Higher, Further, Faster: A Review of Captain Marvel


Last weekend, I braved a winter storm to go see Captain Marvel. I absolutely loved it, and I have a bunch of things I want to say about it. If you haven't seen the movie yet, don't worry. I start off with a spoiler-free review. After that, there's a spoiler warning and a poster of Goose the Cat you'll have to scroll past before I get into any spoilers.

Spoiler-Free Review
Captain Marvel tells the story of a Kree warrior (Brie Larson) who crash lands on 1990s-era Earth. She teams up with a young Agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to fight off a group of shape-shifting Skrull insurgents. Meanwhile, she keeps having fragmented flashbacks that seem to indicate that she had a life on Earth before her interstellar military career. I thought Brie Larson delivered an excellent performance. While she was entertaining to watch as a charismatic hero right from the start, her human side shone in her scenes with Maria Rambeau (played by Lashana Lynch).

While this is Samuel Jackson's ninth appearance in a MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) movie (including end-credits scenes in Iron Man, Captain America, and Avengers: Infinity War), this is probably his largest role yet in the series. He played a young Nick Fury flawlessly. If I didn't know better, I never would have guessed that Jackson was a 70-year-old actor being de-aged with CGI. There was only one scene in the movie where I even thought about the fact that he was computer-enhanced, and that wasn't so much because something looked off, as much as I just noticed how different character looked in the scene than Samuel L. Jackson does today.

The movie definitely rewards fans who have seen the other 20 movies in the MCU (and no, that's not an exaggeration), but the story stands on its own. When they pay off some detail from another film, it's not like everything stops and the characters look at the camera and say, "Wow, I bet this [plot point/object/character/etc.] will be important in 20 years!" From the trailers, I really wasn't sure where the movie was going. The only thing they really give away is that Captain Marvel (or "Vers" as her Kree compatriots call her) will use her powers at some point, and that she'll fight Skrulls on Earth. The film delivers much more than that. We get an inspiring story about a hero realizing her potential in the midst of an interstellar war.

There's a lot more I'd like to discuss about this movie, but it starts getting heavily into spoilers. If you haven't seen the movie, I would highly recommend going no further. Get to the theater as fast as you can and watch it. (See what I did there?) If you like superheroes, you'll like this movie. If you have girls that want to see more female heroes, they will like this movie. If you have young boys whom you want to inspire to persevere against all odds, they'll like this movie too.

If you have seen the movie, the spoiler-ific discussion will begin after the Goose the Cat poster.
Themes
Sometimes, writers and directors intentionally insert certain themes into their work. Sometimes, these themes appear unintentionally, by virtue of the fact that the filmmakers were created by God, and creation cannot help but point to the Creator. I'll be looking at both of these types of themes.

Pursuit of the Truth: One of Carol's major motivations in this film is her search for the truth - about her past and about her powers. She also finds out the true nature of the war between the Kree and the Skrulls. Once she knows the truth, she makes the decision to turn her back on the Kree and help the Skrulls find a new home. This is because truth is more important that allegiance to a faction or "side." I also couldn't help but think of the phrase "the truth will set you free." The Kree lied to Carol about her powers. They said they gave these powers to her, and that the only way she would be strong was to stop herself from using them. In other words, she would be strong if she asserted her own "reality," the reality that the Kree fed her. But Carol's powers really come from something she had no control over - from an external, objective truth. She is able to break through the Kree lies and wield her power fully.

Family: The role of family in Carol's journey through this movie is very important. Her first surrogate family is the Kree Starforce. She's really only close to Von-Rogg (Jude Law), though. And we later discover that their relationship is founded on lies and manipulation. The next family we see is Maria Rambeau and her daughter Monica. Here we see two people who love and support Carol no matter what. When she decides to help the Skrulls, Maria and Monica are both on board, and want to help however they can. And that brings us to the third instance of family: the family of the Skrull commander Talos (Ben Mendelsohn). We find out that everything Talos has done has been for his family. A Christian is supposed to put God first, then family, and then nation/others. While the MCU movies do not often (directly) talk about God, it's nice to see them showing family as a priority. Maria even initially hesitates to join Carol's mission because of her duty to her daughter.

Perseverance: Throughout Carol's whole life, she has been told what she can't do. I think one of the central messages the filmmakers were trying to share is that you shouldn't listen to people who tell you that. I think this is being directed particularly at young girls, but it's a good message for all of us. The one caveat I would make is that it's not our own inner strength that allows us to overcome adversity, but God who strengthens us. Another point that is stressed is that Carol's enemies pointed out all of the times she had tried and failed, and told Carol that this was proof of her weakness. But what they were leaving out was that every time Carol fell down, she got back up again. She persevered. At the end of our lives, if we make it to heaven, it won't be because we never sinned. It will be because after we sinned, we repented and got back up. (The point being emphasized is the effort we have to make to reject sin, but in order to avoid straying into heresy I will add that this is only possible through God's grace and mercy.)

