4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch

Higher, Further, Faster — Captain Marvel

Carol Danvers has had a tumultuous history over her five decades in Marvel Comics, starting as a supporting character to Captain Marvel, becoming Marvel’s first attempt at a feminist icon, the subject of one of the most sexist comics ever written, and then eventually being the seventh character to take on the mantle of Captain Marvel, and is unarguably the most popular of those seven.

Over the past decade or so, she has become one of the major superstars of Marvel’s heroes, her self-titled comic book written by Kelly Sue DeConnick becoming a hugely popular and iconic series in 2012. And in 2019, she became the long-overdue first female hero to headline a movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Stan Lee and Gene Colan created Captain Marvel to appear in Marvel Super-Heroes in 1968. A Kree soldier who was on an undercover mission on Earth, Captain Mar-Vell worked in disguise taking the identity of Dr. Walter Lawson, a scientist assigned to a secret missile base in Florida. That base’s chief of security was a former Air Force officer named Carol Danvers. Mar-Vell soon got his own title, Captain Marvel, and in issue #18, in a battle against a Kree terrorist named Yon-Rogg, Danvers was caught in an explosion of a device called the Psyche-Magnitron. Mar-Vell managed to save her life, but she was badly injured.

In 1977, at the height of the “women’s lib” movement, Marvel decided they needed a feminist superhero, so Gerry Conway and John Buscema gave Danvers the new identity of Ms. Marvel, her self-titled series eventually establishing that the Psyche-Magnitron’s explosion merged her DNA with Mar-Vell’s, making her a Kree-human hybrid.

Danvers became a best-selling author after being medical’d out of her security job, and then became the editor-in-chief of Woman Magazine. As Ms. Marvel, she joined the Avengers, and after her book was cancelled following two dozen issues, she became a regular in Avengers, up until the landmark 200th issue.

The despicable nature of that issue is a topic for another time and place (see my own rant on same on my blog), but while it wrote her out of the Marvel Universe, it didn’t take, as she was brought back, albeit without her powers, in Avengers Annual #10 a year later (written by Chris Claremont, who wrote twenty of the 23 issues of her comic, and who was appalled by how she was treated in Avengers). She became a supporting character in the X-Men titles (also written by Claremont), eventually experimented on by the alien Brood, turning her into the very powerful Binary. After being a member of the space-faring Starjammers for a time, she was later depowered and rejoined the Avengers as Warbird during Kurt Busiek & George Pérez’s late 1990s run, where she dealt with alcoholism. Later retaking the Ms. Marvel mantle, and getting her own title again in 2006, she eventually decided to take on the Captain Marvel name (with encouragement from both Captain America and Spider-Man) in the aforementioned 2012 series by DeConnick & Dexter Soy.

That name had been used by several people in the thirty years between Mar-Vell and Danvers. After Mar-Vell died of cancer in the historic 1982 graphic novel The Death of Captain Marvel by Jim Starlin, an African-American woman from New Orleans named Monica Rambeau (created by Roger Stern and John Romita Jr.) took on the name. This Captain Marvel was a mainstay of the Avengers for years, even serving as team leader for a time. Mar-Vell’s son Genis-Vell then took on the mantle, with Rambeau using various new names, including Photon, Spectrum, and Pulsar. Genis’s sister Phyla-Vell later becomes Captain Marvel.

A return of Mar-Vell was teased in 2007 as part of the “Civil War” storyline, but it turned out to be a Skrull sleeper agent named Khn’nr. When Khn’nr died, he passed on the legacy of the name to Noh-Varr, a young Kree who went by Marvel Boy before and after serving as Captain Marvel.

With this complicated a history, it’s not a surprise that it took a while for the Captain Marvel movie to gestate. Originally the character was to be part of Avengers: Age of Ultron back in 2015. Kevin Feige and the gang instead took their time developing the character and her movie, wanting to get it right. This had the unintended consequence of taking forever for Marvel Studios to finally put a female hero front and center. (Why they couldn’t, for example, get a Black Widow movie out sooner than 2020 is left as an exercise for the viewer.) Both Nicole Perlman and Meg LeFauve wrote pitches for Feige, and he liked them both, and put the two together to write the script. Once the directing team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck were hired, they along with Geneva Robertson-Dworet did a new pass on the script, which combined elements of 1969’s Captain Marvel #18, the Kree-Skrull War storyline from 1971, and DeConnick’s first story arc in Captain Marvel in 2012.

