression that there was another side to Talos that Carol didn’t see, or that while Talos was actually good, that the conflict wasn’t as black-and-white as he made it out to be.
SARAH: It can be difficult to create a solid villain and Marvel tends play it safe by sticking a little too close to comic-book-style cartoonish villains. This movie never humanized the villains; they never really told us why they were fighting or what they were fighting for. Sure, Yon-Rogg was fighting for the good of the Kree, but they never told us what that meant or why they got into this battle in the first place. I was never able to empathize with any of the villains the way I did with Killmonger, and that left me feeling disappointed.
However, even with the underdeveloped villains, it’s always been clear who the villain was and what the hero was fighting against in MCU films, with the genius exception of how they managed to flip the script on The Mandarin in Iron Man 3. Yet in Captain Marvel, I struggled to clearly identify who the movie wanted the main villain to be. In fact, the movie flip-flopped so much that I’m not sure even the directors knew. First the Skrulls were bad and the Kree were good; then the Kree were bad and the Skrulls were good. And then Yon-Rogg wasn’t the real villain; it was actually the Supreme Intelligence. It’s not a bad choice to pull a switch like this, but it needs to be executed correctly in order to have the right impact. I think that the movie would have been stronger had they held back on the Supreme Intelligence, only showing a glimpse of them at the very end as the puppet master who had been pulling the strings the whole time.
TEIJA: As Lauren and Sarah have really already covered, it really felt like they couldn’t come to a decision on who the real bad guy was meant to be, and then when they finally pivoted away from the Skrulls and settled on “it’s the Supreme Intelligence and by extension the Kree, which means Yon-Rogg and the entire team Carol has worked with for years is now against her,” it felt underwhelming. I think the problem with the switch is not necessarily that they made it, but rather that the reason Carol (and us as viewers) switched her allegiance midway through the film was not actually presented in a compelling way. Were we able to understand Carol’s changing allegiance rather than simply being told “she believes Talos and is against the Kree now,” it likely would have worked. It’s a classic case of show versus tell, and Boden and Fleck didn’t show us what they were going for here; they just told us, and that is ineffective. I don’t think that the Supreme Intelligence is an ineffective villain, but if they want it to be a key player going forward, they are going to need to sink more time and effort into explaining why it’s bad, who it’s bad for, and why we should care.
Carol Danvers is arguably the most powerful superhero we’ve met so far in the MCU. Not only does she possess a laundry list of formidable superpowers, but she’s also skilled in hand-to-hand combat. As one might expect, that meant a lot of action scenes in Captain Marvel. How’d the action measure up to that of other films in the genre, and what does it mean to introduce such a highly powered character to the MCU?
SARAH: I loved all of the fight scenes with Carol because they never held back or went easy on her because she was a girl. Her fights were brutal and demanding and she gave as good, if not better, than she got. And while she was already formidable and intimidating before she realized the full extent of her powers, it was incredible to witness when she pushed through everything holding her back and was able to fully unleash her badassness. The action felt perfectly in line with similar scenes we’ve seen in Captain America and Thor, and gave me the feeling that she will be more than capable of fitting in with the Avengers.
However, Carol is definitely now the strongest superhero we have in the MCU (which, watch out Thanos, she’s coming for you), which raises some questions as to the limits of her powers. Once she had full access to her powers, she was virtually unstoppable, plowing through an entire ship, knocking people out left and right, and even scaring Ronan off.
TEIJA: As much fun as it is to watch Carol beating the everloving crap out of anything and everything around her, she definitely needs some limits. We’ve watched Thor light a star and then withstand its power as he lights a star forge, and we’ve watched Wanda destroy an infinity stone while simultaneously holding Thanos at bay, so the MCU is not entirely without immensely powerful heroes. But Carol, as far as this movie showed us, is not only so powerful that she can stop a cavalcade of warheads and punch a starship into oblivion; she barely broke a sweat doing it. I think the only time we really watched her pause and show any strain or effort was when she stopped that first warhead. Otherwise, she just powered through everything while giggling and whooping. Which, let’s be real, was fun as heck to watch, but going forward she needs some sort of a check. It can be as simple as “she gets tired eventually,” but if she’s literally limitless, she’ll negate any physical conflict just by being there. Either she needs limitations to her powers, or every single MCU film with her in it from here on out will have to be an intellectual conflict, not a battle of strength.
LAUREN: I’m in total agreement with Sarah and Teija on Carol’s powers needing limits (although I will add that Marvel has been pretty good up until this point at coming up with conflicts and stakes that still make even the most overpowered heroes feel like underdogs, so I’m not actually too concerned about how strong she is) and feel no need to rehash what they’ve already said.
