My favorite superhero movies are origin stories, those tales of how our comic book saviors gained their powers (in the case of Marvel characters) or first came to Earth/began their lives of fighting crime (in the case of DC characters). What makes a hero (or heroine) is always the most interesting part of the story, and Marvel’s CAPTAIN MARVEL, in theaters now, has two such fascinating origin tales.
The first and most important, of course, is the overarching portrait of Carol Danvers, aka Vers, aka Captain Marvel (Brie Larson, ROOM, TRAINWRECK), who, like most Marvel characters acquires her superpowers in an accident. How this happens is not revealed until almost the end of the film, however. And from this point on, it’s going to be very difficult to explain just how good CAPTAIN MARVEL is without getting a little spoiler-y.
At first, we’re led to believe the young woman called Vers by her handsome commander Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) is just another soldier facing her first test in battle against an alien foe. She has problems controlling her emotions, which lead to difficulties controlling her powers (a sort of undefined killer blast from her hands). Even the Supreme Intelligence, the AI that rules their planet who looks surprisingly like Annette Bening in a flight suit of some kind, warns Vers that she must put a leash on these pesky emotions, or she will be of no use to anyone.
Comes the big battle and Vers is captured by the alien Skrulls and “brainscanned” for information. The process triggers memories that the “soldier” can’t account for—a childhood and early adulthood on a planet different from the one she defends. When she escapes from the Skrulls, her pod crash-lands on that very planet—Earth—where with the help of a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent named Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) she begins to piece together the story of her earlier life.
I won’t reveal all the twists and turns of Carol/Vers/Captain Marvel’s story, because it is truly a wild one. Let me just say that the good guys and the bad guys are not who they first seem in this film. Even a purring kitty hides a secret identity, though both eventually fight for the “right” side. CAPTAIN MARVEL was a surprise from beginning to end.
As it happens, the filmmakers (writer/directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck) chose several times to take the path less traveled with CAPTAIN MARVEL. Historically, the comic book character has been written as either male or female, depending on the year. So, to make this Captain a female fighter pilot was a plus from the start. Her best friend in the USAF is also a female, and African-American, too. The female perspective is not just window-dressing, either. A montage of “fall-down-get-up-fight” moments from Carol’s younger days would never have come from anything but a woman writer. [SPOILER ALERT] Then, too, the good guys in this film turn out to be the ugly green lizard-y aliens; the bad guys the good-looking human-y ones. And it might be good to remember a cat is not just a sweet piece of fluff.
I said at the beginning of the piece that this film featured two origin stories. The second is S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury’s tale. Vers crash-lands on Earth in the 1990s, when Fury is just an agent in the nascent organization, not its head. At the beginning, he reminds us, though his full name is Nicholas Joseph Fury, no one, not even his mother, calls him anything but Fury. And that eye-patch he sports in all the Avengers movies? We learn how he gets that here.
This was among the better of Marvel’s efforts, and I say that as a true-blue DC fan. Definitely a GO!