Having introduced the Ultimate version of the Skrulls, the Chitauri, in Avengers, Marvel gave us the mainline Skrulls for the first time in this film. First appearing in Fantastic Four #2, the shape-changing, lizard-like Skrulls have been major antagonists in the Marvel Universe for about as long as there’s been a Marvel Universe.

It was decided to set the movie in 1995 and have Captain Marvel’s origin not just be another superhero genesis, but also give some background on how S.H.I.E.L.D. got involved in the superhero team business, as seen from the post-credits Iron Man scene all the way to Avengers and beyond.

Brie Larson was cast in the title role, with Jude Law as Yon-Rogg and Annette Bening as a gender-flipped Mar-Vell (disguised on Earth as Dr. Wendy Lawson). Ben Mendelsohn plays a Skrull named Talos, with Sharon Blynn as his wife Soren. Lashana Lynch plays Maria Rambeau, Danvers’s best friend in the Air Force, and the mother of a little girl named Monica (played by Akira and Azari Akbar). Gemma Chan plays Minn-Erva, another soldier under Yon-Rogg’s command. Several cats (as well as CGI) are employed to play the Flerken named Goose, based on the comics character Chewie. (The cat-like alien was renamed to be a tribute to the Top Gun character rather than the Star Wars character, this despite Disney owning both SW and Marvel. It is, however, more fitting for a “cat” that lives on a base dedicated to a secret Air Force project…)

Younger versions of several previous MCU characters appear as well: from Guardians of the Galaxy, Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) and Korath (Djimon Honsou); from Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor, Avengers, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg); and from tons and tons of previous movies (most recently, as of this film’s theatrical release, in Avengers: Infinity War summoning Danvers to Earth), Nick Fury, agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Samuel L. Jackson). In addition, we get appearances by Chris Evans (Steve Rogers), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff), Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner), and Don Cheadle (Jim Rhodes) in a mid-credits scene that bridges Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame (which we’ll get to in several weeks).

Larson, Jackson, Evans, Johansson, Ruffalo, and Cheadle will all next appear in Endgame. Mendelsohn and Blynn will next appear in Spider-Man: Far from Home.

 

“You were smart, and funny, and a huge pain in the ass”

Captain Marvel
Written by Nicole Perlman & Meg LeFauve and Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck & Geneva Robertson-Dworet
Directed by Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck
Produced by Kevin Feige
Original release date: March 8, 2019

Screenshot: Marvel Studios

This was the first Marvel movie after Stan Lee died, so the Marvel Studios logo at the opening is changed entirely to scenes of Stan the Man and then we get the caption “Thank you, Stan.” Your humble rewatcher’s living room got very dusty at that point….

It’s 1995, the planet Hala. Vers, a member of a Kree strike force under the command of Yon-Rogg, has been having strange dreams. They involve two women she doesn’t recognize. When Vers goes to see the Kree Supreme Intelligence—the collective consciousness that runs the Kree Empire—she, like everyone, sees a person she admires. She sees one of the women from her dream, which makes no sense to her, as she doesn’t even know who it is.

Vers has an implant that enables her to fire force blasts from her hands. Yon-Rogg is also her mentor, and he cautions her not to let her emotions get the better of her. Yon-Rogg has trained her since she was found, amnesiac, on Hala six years previous.

The strike force gets a mission to retrieve a Kree covert operative from Torfa. Skrulls are shapechangers who are the enemies of the Kree, and the operative has intel on the Skrulls. But Skrull terrorists have been reported on Torfa, so they must proceed with caution.