Instead, I want to focus on the action itself. I was pleasantly surprised by how many hand-to-hand combat scenes there were in this movie, considering that Carol’s powers are such that she’s able to blast enemies to smithereens without laying a finger on them. I will almost always prefer a well-choreographed hand-to-hand fight over a CGI blastravaganza. That said, I did find myself a little frustrated with how Boden and Fleck chose to film a lot of the fight scenes. I found them a little dimly lit, and edited together in such a way that made them a bit hard to follow. A great fight scene should not only have good choreography, but should also possess a firm sense of geography and physicality, grounding the viewer so that we can always clearly track what’s going on. In Captain Marvel, the choreography itself seemed decent, but Boden and Fleck weren’t experienced action directors going into this film, and I think that wound up hindering the final product. The fight scenes felt rote, when they had the potential to be truly innovative.
I did really love how utterly gleeful Carol seemed when she finally embraced her full powers, though. Those joyful little whoops were my favorite part of that space battle.
TEIJA: This is me piping up one more time to say that Carol’s sassy fighting style is absolutely charming. Her whoops and hollers when she’s having fun are one thing, but the fact that she responded to an aggressive “aaargh” by throwing back her own in an early fight scene was just a total highlight for me. What a fun person.
So let’s talk about Carol’s amnesia. Do we think she ever got her memories fully back?
SARAH: Honestly, I couldn’t tell you one way or the other. The movie was never clear on just how much she remembered and whether what we were seeing on screen was a flashback for the audience or actually a flash of memory for Carol. She clearly regained some memories — she remembered that Maria and Monica were important to her, and she remembered the crash — but the movie failed to show us how much of their friendship she remembered or if she remembered any other flights she took. In asking around, everyone I talked to had a differing opinion on what she remembered, which just further proved to me that Boden and Fleck did not do an effective job of showing it in the movie.
I think this was a mistake on their part for a few reasons. One, it would’ve done a lot to strengthen her character as we watched her react to regaining her memories. Two, Carol choosing to leave Earth (and by extension, Maria and Monica) would have felt like more of a sacrifice if she knew exactly what she was leaving behind. Instead, it felt too easy, because it appeared that she only had a brief idea of what she was saying goodbye to.
TEIJA: I would go a step further and say that not only do we not know if she ever truly regained her memories entirely; we also don’t know when she got the memories she did get in the movie. We see from the get-go that she remembers snippets and flashes, and that being in familiar places triggers some distant memories in the back of her mind. She recognizes some of her memories when the Skrull are trying to tap her mind. But when she hears the black box recording, it seems that the movie wanted us to understand that she got back the important memories of that event clearly, but it’s not very clear when she gets any other memories (if she actually regains them at all). When Monica shows her photos, there is no indication that they trigger any deeper memory in her, and when she’s told about her past and shown her old jacket, she takes the information with a smile, but it isn’t clear that she actually recalls anything herself. Her reactions could very well be taken as her just being polite or finding Monica’s excitement endearing.
I agree with Sarah that this was a mistake–giving her all those memories back would have made those connections more powerful, and the ultimate decision to leave for the Kree war would have had more stakes. Not only that, but it made the story around Carol’s memories very muddy overall, to the point that when she finally remembered the crash in its entirety and Yon-Rogg’s involvement, it didn’t carry the weight it might have if the narrative around those memories had been clearer.
LAUREN: I feel pretty strongly that the movie never gave us any indication that Carol got all of her memories back. She definitely seemed to get some of them back, but which ones and how much of an impact they had on her was left very vague. Like when she experienced flashes of her friendship with Maria, did that mean she also remembered how she felt about Maria, or just that she remembered certain events taking place? Was there affection or other emotion associated with those memories, or were they merely filling in a chronological gap on her mental timeline?
If we were meant to believe that Carol got all of her memories back, I think the film did a pretty terrible job of conveying it. And if we weren’t meant to think she got them all back, I’m also on Team That Was A Big Mistake, for all the reasons stated above. In addition to providing additional stakes for when Carol ultimately chooses to leave, getting her memories back would’ve made her big character beats more meaningful. Watching that montage of her getting up after being knocked down as a kid was powerful. But it could’ve been even more powerful if it was clear that she remembered actually being that kid.
Sidebar: if this movie had been set two years later, that scene could’ve been set to ‘Tubthumping.’
Music has been a long-standing complaint of ours when it comes to the MCU, but the recent films have been making strides in the right direction. Doctor Strange actually seemed to put some work into giving its lead character a decent theme, Black Panther just won an Oscar for its score, Thor: Ragnarok had the best needle drop of the entire MCU, and Avengers: Infinity War finally figured out how to effectively incorporate Alan Silvestri’s Avengers theme into its big dramatic moments. How did Captain Marvel measure up?
