'Captain Marvel' and the Wait for 'Endgame'
[This story contains spoilers for Captain Marvel]
One of the first shots in the new Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise entry Captain Marvel is of sand and dirt being brushed up after the impact of a massive explosion. We don’t fully grasp the context of these ominous shots until later in the film, as the eponymous lead character learns more about her past. Because we have to wait for a while to understand this scene’s meaning, it ends up feeling like a deliberate callback to what might be on the minds of most audience members, if not all of them, while watching Captain Marvel: the fate of at least half of the heroes in the MCU, who’ve all been wiped away by the nefarious Thanos. But that callback (intended or not) aside, Captain Marvel only feels connected to the larger MCU on its periphery, instead of a feature-length buildup to next month’s Avengers: Endgame.
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Set almost entirely in the mid-1990s, Captain Marvel depicts the struggle of Air Force pilot Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) to reclaim her identity. But when we first meet her, Carol is a) known as Vers, and b) thinks she’s a member of the Kree race of aliens. She’s got untold powers of strength, speed and flight, but is told by her male mentor (Jude Law) that she needs to control her emotions if she wants to attain a higher status of understanding. When Carol is stranded on “Planet C-53” (aka Earth) after hunting shape-shifting aliens known as Skrulls, she pairs up with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) back when he had hair and both of his eyes.
Captain Marvel arrives with a massive, and arguably unfair, set of expectations. Not only is this an entry in the ever-popular Marvel Cinematic Universe, and not only is this the last film before the highly anticipated Endgame, but most importantly, Captain Marvel is the first female-led superhero film from the MCU after more than 20 films and 10 years of films squarely largely about men.
A handful of female heroes, such as Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), have gotten to kick ass in these films, but the rest of the original Avengers are men, and many of the other characters, well liked as they are, are also men.
Captain Marvel presents Vers — we only ever see Carol as she was on Earth in a series of haphazardly shot and edited flashbacks — as being incomparably strong in spite of her origins. Despite the film’s marketing making it clear that Carol was first a human, the story itself waits to let Carol realize and remember her past. Foreshadowed from the beginning, it’s revealed that her Kree mentor abducted her after she inadvertently destroyed an alien energy core and absorbed its power. Moreover, the Skrulls are actually peaceful and only want to find a new home safe from Kree oppression. For those who aren’t familiar with the comic-book lore surrounding Carol Danvers — it’s worth noting that while this movie is called Captain Marvel, Carol is never given that title nor are the words uttered — perhaps the most interesting aspect to this movie was how it would connect to the larger MCU.
Avengers: Infinity War ended with a post-credits scene in which Fury was snapped out of existence by Thanos, but not before he was able to send off an emergency notification via old-school pager. The symbol appearing on his pager denoted the arrival of Captain Marvel, an image that’s paid off in this film’s first post-credits scene.
A handful of the survivors, including Natasha, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and Jim Rhodes (Don Cheadle), notice that the original pager that Carol helped rig for the younger Fury earlier in the film seems to have stopped working. They attempt to restart the signal, before being shocked by the arrival of Carol herself, demanding to know where Fury is. Before the post-credits scenes, Captain Marvel depicts Carol, circa 1995, making the choice to help the remaining displaced Skrulls find a new home for themselves. With her return at the Avengers’ remaining outpost, this movie ends with a number of questions. Did it really take here the equivalent of 20-plus years on Earth to find the Skrulls a new home? Did she come back in the intervening time without any of the other MCU characters knowing about it?
The biggest question of all — how many of the seemingly dead heroes will be revived, and how? — remains unanswered, but Captain Marvel is a physically imposing enough character to fend off Thanos.
In some ways, the anticipation surrounding Avengers: Endgame might be one of the things that causes Captain Marvel to suffer somewhat. Meeting a new character can be exciting, and Marvel is long overdue for introducing a movie centered around a female superhero. But the character of Carol Danvers arrives just as audiences are desperate to know how many of their favorite heroes are going to live or die, as opposed to wanting to learn about an entirely new hero whose powers seem hard for any bad guy to overcome.
And the excitement surrounding Endgame also serves to rob this film of some of its suspense. When Carol and Nick Fury get into a car chase or a shootout of some kind, there's little tension — everyone knows that Nick Fury has to survive long enough to make the Avengers Initiative become a reality, and now everyone knows that Captain Marvel survives long enough to be called in by an older Nick to help out after Thanos gets his hands on the Infinity Stones. Watching the characters in the '90s only serves as a reminder that we're waiting for the big event, turning anticipation into mild frustration.
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