Thank You, Stan
Instead of the traditional Marvel Studios logo, in which scenes of Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, and other heroes from past MCU movies play inside the letters of the word "Marvel," this film replaced all of these scenes with past Stan Lee cameos. After this sequence, the words "Thank you, Stan" appeared on the screen. I thought this was a beautiful tribute to the man who is responsible for bringing so much joy through the Marvel comics and movies. I also liked how when Carol encountered Stan in his cameo in this movie, she game him a knowing smile and nod.

Ties to the Rest of the MCU
Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Captain Marvel offers us a look at the early days of S.H.I.E.L.D, before they became entangled with Tony Stark and the Avengers. We find Nick Fury having settled into a desk job after years of being an active-duty spy. And then of course there's brand new agent Phil Coulson, with a full head of hair. We also got to see Fury lose his eye, which I didn't expect. They teased it earlier on in the film, when Nick crashes his car after finding out that the "Coulson" sitting next to him was actually a Skrull. We see him covering his eye with a towel, but when he pulls the towel away, it's just a few stitches above the eye. I thought it was a clever nod, so I was totally caught by surprise when Goose the Cat/Flerken scratches that same eye, ultimately leading to the Nick Fury eye patch we see in later films. It sure gives a new meaning to his line in Captain America: Winter Soldier, "The last time I trusted someone, I lost an eye."

The Avengers: Finally, at the end of the movie, we see Nick Fury formulating a proposal to defend the planet against future threats, as a reaction to the events he has just gone through. He's going to entitle it "The Protector Initiative," but he inspired by a picture of Danvers in which she is nicknamed Carol "Avenger" Danvers, so he changes the name. Thirteen years later, Nick Fury will show up at Tony Stark's mansion in Malibu to talk to him about The Avenger Initiative. We also saw Carol upgrade Fury's pager, so that he would have a way to contact her in an emergency. This of course hearkens back (or forward) to the end credits scene of Avengers: Infinity War, when Fury pages Captain Marvel right before fading to dust. The mid-credits scene of Captain Marvel shows what happens next, and confirms that Carol Danvers will be joining the team to respond to Thanos's snap.

The Tesseract: I was unfortunately spoiled on this detail before seeing the film, but the Tesseract plays largely into the plot. It is revealed to be the source of Carol's powers. Here's how it fits into the MCU timeline, to the best of my knowledge:
  • Hundreds of years ago - The Asgardians hide the Tesseract in present-day Norway [discussed in Captain America: The First Avenger]
  • 1940s - Johann Schmidt (a.k.a. The Red Skull) finds the Tesseract and uses it to make weapons for HYDRA. During a fight with Captain America aboard a flying wing, Red Skull holds the Tesseract in his bare hands and is sucked through a portal into outer space. The Tesseract sears a hole through the aircraft and drops into the ocean. It is recovered by Howard Stark, who later founds S.H.I.E.L.D. [Captain America: The First Avenger]
  • 1980s - Kree scientist Mar-Vell establishes a secret identity as scientist Wendy Lawson, working at Project Pegasus. The location text in the film says that Project Pegasus is run by the U.S. Military and NASA, but obviously S.H.I.E.L.D. is involved. Mar-Vell is able to get access to the Tesseract and develop a light speed engine that will enable the Skrulls to escape the Kree and find a new home. [Captain Marvel]
  • 1989 - Mar-Vell and Carol Danvers take the light speed engine on a test flight, but are shot down by Von-Rogg. The engine is destroyed and Mar-Vell is killed, but the Tesseract was hidden on her ship, which is in orbit around Earth. [Captain Marvel]
  • 1995 - Carol, Fury, Maria Rambeau, Talos, and Goose the Cat/Flerken travel to Mar-Vell's ship and find the Tesseract. Goose swallows it, and is brought back to Earth by Fury. In the post-credits scene, Goose spits the Tesseract out (which I totally predicted about halfway through the credits). [Captain Marvel]
  • 2011 - Fury hires Dr. Erik Selvig to research the Tesseract at Project Pegasus. [Thor]
  • 2012 - Loki comes through a portal created by the Tesseract, and uses it to bring a Chitauri army to New York. After Loki is defeated, Thor and Loki return to Asgard with the Tesseract. [The Avengers]
  • 2017 - Shortly before the destruction of Asgard, Loki steals the Tesseract and takes it onto Thor's ship (which becomes the "new Asgard"). [Thor: Ragnarok]
  • 2018 - Thanos kills Loki and takes the Tesseract from him, extracting the Space Stone to add to his Infinity Gauntlet. [Avengers: Infinity War]
Cosmic Marvel: After years of only being mentioned in the MCU, we finally get to see the Kree Empire. It's kind of funny, but if I put together all we knew about the Kree before this, I shouldn't have been surprised to learn that the Kree were not the morally righteous party in this conflict. We knew from Guardians of the Galaxy that the Kree had recently signed a treaty with Xandar, but that individual Kree like Ronan and Korath were not happy about this, and wanted to destroy Xandar. We saw rogue elements of Kree in Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. that enslaved and experimented on humans. And in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Yondu reveals that he had been a slave of the Kree. So the Kree being a noble race allied with Xandar and the Nova Corps. was really only a recent development. I wondered how different Korath and Ronan would be in this movie from how they were in Guardians of the Galaxy. At first, it looked like Korath, as a member of the Starforce, was on a more morally upright faction of the Kree than Ronan, a destructive Accuser. But we find out that they are both supporters of the Kree's war of aggression against the Skrulls; the only thing that differs at this point are their tactics.

