If you’re not already tired of the Captain Marvel discourse, let’s dive into one of its better twists. The film takes Carol’s origin story and puts a fairly awesome twist on it, entirely based around two characters whose roles were shrouded in mystery prior to release. Hopefully, you’ve seen it already, but if not, this is where you look away—spoilers from here on out.
In the comics, Mar-Vell, the original Captain Marvel, follows a journey fairly similar to the film’s version of the character. Mar-Vell, an alien, winds up on Earth to investigate whether the planet is a threat, but becomes disillusioned with his Kree people and wants to defend humanity.
It’s due to the explosion of one of his Kree devices that Carol Danvers gets her powers. Mar-Vell’s rival is Yon-Rogg, a jealous character who attempts to kill Mar-Vell, or have him killed, many times.
Yon-Rogg is played by Jude Law, which was Marvel’s worst-kept secret with regards to the film. The big secret was that Annette Bening plays Dr. Wendy Lawson, a.k.a. Mar-Vell.
This twist might be telegraphed for those more in touch with Mar-Vell’s origins when Lawson’s name is shown on her jacket in an early flashback, but for those of us who don’t quite remember Mar-Vell’s alter-ego but do remember his heroic name, the reveal comes as a great second act surprise, because it turns the tables on the idea that a male character would be the driving inspirational force in Carol’s life.
Carol being inspired by a woman? Great choice. I am a fan of this.
Our first encounter with Mar-Vell isn’t as Mar-Vell, it’s as the Supreme Intelligence, the AI leader of the Kree Empire that contains the collective wisdom of the Kree. In Captain Marvel, the Supreme Intelligence appears as the person you most respect; Carol, with her memories blocked, cannot understand who she’s seeing. It’s only after she returns to Earth and remembers who she is that she understands who Mar-Vell was to her.
The movie version of Mar-Vell also defects from the Kree Empire, but for different reasons than in the comics. Here, she becomes disillusioned with the Kree-Skrull war and the treatment of Skrull refugees, and is attempting to help Talos’s family, as well as others, escape and find a new home somewhere the Kree will never find them. Carol, once she learns the truth, takes up that mission and the mantle of Captain Marvel.
So why is this important?
This matters because it means that Carol is adopting the mission of, and is inspired by, an older woman who was a powerful figure in her own right. Too often, mentors are older male characters; older women trend more towards the villainous.
Marvel’s mentors have mostly been older men mentoring other men. In Captain Marvel, we get a look at several different kinds of female relationships, which are all deeply important to Carol. Her relationships with women are not put on the back burner; while her friendship with Nick Fury is key to the plot and an amazing bond, it’s also key that Carol has female friends and a female mentor who are just as important to her.
Updating the story so that Mar-Vell is a woman adds a dimension to Carol’s story that wasn’t previously there. We get a slightly more feminist take on her origin story, and that is key to the overarching themes of the film.
Upon reflection, I still stand by the fact that Captain Marvel isn’t perfect. The update to her origin story, however, was my favorite part of the film (outside of Fury and Goose being a perfect team). The mentor dying might still be a staple of superhero films, but it’s great to see a mentor/mentee relationship in Marvel that involves two women lifting each other up.
Give me more of this, please and thank you.
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