The team is ambushed, with Vers captured by a Skrull named Talos, who impersonated the covert operative, even knowing his secret code. They probe Vers’s memories, and what they find are an entire life on Earth as a fighter pilot for Project: Pegasus, working for Dr. Wendy Lawson—the person Vers saw in the Supreme Intelligence. Talos finds lots of other memories, including a deep abiding friendship between Vers and another woman, both of whom are pilots, as well as memories of childhood of her pushing herself to be the best she can, always getting up even when she falls down.

Vers manages to escape the Skrulls’ prison and probe, and destroys Talos’s ship. Most of the Skrulls escape in pods, as does Vers, on planet C53—Earth. She crashes in a Blockbuster Video, while Talos and his people land on a beach.

The Skrulls disguise themselves as humans while Vers gets in touch with Yon-Rogg, using Kree tech to supercharge a pay phone into an interstellar communicator. Yon-Rogg says she’s not cleared to know the entire story, but her priority is to stay put until the strike force can get to C53.

Vers is interrogated by two S.H.I.E.L.D. field agents, Nick Fury and a rookie named Phil Coulson. They are skeptical of Vers’s claims to be an alien soldier fighting a team of alien terrorist shapechangers, right up until they’re ambushed by a Skrull sniper and Vers fires at the Skrull with her force blasts. (“Did you see her weapon?” “I did not.”)

The Skrull runs away, and Vers gives chase. Fury and Coulson follow in a car. The Skrull boards a subway, and Vers gets on, passing by a little old lady who just got off. After looking over the passengers, one of whom looks just like Stan Lee (and is reading over his lines for Mallrats, so probably actually is Stan Lee), she sees the same little old lady she saw on the platform, and starts wailing on her. The Skrull disguised as an old lady fights back, but the passengers take the side of the old lady—despite her very un-old-lady-like acrobatics and strength—and delay Vers enough to escape. However, the Skrull does leave behind a crystal, which contains a recording of the memories Talos scanned.

Meanwhile, Fury is rather shocked to get a call from Coulson, since Coulson is in the car with him. The Skrull disguised as Coulson and Fury get into it, and the car crashes. Fury is wounded, the car is trashed, and the Skrull is killed.

S.H.I.E.L.D. takes the Skrull into custody and performs an autopsy. Keller, the director of the Los Angeles field office, orders Fury to continue the investigation solo, as they can’t trust anyone now, given how perfectly the Skrull impersonated Coulson. However, we soon learn that Keller is also a Skrull…

Vers steals a motorcycle from a jackass who compliments her and then complains that she doesn’t smile enough. She also grabs some clothes that are less obtrusive than a Kree battlesuit. One of her memories was of a place called Pancho’s and she does an Alta Vista search to find the place.

When she arrives, Fury is there—the motorcycle’s owner reported the theft, including the green “scuba suit” she was wearing—and they talk. Vers needs to find Project: Pegasus, and she convinces Fury to take her there. Fury asks about Dr. Wendy Lawson, and in response, Pegasus security lock them in a room, one Fury’s ID can’t even open. He is able to use Scotch tape to lift a fingerprint off his ID from when the guard checked it, and opens the door. Vers then uses a force blast to get another door open, prompting Fury to complain about her letting him play with tape when she could do that. (“I didn’t  want to steal your thunder.”)

They also come across Goose, who appears to be a tabby cat, and whom Vers saw in her memories as Lawson’s cat.

In the records room they find that Lawson is dead, having died in a crash of an experimental plane, along with a pilot, who isn’t identified. Lawson’s notebook seems to be in gibberish, but Vers recognizes it as Kree glyphs. Lawson could apparently write in Kree. Vers also sees a picture of herself in the file, wearing a U.S. Air Force uniform.

Fury also calls it in to S.H.I.E.L.D., while Vers calls Yon-Rogg. Yon-Rogg says that Vers isn’t cleared to know the whole truth, and tells her to stay put.

“Keller” informs the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents that Fury has turned, and to take him and the alien woman “dead or alive.” This strikes Coulson as odd.

Fury figures out that “Keller” is really a Skrull, and tricks him to another floor while he and Vers try to escape. They get away in a fighter jet, partly due to Coulson trusting Fury over the dead-or-alive order that seemed extreme.