LAUREN: As with so many of our other discussions around this film, I’m conflicted. On the one hand, the ‘90s soundtrack once Carol got to Earth made me happy and hit me in my nostalgia place. I particularly enjoyed Nirvana’s ‘Come As You Are’ playing during Carol’s big standoff with the Supreme Intelligence, and any soundtrack that includes not one but two R.E.M. songs gets my automatic stamp of approval.
However the score felt entirely unmemorable to me, sliding back into Marvel’s old, lazy habits. I’ve been told Carol has a theme, but I spent the movie actively listening for one, and I couldn’t find it. I’d hoped that after Black Panther’s score was so highly regarded and helped win Marvel its first Oscars, that maybe they’d put a little more care into their scores, but for the most part, the music for this film felt like the same old Generic Superhero Music that the MCU has been giving us for the past decade.
SARAH: I’m with Lauren in that I loved the fact that the movie perfectly incorporated a number of classic ‘90s tunes, sending me immediately back in time in my mind. And while I had to bite my lip to keep from singing along in the theater, nothing stopped me from creating a playlist from my music library and singing along on the drive home (and adding additional ‘90s songs that fit my mood and the vibe of the movie). Also, I see your sneaky soundtracking, Captain Marvel, using Hole’s ‘Celebrity Skin’ in a movie set in 1995 when that song wasn’t released until two years later.
But when it came to the score, it felt like a backslide for the MCU after the gains it had made with Black Panther and even Infinity War. There was nothing memorable about it and I could not even begin to tell you what Carol’s personal theme was supposed to be or if she even had one. In fact, the only part of the score that stood out was the swell of the Avengers theme (arguably Marvel’s best and most memorable theme to date) in the final scene when we see Fury change the name of the initiative. That was a perfect use of that theme, but it also only highlighted that the rest of the score never managed to evoke any type of emotion in me.
TEIJA: I feel like I might have been the least enamored with this soundtrack of the three of us! While I love all the ‘90s songs that were chosen for this movie’s soundtrack, I’m actually kind of disappointed in how easy some of the choices were. ‘Just a Girl’ in particular was a disappointment, which we’ll get to in a minute, but generally speaking, the choices all felt like easy targets, pulling chart-toppers from the era and slapping them in “because the ‘90s,” rather than making choices to pull forward songs that were just as great but maybe a bit lesser-known. I’m definitely not the first person to point out that Carol spent a large portion of this movie wearing a NIN shirt and we never once heard any NIN on the soundtrack.
As for the score, I’m a total score nerd, and I have to say that this one was disappointing. I spent the movie keeping an ear out, hoping that the Doctor Strange and Black Panther themes we’ve gotten were a good sign that Carol would get her own theme as well. And she has a fanfare — it does exist — but considering you don’t really hear it until just before the final post-credits scene while you’re watching names scroll, it’s a let-down. It might be playing during her big “punch a spaceship” sequence, but as someone who was listening for it, you couldn’t really make out the music in that sequence at all, aside from a noticeable drumbeat. I had to look it up on YouTube afterward to really familiarize myself with it, which is such a bummer. Marvel’s scores have been better than this lately, so it definitely felt like a step backward.
LAUREN: Jumping back in here to say that Teija is totally right; it was a gigantic missed opportunity to not play any Nine Inch Nails songs in the movie and I want my seconding of that point on the record. AND ANOTHER THING: Carol passes a wall plastered with ‘Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness’ posters, yet there is no Smashing Pumpkins on the soundtrack, and wears a Guns N’ Roses shirt, yet there is no Guns N’ Roses on the soundtrack. Honestly, the more I think about this soundtrack, as fun as it was, the more irritated I get about how much better it could have been.
Let’s talk about that ‘Just a Girl’ scene.
LAUREN: I feel like there were a lot of noble intentions behind this scene. It’s a great song, and it was playing as Carol was finally coming to terms with her powers and embracing her identity. I feel like it could’ve been an incredibly powerful (if a bit on-the-nose) needle drop. However, for me, the song didn’t feel entirely earned within the narrative of the movie, and as such, it didn’t carry the emotional weight that I wanted it to.
‘Just a Girl’ is an angry, frustrated song about society’s definitions of femininity. It’s about a lifetime of getting compressed by the stereotypes and imagined constraints of your gender, until you finally get fed up and throw off those constraints in order to live life on your own terms. And despite a couple scenes where Yon-Rogg berates Carol for being “emotional” (which honestly never felt earned to me either, as she’s about as emotional as a dinner plate), I never got the sense that Carol felt like her gender was the thing that was holding her back.