What's Next?
I don't think it's been officially announced, but I'm sure Marvel will make a Captain Marvel 2 (albeit with a different title). I imagine they will skip over Carol finding the Skrulls a new home (or have her leaving the new Skrull home at the beginning of the movie). She promised in this movie that she was going to take on the Kree Empire and the Supreme Intelligence. Now that we've seen how strong Carol is when she uses her powers fully, the filmmakers a powerful enemy, in order for there to be a struggle in the sequel. The closest analogue I can find to this situation is the Thor movies. Thor spent most of his time in the first movie without his powers. Once he had them, he seemed unstoppable. In the sequels, he went up against a Dark Elf wielding an Infinity Stone and his sister, the Goddess of Death. So who will Captain Marvel fight in her sequel? I'm not very familiar with Captain Marvel's comics, so I'm not sure. In fact, the only Kree I can name have already shown up in the films: Mar-Vell, Ronan, Korath, and the Supreme Intelligence.

But before we see Captain Marvel 2, Captain Marvel will join the remaining Avengers in fighting back against Thanos. I've seen some comments online about how Captain Marvel is so powerful that Thanos won't stand a chance. But remember that the source of her powers is the Tesseract (a.k.a. the Space Stone). Thanos has the Space Stone, as well as five others. So how will they defeat Thanos?

With everything that's come out about Avengers: Endgame so far, I haven't seen anything to disprove the theory I shared back when Infinity War came out:

It's been pointed out that, after all the dust clears (last pun, I swear!) the heroes that remain are the original Avengers line-up: Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk/Banner, Thor, Black Widow, and (presumably) Hawkeye. Here's what I think will happen.

First of all, Tony is the only Avenger not on Earth, so he'll need a ride home. In the end credits, we see Nick Fury trying to contact someone before he disintegrates. The last thing we see on his retro-looking communications device is the symbol for Captain Marvel. Ignoring the fact that we know there's a Captain Marvel movie coming out next spring, which will set up their backstory, we can just assume that Fury is contacting someone equipped to deal with the type of cosmic catastrophe they're experiencing.

I think Captain Marvel will reunite our Avengers, and get them to wherever Thanos is. Then, together they can overpower Thanos (thanks in large part to Captain Marvel's cosmic powers) and take the Infinity Gauntlet from him. Based on what happens in Infinity War, it looks like the Gauntlet is broken. They won't be able to put it on and snap their fingers to put everything back the way it was. But we know the stones still work, because Thanos uses the Space Stone to teleport off of Earth.

So here's my off-the-wall idea. There are six stones, right? And how many original Avengers are there? Six. I think each of them will wield one of them:

The Mind Stone - Tony is the brains of the team, so it makes sense that he would get this one.
The Time Stone - Who better than Steve Rogers, "The Man Out of Time."
The Space Stone - The ability to teleport from world to world would be right up Thor's alley, since he has a lot of experience in this area.
The Power Stone - "Hulk is strongest one there is."
The Reality Stone - Natasha is a master of disguise, and takes on different identities. "Who do you want me to be?"
The Soul Stone - This one's a bit of a stretch, but Clint is kind of the soul of the team, especially in Age of Ultron. He's the only one with his own family. His desire to leave the fight and live a quiet life with his family is reminiscent of Adam Warlock in the comics. After Adam defeats Thanos the first time, he retreats to a peaceful life inside the Soul Gem.

They each take one of the stones, and are able to use their combined powers to reverse "the snap." So everyone that disintegrated will come back. I don't know if the characters who suffered "ordinary deaths" will come back or not. I'm leaning towards not.

And here's the kicker. Ordinary mortals aren't supposed to be able to wield Infinity Stones. So the Avengers do this knowing it will kill them. They sacrifice themselves to bring back the trillions of lives Thanos had wiped out. What better way to go out than that?

Thor could potentially survive. And maybe Hulk. But I think it would be more powerful if they all went out together.

I'm sure I got some of the details wrong. For example, Captain Marvel is a lot more powerful than I thought she would be a year ago. But it would be really cool if the final struggle (the six Avengers wielding the Stones to bring everyone back) played out this way.

Conclusion
What did you think of the movie? What role do you think Captain Marvel will play in Endgame?Check out my contact information below for ways you can join the conversation.

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