According to the file, the last person to see Lawson and the pilot alive is Maria Rambeau, who now lives in Louisiana with her daughter Monica. Goose has stowed away on the jet with them.

Screenshot: Marvel Studios

When they arrive, both Rambeaus recognize Vers instantly as Carol Danvers. Danvers has no recollection of either of them, but Monica saved a box of her stuff. The pictures and items combine with Talos’s probes to prompt more memories, and Danvers is now convinced that she’s a human who was taken in by the Kree for some reason. The only thing they had left of her was a part of her dogtags, which just reads “CAROL DAN,” with the rest sliced away.

Talos arrives, now in his true form. Thanks to posing as Keller, he has the black box recording (which Rambeau had been told was lost) of Lawson’s last flight. They play it, and it jogs Danvers’s entire memory:

Lawson orders Danvers to fly them into space, where they’re attacked by Kree fighters. They crash, and Lawson bleeds blue blood. Lawson explains that her real name is Mar-Vell, and she’s a Kree. Danvers would think she’s delusional, but for her bleeding blue and them just being shot down by spaceships. Mar-Vell needs to destroy the engine before the Kree get their hands on it, but Yon-Rogg and Minn-Erva show up and kill her and threaten Danvers. Danvers instead does what Mar-Vell intended and shoots the engine, which blows up and infuses her with exotic energies. Finding the remainder of her dogtag, which just says, “VERS,” Yon-Rogg decides to take her back to Hala, since the engine itself is lost.

Danvers is devastated. Her entire life is a lie. And not just her life: it turns out the Skrulls aren’t aggressive terrorists. They refused to submit to the Kree, so they were systematically wiped out by the Accusers, their homeworld destroyed. The Skrulls on Torfa weren’t a terrorist cell, they were refugees, and the destruction on Torfa wasn’t committed by Skrulls, but by the Accusers.

Mar-Vell, realizing she was fighting on the wrong side, was trying to build a lightspeed engine that could take the Skrulls far away from the Kree. She came to Earth to use an infinity stone—the space stone, encased in the Tesseract—to build it. (The story of how she got Howard Stark to part with the Tesseract is one that needs to be told some day…)

What Talos needs is the location of Mar-Vell’s lab. They can’t find it on Earth, and he needs to figure out what the coordinates Mar-Vell gave Danvers are. It turns out they aren’t coordinates, they’re an orbital position, and Danvers and Rambeau can figure out its new position six years later. Talos’s science officer modifies the jet to be spaceworthy (which makes up for him not knowing their destination was in orbit, for which Talos castigates him), while Danvers and Monica have to convince Rambeau to go as co-pilot. Rambeau’s lack of desire to go, as she needs to be with Monica, is refuted by Monica herself, who says it’s the coolest mission ever, and yes, it’s dangerous, but so is being a test pilot. Monica shames her mother into going along.

Now that she’s rebelling against the Kree, Danvers also needs to change the colors of her battlesuit—which she does with Monica’s help, going for colors that match the reds and blues of Monica’s U.S. Air Force shirt. Danvers, Rambeau, Fury, and Talos then take off, along with Goose—whom Talos insists isn’t a cat, but rather a Flerken and extremely dangerous.

A Skrull is left behind disguised as Danvers to meet with and distract Yon-Rogg. This is less than successful, and Yon-Rogg kills him and quickly follows the jet into orbit.

In orbit, they find a cloaked Kree ship, which has Mar-Vell’s laboratory—and also a lot of kinds stuff, including a Fonzie lunchbox and a pinball machine. There’s also a steaming mug of liquid—someone’s still there.

Turns out the lab was also where Mar-Vell was hiding the Skrull refugees—including Talos’s wife Soren and their daughter, whom he hasn’t seen in six years. Also in the lab is the Tesseract, which they put in the Fonzie lunchbox.

