Higher, Further, Faster“Captain Marvel” Aims for the Stars

Marvel Studios' Captain Marvel - Official Trailer

Carol Danvers is a badass. This is a fact, not an opinion, and after the premiere of Captain Marvel, it’s truer than ever.

We first meet Air Force pilot Carol (Brie Larson) as she wakes from what she believes is a dream; as with many a nascent superhero, she’s not always confident in herself and her perceptions as she could be. And though wrestling with doubt and questions of self-worth and identity are a universal human experience, Carol isn’t human: She’s Kree, an alien species obsessed with battle training that are at war with the Skrull, shape-shifting green people who inhabit and destroy planets. When she finds herself on Earth after a battle with the Skrull, Carol is out of her depth. Fashion is different, and no one believes her when she tells them about shapeshifting. Her task until the Kree come to get her is to find and stop the Skrull from infiltrating and destroying the planet. In the post-credit scene following Avengers: Infinity War, audiences saw former S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) send an SOS to Captain Marvel as his body disintegrated; but even if you’re not steeped in the Marvel universe, Carol’s struggle to understand the difference between what she has been told is real and her lived reality will resonate with any moviegoer.

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The fun really begins when Carol and Nick Fury meet. The buddy chemistry between Jackson and Larson, both on and offscreen, has developed over the course of two previous movies (Kong: Skull Island and Unicorn Store) and in Captain Marvel they continue to play well off each other even in confusing circumstances. Carol soon realizes that her mysterious dreams are actually memories and if she’s going to fight Skrull, she’s going to need to find out more about who she really is.

Larson excels at tapping into the moments of uncertainty just before and after earth-shaking events in Carol’s life. Trying to find answers involves tracking down one of her dream figures—scientist Dr. Wendy Lawson (Annette Bening)—and, when she can’t—searching out the last person who saw Lawson alive. This turns out to be Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), Carol’s forgotten former best friend, who thought Carol had died with Dr. Lawson. Once reunited, their friendship is a huge source of joy amidst the film’s portrait of worlds at war, and I suspect the choice to foreground a loving friendship between two women was a priority of a largely female writing team. The chemistry between Larson and Lynch propels the last half of the movie; Lynch brings depth, love, and believability to Maria. And her daughter, Monica (Akira Akbar) is equally delightful.

Carol Danvers is a badass. This is a fact, not an opinion.

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Captain Marvel isn’t perfect; and its narrative slumps seem inevitable given the challenge of pleasing longtime fans quick to jump on inaccuracies while filling out the story for newcomers. The film works best in these moments of connection between Captain Marvel and those around her. In rendering Carol’s personal battle to remember who she was and why she’s needed, the Oscar-winning Larson truly shines, accomplishing a lot with even simple pauses and hesitations. When she learns the truth about who she is, she becomes a superhero worthy of her own franchise by embracing her emotions to fuel her fight for justice for those who’ve been wronged.

Explaining why she took on this role, Larson told Marie Claire UK, “I lucked out in that Captain Marvel is super-flawed; she makes mistakes and has a temper. The fact that I’m not playing this idealized version of perfection makes me feel more comfortable about stepping into the role.” Larson and the rest of this stellar cast did what needed to be done so that Marvel can go “Higher, Further, Faster” from here.

Keah Brown, a brownskinned woman, smizes for the camera
by Keah Brown
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Keah Brown is a journalist and writer whose work can be found in Glamour magazine, Marie Claire UK, Harper’s Bazaar, and Teen Vogue among others. Brown’s debut essay collection The Pretty One, about her experiences as a young African American woman with cerebral palsy is out now. You can learn more about her at keahbrown.com.