Sure, Flashback!Carol had to deal with a lifetime of sexism, from her abusive father as a kid to the institutionalized sexism she faced as an Air Force pilot, but Protagonist!Carol never did. As long as she has amnesia, those memories might as well belong to another character. I’m not saying I need movies about women to always include blatant sexism as part of their main character arc — heavens, no — but if you’re going to use ‘Just a Girl’ as your big catharsis moment, I need to feel that it’s actually paying off an earlier perception that the character was just a girl. As it was, it was a fun meta moment for the women in the audience, but for me, not a very effective song choice for Carol herself.
TEIJA: This is actually more and more of a disappointing song choice to me, the more time I have to think about it. No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom was the first CD I bought for myself with my own money when I finally got my own CD player, and it’s an album that I have memorized front to back. I love early No Doubt to this day, and I love this song. But I feel like there was such a glut of great girl rock in the ‘90s that picking the overplayed chart-topper with a title so on-the-nose that it hurts was the wrong choice. Veruca Salt’s ‘Seether,’ with lyrics like “I try to keep her on a short leash/ I try to calm her down/ I try to ram her in the ground/ can’t fight the Seether” would have provided a great driving background while also speaking to the fact that Carol had just broken her bonds and finally realized her full potential. Other groups that could have provided a great beat to a punching scene with rocking girl voices include Hole, Bikini Kill, and Sonic Youth. Maybe in an alternate universe this movie exists with ‘Kool Thing’ in this moment.
SARAH: I honestly have nothing to add here. While I LOVE the song, I agree with Lauren and Teija that it was not the right fit for this scene. I would’ve preferred that they find a song that fits how Carol sees herself, rather than the impression they wanted to give the audience in that moment.
And what about ‘Come As You Are’?
TEIJA: So while I think this might have been the most skillfully used musical cue in the entire movie, it does come with its own questions. Earlier in the film, conversation between Yon-Rogg and Carol make it pretty clear that the Supreme Intelligence uses what you bring to the table to nail down what to show you, and we see immediately that it can get into your subconscious and use things that are deep down even if you don’t remember them, because Carol doesn’t remember Dr. Lawson when she sees her in the Supreme Intelligence.
So how would she know ‘Come As You Are’? This film is set in the mid-’90s, and she disappeared six years prior. ‘Come As You Are’ came out in 1991, firmly in the middle of her Kree period. So it raises the question: was ‘Come As You Are’ meant to be something she brought to the table? Or was it a purely soundtrack moment, and not intended to be seen as something the characters are hearing? To me this was not clear at all, but if it was meant as the former, then it doesn’t mesh with the timeline.
LAUREN: For what it’s worth, it didn’t even occur to me that ‘Come As You Are’ might have been intended to be perceived as actually playing inside the Supreme Intelligence chamber (is it a chamber? room? pod? I have no idea what to call it) until I got home and saw that this was a thing people were debating on the internet. I figured that from Carol’s and the Supreme Intelligence’s point of view, there was no music playing at all in that scene, and the music was meant to be background music for the audience. Unlike in a film like, say, Guardians of the Galaxy, I never got the impression that the music in Captain Marvel was meant to literally be playing in the environment the characters were inhabiting. So for me, ‘Come As You Are’ was not confusing at all, and wins the prize for best needle drop in the movie.
SARAH: It honestly never occurred to me either to wonder if Carol could hear the music that played when she visited with the Supreme Intelligence. However, when my husband brought it up and complained about the song being used there, I simply reasoned that during her road trip with Fury she must’ve heard the song at some point. This was 1995; you couldn’t listen to alt-rock radio without hearing the song at least once every hour or so. I think the song was a perfect fit for that moment and the best use of music in the film.
(UPDATED 3/19/19 10:21am CST) LAUREN: So since publishing this, it’s been confirmed to me from several sources that there is indeed confirmation in this scene that the song is actually playing inside the Supreme Intelligence. So I guess I’m going with Sarah’s “she must have heard it on the radio earlier that day” theory, which, while extremely plausible, still feels like weak writing to me. Still the best needle drop in the movie though.
At the end of the film, Carol bids farewell to Earth once more, this time by choice, as she flies off to go help the Skrulls find a new homeworld before taking her fight to the Kree Supreme Intelligence. Then, in the mid-credits scene, we see she returns 25 years later, after the events of Avengers: Infinity War. How do we feel about this ending, and what sorts of story possibilities does it open up for Carol?