Yon-Rogg and the rest of the star force arrive. They capture Danvers, Fury, Rambeau, and the Skrulls. The Skrulls are placed in a cell, and they bond Danvers with the Supreme Intelligence to punish her. But Danvers now knows that she didn’t get her powers from the implant in her neck—that implant is what’s holding her back. While the Supreme Intelligence tries to convince her that she’s a weak human who always fell down, Danvers remembers also that every time she fell down—when she crashed a go-cart or fell over on a beach or got a brushback pitch in baseball or fell off the climbing ropes at the Air Force Academy or fell to Earth when Mar-Vell’s plane crashed—she always got back up.

Removing the implant, she proves to be way more powerful, and blasts all the Kree aside. She tells Fury and Rambeau to take the Tesseract back to Earth in the jet, while she hangs onto the lunchbox and will distract the star force.

Goose lets loose the huge tentacles from his mouth and swallows the Tesseract. They then head for the jet. However, the Skrulls escaped when Danvers powered up, which messed with the ship’s power. Talos is disguised as a Kree and leads them to the loading bay as fake prisoners in order to fool the remaining Kree. They board the jet, though Talos is shot, and Rambeau flies them into the atmosphere.

Minn-Erva goes after the jet. So does Yon-Rogg once he realizes that Danvers doesn’t actually have the Tesseract. Danvers chases Yon-Rogg, but he knocks her off his ship as it flies into the atmosphere.

Only then does she realize that she can fly. Surprise, surprise.

Rambeau manages to take out Minn-Erva with some very nifty flight maneuvers, while Danvers makes Yon-Rogg’s ship crash as well.

However, the Accusers have arrived. Ronan the Accuser orders Earth bombarded—but Danvers destroys all the warheads before they can reach Earth. She then attacks Ronan’s support ships, and he orders a retreat, promising to come back for the weapon—by which he means Danvers, not the Tesseract.

Danvers then confronts Yon-Rogg, who says he’s thrilled by what she’s become, and challenges her to fight him hand-to-hand with no powers to prove to him that she’s the great warrior he always knew she could be.

She blasts him across the canyon, telling him she doesn’t have a damn thing to prove to his gaslighting ass.

Placing him in the ship, she programs it to take him back to Hala in disgrace.

Danvers agrees to escort the Skrulls to their new home in Mar-Vell’s ship. She also modifies Fury’s pager so that he can contact her in case of a dire emergency. Fury’s left eye has been scratched by Goose, and Talos’s devastated look indicate that it’s not a scratch that will heal on its own.

Fury, now sporting an eyepatch, starts a file on the Protector Initiative, a program to use special beings like Danvers to help defend Earth against big threats. He notices the pictures from “Lawson’s” file, including Danvers with her plane.

Her call sign is “Avenger.” He changes the name of the initiative.

Some time later, Goose horks up the Tesseract onto Fury’s desk.

In the present day (following Fury’s use of the pager in the post-credits scene in Avengers: Infinity War), we see Captain America, the Black Widow, Bruce Banner, and James Rhodes noting that the pager stopped sending its signal, even though they’ve hooked it to a power source. Then Danvers arrives out of nowhere and asks, “Where’s Fury?”

 

“And you were the most powerful person I knew, way before you could shoot fire from your fists”

This is a truly magnificent movie, an absolute delight from beginning to end. Great performances, great writing, great directing, plus a nice inversion of the origin formula that Marvel has used a bit too often. It took fourteen years for there to be a Marvel movie that starred a woman by herself as the solo lead, and indeed it was the failure of Elektra (a bad spinoff of a bad movie) and Catwoman the same year that was often cited as “proof” that women can’t lead superhero films. Strangely, the failures of Hulk and Daredevil two years earlier didn’t lead to similar complaints about men leading superhero films. Wonder why…

Many of the dopey complaints that have been made about this movie (I hasten to add, not all the complaints—there are legitimate criticisms to be made of the film) are pretty much just code for “I don’t wanna watch a movie with a girl.”

“It’s too much like Wonder Woman.” It’s nothing like Wonder Woman except insofar as it has a female lead and takes place in the past. It has more in common with Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor, and Doctor Strange—extraordinary person has to overcome something to become a proper hero, whether it’s their arrogance (Stark, Thor, Strange), their physical infirmities (Rogers), or sexism and gaslighting (Danvers).

