It’s not a coincidence that “Captain Marvel,” the first female-led solo superhero film from Marvel Studios, was released on International Women’s Day (March 8). For Marvel, the movie is more than another box to check or a response to DC’s success with “Wonder Woman”; it’s about female power and self-empowerment.
“Empowerment has two definitions: To be given power by someone or something, and to realize one's own potential, to empower oneself,” wrote Angela Watercutter for Wired.com. “Many heroes rely on the former. Captain Marvel embodies the latter.”
Set in 1995, “Captain Marvel” is the origin story for Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel.
Known as Vers (pronounced veers) on the Kree Empire’s capital planet of Hala, she suffers from amnesia and has flashes of memories in her dreams. The Kree are an alien “race of noble warrior heroes” who are at war with the Skrull, a race of alien shapeshifters. They are ruled by the Supreme Intelligence, an organic artificial intelligence who gives the warriors their powers. Vers is repeatedly told by the Supreme Intelligence and Yon-Rogg, her commander and mentor, that she must control her emotions in order to fully control her powers.
During a rescue mission, Vers is abducted by the Skrull and subjected to a memory probe. Vers breaks free before the Skrull can get the memory they were searching for and crashes onto Earth using an escape pod from the Skrull ship. Her crash landing alerted S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents Nick Fury and Phil Coulson, and several Skrull attack, interrupting their investigation. Fury kills a Skrull impersonating Coulson and agrees to help her find Wendy Lawson, a scientist from the memories the Skrull were looking through.
Vers and Fury learn that she was a pilot for the U.S. Air Force. She was presumed dead after piloting Lawson’s experimental light-speed engine, which exploded during a test flight. Disguised as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, the Skrull Commander Talos confronts them, but they escape with the classified experiment file and Lawson’s cat, Goose. They head to Louisiana to find Maria Rambeau and her daughter Monica, who are prominent in the memories that Vers is slowly gaining back. Monica reveals Vers’ real name is Carol Danvers and that she and Rambeau were best friends before the accident.
Talos tracks them down and offers to give them the missing black box recording from the test flight crash if they promise to listen to his side of the story. After hearing the recording, Vers remembers the plane was shot down by an alien spaceship. Before Yon-Rogg could kill Lawson, she told Danvers to destroy the engine so it wouldn’t get into the wrong hands. Vers remembers shooting the engine and getting caught in the explosion with her body absorbing the energy.
Talos explains that the Skrull are refugees searching for a home; their home planet was destroyed after they refused to join the Kree Empire. Lawson was an undercover Kree on Earth named Mar-Vell who learned the truth and was building the engine to help the Skrull escape beyond Kree reach. Using the coordinates Lawson gave to Danvers before she died, the group takes a modified jet to Lawson’s cloaked ship orbiting Earth.
On the ship, they find Skrull refugees and the Tesseract, the power source of Lawson’s engine. Yon-Rogg’s Starforce catches up to them on Lawson’s ship and catches Danvers, putting her in virtual reality to see the Supreme Intelligence. Danvers fights back against the Supreme Intelligence. She discovers the chip in her neck was not the source of her powers, but instead was limiting them.
After ripping the chip out, she accesses her full powers. She battles the Starforce to give the others time to take the Tesseract back to Earth safely. Ronan the Accuser, a Kree official, comes to Earth with a fleet, and they shoot ballistic missiles to destroy Earth. With the full force of her powers, Danvers destroys all of the missiles, forcing Ronan to retreat. Yon-Rogg attempts to escape, but Danvers catches up to him and defeats him, sending him back to Hala with a warning to the Supreme Intelligence. Danvers promises to help the Skrull find a new home and gives Fury a modified pager to use in case of an emergency.
The movie was shot in a manner that allowed viewers to join Vers in her amnesia. Memories resurface on the screen as if they were within the minds of the audience members. Unfortunately, the purpose of shooting the film this way could be misunderstood and feel scattered and jerky.
Danvers and Fury’s dynamic together is fun and magnetic, adding organic humor to scenes. Their chemistry is that of two people who barely know each other but instantly know they are going to be the best of friends. The relationship between these characters sparks other events within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and there are plenty of Easter eggs to be found throughout the film.
Wattercutter’s statement about empowerment is particularly evident in two scenes of the film. These scenes are likely to become iconic moments of feminism in pop culture. They show a powerful woman getting up and rising to her full potential after getting knocked down. Both scenes utilize strong lines and imagery to emphasize what self-empowerment is like in a patriarchal society from a female’s perspective.
“Captain Marvel” is an excellent addition to the MCU, fitting more pieces of the puzzle together seamlessly. The most powerful superhero to date needed an origin story before she could believably help the Avengers in “Endgame.” Marvel managed to not only tell Captain Marvel’s backstory, but also create a masterpiece that provides an allegory for the female experience.