TEIJA: I am not honestly shocked at all that Carol would leave Earth this way to go back and deal with the Supreme Intelligence; to her character, the Earth stuff is new information, but the Kree versus the Skrulls has been her life for six years. She clearly feels honor-bound to deal with the fallout of what she has found out and what she’s about to do. To her, staying on Earth, knowing that war is still going on, would be abandoning her duty to do what is right. It makes sense for her character to leave, and it seems like the right move (plus, it explains why she’s been absent from the MCU all this time, and gives Marvel a rich story well to tap when they ultimately take us to see what she was doing).
However, I really wish that we had seen Carol, Maria, and Monica more as she was making her choice to leave. This is her chosen family; this is a pair of people that clearly mourned her loss the first time, and now she is leaving them for an indeterminate amount of time, possibly never to return. Knowing she is alive must be a relief, but to have her pop back into their lives briefly only to vanish again is hard, and it would have given much more emotional power to the story had we seen Carol deal with the hard choice of leaving them behind to go do what she felt was right.
LAUREN: So, this ending is basically Captain America going into the ice, right? I’ve mentioned before that I think Captain Marvel is intentionally meant to mirror The First Avenger in a lot of ways, and I feel like this ending was going for the same sort of feel as that film. For the greater good, Carol sacrifices her life on Earth and disappears, only to return decades later during a post-credits scene to find the world dramatically changed.
The problem with this ending is, as Teija said, that Carol leaving Earth really doesn’t feel like much of a sacrifice. In The First Avenger, Steve was sacrificing his life in order to save millions, which ramps the stakes up so incredibly high that they become practically incomprehensible. Humans simply aren’t built to process atrocity on such a huge scale, which means that while we can intellectually understand that something awful is happening, our brains don’t know how to handle it emotionally.
In The First Avenger, its screenwriters cleverly circumvented this problem by creating some deeply personal stakes the audience could comprehend, which played out alongside the massive, world-ending stakes: they gave Steve a date. When he returns seventy years later, that date is the first thing on his mind, driving home exactly how much Steve gave up in order to save the world. The First Avenger used a micro-level sacrifice in order to help give weight to a macro-level conflict, and it worked beautifully. Even now, eight years and 17 movies later, the Endgame marketing is still leaning heavily on Steve’s missed date with Peggy as a shorthand for unimaginable loss and sacrifice, because it’s something the audience can connect with. None of us know how it feels to lose half of all life in the universe, but we all know how it feels to miss out on an opportunity we cared deeply about.
The problem with Captain Marvel’s ending is it never gives us those deeply personal stakes for Carol that would make her decision relatable and help humanize the enormous, galaxies-spanning conflict she’s trying to resolve. I’ve mentioned it above, but I think it was a huge misstep not to explicitly give Carol all her memories back, so that we could believe that she actually cared about Maria, Monica, and her life on Earth. Leaving them behind should have felt like a major sacrifice for Carol; as it is, it just felt like the obvious decision. Of course she was going back into space to continue fighting in the Kree-Skrull war; why wouldn’t she? We’ve been given no compelling reason why she’d want to stay.
I think, as Teija mentioned, there’s a lot of storytelling possibilities opened up by this ending, and I’m excited to see where the character goes from here. I only hope that when we see her in the future, Marvel spends a little less time focused on Carol’s role in intergalactic conflicts, and more time developing her ties to the people around her.
SARAH: Pivoting off of Lauren’s point, I think this ending would’ve been more effective if she was essentially put on ice. We’ve got ten years of the MCU behind us and honestly, it’s strange that we haven’t seen or heard any mention of Carol in that time. Sure, she was off in space, but she was messing with the Kree’s Supreme Intelligence, which wouldn’t exactly go unnoticed. My hope is that when she shows up in Avengers: Endgame, we’re treated to at least a hint of what she’s been up to in the intervening years. And I would love it even more if Rocket recognizes her as someone who arrested him at least once.
Not to mention, I’d not really sure that leaving 25 years of her unaccounted for really opens up a lot of story ideas. One of the weaker points of Captain Marvel was that it was forced to fit into a time period where it was hampered by the events of the 19 films that chronologically came after it. There are definitely some possibilities — the galaxy is a big place — but I would assume that someone as powerful as Carol would have a bigger impact on the galaxy, and that those ripples would be felt moving forward. It would stand to reason that any story for her will most likely pick up after the events of Endgame and go on from there, leaving it likely that we’ll only see how she handled the Supreme Intelligence in flashbacks.