“Brie Larson is stiff and boring, and can’t act.” Larson’s acting is subtle—her facial expressions only change a little bit, and it’s brilliant. It’s also easy to miss if you’re not paying attention, have trouble reading facial expressions, or just don’t pay attention to women beyond their surface good looks. (I heard similar complaints about Gillian Anderson’s acting ability when she was on The X-Files, almost always from men, and it was bullshit then, too.)

“Fury doesn’t have enough of a character arc.” Perhaps not, but the movie’s not called Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., and funny how these people didn’t complain about how little of a character arc Pepper Potts had in Iron Man or Maria Hill had in Avengers or Jane Foster had in either of the first two Thor movies.

“Captain Marvel isn’t relatable.” Congratulations, you’ve proven yourself ignorant of how half the world feels every day. Every woman I know who has seen this film (not a statistically relevant number for a billion-dollar movie, but still) has related to everything Danvers goes through, from Yon-Rogg’s urging not to be so emotional to the motorcycle guy’s importuning to smile more after being obnoxious to her to the institutionalized sexism of the Air Force in the latter part of the 20th century (“There’s a reason why they call it the cockpit…”). The manners in which she is belittled, both in flashback and in the present-day of the film, are incredibly relatable to many women, and to anyone who actually cares about the mistreatment of women.

So much of this movie is a delight, starting with the sheer joy that Brie Larson’s Danvers takes in life. She’s always having fun, even in the early parts of the film where she’s the amnesiac Vers. (“I slipped.” “Right, you slipped—as a result of me punching you in the face.” “I was already slipping when you happened to punch me in the face. The two of those are not related.”) The best, though, is her perfect best-friend chemistry with Lashana Lynch’s Rambeau. In fact, my biggest complaint about this movie is that we don’t see nearly enough of the friendship between these two. It’s hinted at in flashes in Danvers’s memories, both when Talos is probing her and when Monica shows her the box of stuff she saved, and also in Rambeau’s this-is-who-you-really-are speech after Danvers’s memories come back, but it’s not enough. Female friendships are rare enough in popular dramatic fiction, and this one deserved more screen time.

However, that particular lack is partly an artifact of the way the various screenwriters twisted the at-this-point-very-tried-and-true-and-also-tired Marvel Origin Formula by telling it backwards. When we first see “Vers,” she’s already had her origin, but she herself doesn’t remember it, and we don’t get to see it until the movie’s three-quarters done. It’s a nice change from the formula, at least, which is a blessing, given the aforementioned similarities to four previous MCU origin films, even if it does shortchange the Danvers-Rambeau friendship.

I mentioned Larson’s subtle acting above, and she’s matched by Jude Law in that. Yon-Rogg is at once Danvers’s jailer, mentor, and handler. Beneath his smarmy smile and easy banter is tremendous fear. It only pokes out occasionally, and only for a second, but Law plays it beautifully, starting in the sparring scene at the very beginning when her fist starts to glow, and Yon-Rogg looks at the fist with total fear for about half a second before going right into his usual gaslighting routine about how she shouldn’t feel emotion.

The bit at the end when Yon-Rogg tries to get her to fight him hand to hand without powers is a brilliant refutation of the usual macho tropes. Yon-Rogg is still acting like her mentor and commanding officer, as if he’s someone she has to impress, and still feeding her the bullshit line about how she needs to control her emotions. And then she blasts him, because why shouldn’t she? It’s a crowning moment of awesome both as a fuck-you to Yon-Rogg’s gaslighting, and also just as a humorous end to a tiresome buildup to a predictable fight in the same vein as Indiana Jones shooting the sword wielder in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