TEIJA: I actually disagree that it’s weird that we haven’t heard a peep about her in the rest of the MCU if she was off in Kree space. The only time that we’ve really encountered the Kree prior is in Guardians of the Galaxy, and even in that, we weren’t really given background on Kree political dealings. That they were waging a war against the Skrulls simply never came up, and if that’s where Carol was, then it makes total sense to me that she didn’t come up, either. Taking down something like the Supreme Intelligence is not going to be a simple “punch holes in it” game; it’s going to require strategy and likely putting together a team, and these are not things her superpowers give her an upper hand in sorting out. She is obviously very powerful, but she’s not so powerful that she will be immediately able to dismantle the Kree. We’ve seen them since she disappeared, and they’re still very much a presence. Whatever she’s doing is clearly a long game.
Sending her to the other end of the galaxy was a pretty deft explanation for “why haven’t we heard of her yet, if she’s so freaking powerful?” Especially since it’s not like Fury’s ever been forthright with his secrets unless he wants to be. His keeping mum is entirely in character.
We’ve discussed Brie Larson’s performance already, but how about Carol herself? Was she all we hoped she would be? How does she compare with the character in the comics?
LAUREN: I feel like personality-wise, the film version of Carol was spot-on. She possessed the dry sense of humor, moral forthrightness, and sharp intelligence I tend to associate with her character in the comics. However, I also felt like she was holding me at arm’s length, keeping me from ever fully connecting with her. We’ve already discussed all the factors that played into this — keeping her memories mostly hidden from her, failing to give her any real personal stakes to help balance out the global stakes, and a dearth of screentime for the characters who cared about her the most — so all I’ll add here is that I know it seems like I’ve been hard on this movie during this discussion, but I really do have a lot of fondness for Carol herself, and I sincerely hope that I’m able to unequivocally love her in future movies.
I did thoroughly enjoy that Monica Rambeau was the one to inspire Carol’s Captain Marvel suit, though. That was a really nice touch.
Also, um, they never actually called her “Captain Marvel” at any point during this movie? The closest they came was when Fury kept mispronouncing Mar-Vell and Carol had to correct him, but that was in reference to a totally different character, not Carol herself. And Teija recently noticed that they never name Hope as “The Wasp” during Ant-Man and the Wasp either. What gives, Marvel? I don’t want to jump to any bad-faith conclusions here, but… c’mon.
TEIJA: Carol is picture-perfect, personality-wise. I got the impression that Brie Larson read through all the Kelly Sue DeConnick issues of Captain Marvel, if not much more, because she captured the confidence and sass that Carol is known for. But I agree with Lauren that because of the story factors that kept Carol from fully understanding her own origins, we also were kept from completely connecting with her. I don’t know how much of my love for Brie’s portrayal of Carol is colored by the fact that I came into this movie already in love with Carol Danvers. I know that Brie did not diminish that love, but I wonder, if I knew nothing about her, if I would have come out of the theater with a different opinion than I hold as a card-carrying member of the Carol Corps.
And yeah, I have to second Lauren’s “what gives?” to Marvel re: not actually naming Hope or Carol as their superhero names anywhere in their recent movies. And now that I’m thinking about it, I can’t honestly remember if anyone’s actually leveled the name “Scarlet Witch” at Wanda, either.
SARAH: To Teija’s point, “Scarlet Witch” has only ever been used to refer to Wanda in promotional materials; it’s not been used on screen as of this point.
I have absolutely zero complaints with the characterization of Carol in this movie. They managed to lift the character right off the page of the comic books and it was a thrill to see her come to life as sassy and snappy and strong as I always envisioned her. But I also agree with Lauren and Teija that it was a bit difficult for me to connect with her emotionally, and while I love the character so much, I wish I’d walked out feeling more.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Goose.
LAUREN: I loved Goose, although I kinda feel like changing the cat’s name in order to squeeze in yet another Top Gun reference was a bit unnecessary. In the comics, the cat is named Chewie, which I like not just because Chewbacca is also an adorable but deadly fluffball, but also because throwing a Star Wars reference into the movie would have been a fun little meta nod, considering Disney now owns both properties. I wouldn’t say that the cat ‘stole the movie’ like I’ve seen some other reviews claim, but anything that gives Samuel L. Jackson a reason to say ‘motherflerken’ is a winner in my book.
SARAH: So, overall I loved Goose, and his presence in the film added some perfect comedic elements. The first time we saw him go full flerken was like a comic panel brought perfectly to life. But I still left the movie disappointed and honestly a tad angry. You see, in the comics, Carol’s cat is her everything. You. Do. Not. Mess. With. Her. Cat. She will chase you across the galaxy if you do. But the movie made the somewhat odd choice to give the cat to Dr. Wendy Lawson/Mar-Vell instead of Carol. And to top it off, throughout the movie, Carol was indifferent to Goose, never showing him close to the affection and interest that Nick Fury did. I don’t understand why they made that creative choice, but in my opinion it was the wrong one.
TEIJA: Uh, what Sarah said. I really liked watching Fury melt into a puddle of “be the cat person you were always meant to be,” but I wasn’t happy that it came at the cost of Carol being a cat person.
While critiquing a movie rarely means we didn’t like it (and often means exactly the opposite), let’s take a moment to gush. Favorite moments in Captain Marvel?
LAUREN: While it wasn’t technically a part of the movie itself, I’ve got to acknowledge the Stan Lee tribute in the opening logo, where they replaced the typical images of the heroes of the MCU entirely with images of Stan. I wasn’t expecting that, and it made me a little misty right off the bat. Such a sweet moment.
But as for my favorite moment in the story itself… I really enjoyed that train fight. Not just because it was a fun setting for a big action setpiece, but because I found watching all the background passengers highly entertaining. Shoutout to that one guy who saw the Skrull turn into him and just looked completely bewildered.
I also really enjoyed Carol slooooooooowly closing the front door while never breaking eye contact with Maria’s neighbor (or the Skrull impersonating Maria’s neighbor? I feel like the film isn’t totally clear on which it’s supposed to be, but either way, the scene is a hoot). I seriously cackled in the theater.
TEIJA: Well, I cried with joy when she recreated the Captain Marvel (2014) #1 (Yu Variant) cover outside of Ronan the Accuser’s ship. Watching her finally realize the full breadth of her powers and respond with absolute joy and go on basically an excited punching spree was just the greatest. She’s obviously most comfortable in the air; her character’s past of wanting to fly and finding the only program in the Air Force that would let her do so, volunteering to do dangerous missions just to get in the cockpit… the fact that she can fly without any machinery now must be a dream come true for her. You know “the power of flight” used to be her answer to the “pick a superpower” interview question, and the glee she shows when she realizes she can actually do it is contagious. Listening to her whoop and laugh as she’s destroying an entire spaceship with her fists was just too much fun.
And I agree 100% with Lauren regarding Marvel’s Stan Lee tribute opening logo. That was beautiful.
SARAH: The opening tribute to Stan Lee was fantastic, but I was filled with SO MUCH JOY at his actual cameo in the movie. It was a cameo 24 years in the making and it was thrilling to see him reading that script for Mallrats and practicing his single line. Worlds collide indeed.
Other than that, I’m with Teija that the recreation of the comic book cover was by far my favorite moment. She was so powerful and it was so incredible to see that image perfectly brought to life. Her joy in that moment was infectious and I couldn’t stop myself from grinning. And of course, now I cannot wait to see the damage she rains down on Thanos.
Obviously, as the first MCU solo film with a female lead, Captain Marvel carries a lot of cultural significance, and shouldered a lot of expectations beyond simply being another good Marvel movie. How did it measure up, not just in the greater MCU, but as a movie which will forever be considered a milestone for women in film?
LAUREN: Honestly, while I did enjoy this film overall, it fell far short of where I wanted it to be, both as a Marvel movie and as a “historic” movie. People like to complain about Marvel’s storytelling formula, (which is really just a traditional five-act structure), but the fact is, most of the time, it tends to result in pretty solid movies. Maybe the problem here was that, in their efforts to make A Film Of Significance, Boden and Fleck wound up skipping some important beats in that formula? There’s a lot of Important Symbolic Moments in Captain Marvel, but… did it even have a Dark Night of the Soul? I’d be hard pressed to name a moment where Carol ever really seemed to doubt herself, hit rock bottom, or want to turn her back on her mission.
I’m not saying that stories must be formulaic in order to be effective, but if you’re going to buck classic structure, that decision should serve your story and your characters, not work to their detriment. In Captain Marvel’s case, its script is jam-packed with Big Things Happening, but at the expense of individual character growth, personal stakes, and deepening relationships. Coincidentally, those are the three main reasons I tend to rewatch Marvel movies, which means that this one is unlikely to gain a spot in my regular rotation.
I know many people absolutely loved this film, and I honestly think that’s great. And I do think that Captain Marvel made a sincere attempt to say some important things about femininity, prejudice, identity, and toxic masculinity. Even if I don’t believe it was entirely successful in getting those messages across effectively, I admire the effort. But if not for its automatic significance as The First MCU Solo Film With a Female Lead and the emotional weight that carries, I honestly don’t think Captain Marvel would have much staying power on its own merits. Maybe time will prove me wrong, and I will just be one of those people who doesn’t get why a certain film becomes an Enduring Favorite. If that’s the case, so be it. But while I had a good time watching Captain Marvel, it winds up ranking close to the bottom of the MCU hierarchy for me. And as a milestone for women in film, while I’m glad it exists, I can’t help but hope that Captain Marvel is just the starting point, and not the standard.