One thing that doesn’t get talked about in this movie is how brilliantly it adapts various comics stories over five decades. The gender-flipped Mar-Vell is doing exactly what her comics counterpart did in 1968: working undercover on Earth as an astrophysicist at a secret military base. Danvers’ acquisition of powers is structurally very similar to the way it was done in the comics, with the lightspeed engine subbing in for the Psyche-Magnitron (and with the infinity stones being involved because heaven for-bloody-fend we have an MCU character who isn’t connected to the infinity stones somehow…). Danvers having amnesia is a callback to the earliest days of the Ms. Marvel comic. The Kree and the Skrulls have been mortal enemies in the comics for ages—one of Marvel’s first “event comics” was the nine-issue 1971 Kree-Skrull War story arc in Avengers written by Roy Thomas. And by having Mar-Vell and Monica Rambeau, we see the first two people in Marvel Comics who were called Captain Marvel, as well as the current one. (And there’s nothing in this version of Mar-Vell that precludes her having kids, so we could see Genis and/or Phyla in a future movie. And in this movie, Rambeau’s call sign is “Photon,” one of Monica’s codenames in the comics, a nice tribute.)

Of course, following the comics that closely means that it’s not exactly a surprise that Yon-Rogg turns out to be a bad guy. To ameliorate this particular bit of predictability, they pull a fast one on us by making the Skrulls—who have been antagonistic from the moment they first appeared in the second issue of Fantastic Four—into tragic victims. It’s a brilliant reveal, defying expectations and turning some of Marvel’s oldest villains into something more tragic and interesting.

Speaking of the Skrulls, I can’t say enough good things about Ben Mendelsohn’s performance as Talos. The MCU is, it’s true, littered with smartasses, but Mendelsohn’s laconic snottiness is beautifully played, and makes him a much more compelling character, especially since we learn that his obnoxious veneer hides the tremendous pain of a person who hasn’t seen his family in six years. The character’s reappearance in Far from Home leads me to hope that we’ll be seeing more of him in future films, and that’s only a good thing, as he’s fantastic.

I haven’t even gotten to the joy of seeing the 1990s versions of Fury and Coulson or the great double performance by Annette Bening as both Mar-Vell and the Supreme Intelligence. The CGI work to de-age Samuel L. Jackson and Clark Gregg is seamless (though it helps that neither of those two has physically aged much in the last 25 years). The best prequels are the ones that retroactively sow the seeds of future behavior that we’ve already seen, and while we see it writ large with Fury—who finds purpose in trying to use S.H.I.E.L.D. to recruit superheroes—we also see it with Coulson. We get the genesis of his relationship with Fury (which provided the backbone of many Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episodes) and also see his willingness to trust his gut over orders (as we saw in Thor). It’s also nice to see Gregg back in an MCU movie after being exiled to the TV end of things, especially since AoS has become less connected to the cinematic side over the years.

As for Bening, I think it’s for the best that they didn’t give us the Supreme Intelligence of the comics, which is a big green head with tentacles sticking out of it. Having it be different for each person is a nice touch, and it adds an interesting layer to the mystery of who Lawson is throughout the film. (Though again, familiarity with the comics blunts the mystery some, once you hear the name “Dr. Lawson.”) Still, Bening creates a smart, noble, heroic character, one worthy of the Mar-Vell of the comics, in only a tiny amount of screen time.

There are tons more stories to tell with this character, both in the two-and-a-half decades between her appearances in this film and Endgame and in the present: Getting the Skrulls to safety. Fighting the Kree in general (Guardians of the Galaxy already established that in the present day of the MCU, the Kree are weakened considerably) and Ronan the Accuser in particular (Lee Pace deserves another shot at being a major bad guy). And just her general being a hero for the galaxy at large, as she hinted at in Endgame. Plus, of course, she’s an Avenger now…

Carol Danvers has had a complicated, fascinating legacy in the comics, coming out the other side as one of the greatest heroes in the Marvel pantheon, and I look forward to seeing how that develops for the screen version.

 

Next week, we keep the cosmic theme going, albeit back in the twenty-first century, as we look at Volume 2 of the Guardians of the Galaxy.

Keith R.A. DeCandido is not at a convention this weekend for the first time in a month. He is looking forward to not riding in a plane, train, or car to travel a long distance and instead, possibly, maybe, getting some sleep.

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