TEIJA: I have to say that this movie does feel an awful lot like those hero introduction films we got in Phase 1: Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger. After movies like Black Panther and Ant-Man, it honestly feels like a step backwards in quality, but I think that its status as the first female-led MCU film is going to keep it in the upper part of the rankings for many people. Personally speaking, Carol Danvers is my favorite Marvel character, but her debut hasn’t knocked Ragnarok, Black Panther, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier from the top of my own MCU rankings. What I do think, though, is that her introduction won’t be the most important film she’s a part of — the introductions for prior MCU heroes haven’t remained their most important or compelling films, so I expect her to follow the same trajectory. The MCU has been working very hard to give their heroes arcs over the course of their film phases, and they have paid off in spades for Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, and Thor. I can only imagine the kinds of plans they have for Carol Danvers.
As for a milestone for women in film, I think it will remain in the lexicon forever — the reason being that it is Marvel’s first offering of a female-led film. I think it will stand forever next to Wonder Woman, DC’s first, and likely people will spend a lot of time discussing the pros and cons of each, which of them did what things better, and which one stands up over time. And honestly, I kind of feel like Wonder Woman might hold up better over time in terms of milestones for women in film. But what I hope for more than anything else is that it does not stop here. These two films are the first, yes, but there are a glut of female superheroes in the comic canon, and hopefully these two films have opened the door for more to be made, so that in the future we don’t look to just one or two as the only examples.
SARAH: I have nothing else to add here, Teija and Lauren covered everything perfectly and I am in complete agreement. Captain Marvel will always stand out as the first solo MCU film with a female lead, but I have a feeling that as more female superheroes join her on screen, it will be outshined by the stories those films will tell.
LAUREN: I feel like I’ve been the harshest of the three of us on this movie, so it may be hard to believe that I really did like it. (Honestly, the only MCU movie I don’t like is The Incredible Hulk. Yes, that means I even like Iron Man 2 and Age of Ultron, both of which I would rank below Captain Marvel, for the record.)
But I did! I liked it! I just didn’t love it, and I deeply wanted to love it. I don’t think it was a matter of unrealistic expectations or an abundance of loyalty to the comics; I just didn’t think it was an especially strong film, despite its awesome cast, promising premise, and excellent studio track record. I thought it was… an okay film. An entertaining film. But not an exceptional film or even a particularly well-crafted film, no matter how much I wished it was.
That said, I’m legitimately thrilled that so many people loved it and that it’s slaying at the box office. Higher, further, faster, baby.
TEIJA: I express my love for things by discussing them endlessly. If I’m looking under the hood to see how the engine works, that’s a good thing — so the fact that I can go on and on about what I liked and didn’t like, what worked and what didn’t, that should in no uncertain terms tell you that I liked what I was watching. I wouldn’t have nearly as much to say if I didn’t.
But, like Lauren, I deeply wanted to love it, and I didn’t quite get there. I liked it a lot! I really, really enjoyed a lot of things about it, but the longer I thought about it, the more I thought that it just didn’t quite reach the expectations I’d set for myself based on the source material and the expectations of quality based on what the MCU has given us in its recent offerings. However, I did seriously enjoy myself, and there were moments that had me whooping along with Carol. At the end of the day, this is a fun, enjoyable movie, and I will happily go see it again before it leaves theaters. I’m over the moon that this movie is breaking the box office and I can’t wait to see how Carol becomes a part of the Avengers in Endgame.
SARAH: I’m with Teija in that the more I like a thing, the more time I spend discussing it and poking and prodding at it (as evidenced by the sheer amount of time the three of us spend discussing the MCU as a whole over text message). I just wouldn’t want to spend the time on something I don’t like, so this deep dive alone should be evidence enough that I truly did like the movie. The problem is that I didn’t love it, and believe me, I wanted to. With this movie, I walked out on a high, and I was grinning at my excitement of seeing Carol kick ass on the big screen. But as I’ve had time to sit and reflect and discuss, I keep finding more places where I feel Boden and Fleck could have done things differently to make the story stronger.
Despite all of that, I still love Carol with my whole heart and was so happy to finally see her step into the MCU in all of her fiery glory. And I am so, so excited to see her onscreen again in April, and to see where her story and journey takes her in future movies.