Captain Marvel has been out for almost a week now, and while I tried to keep my review spoiler-free, I gotta tell ya: it was hard. Because some of the things I was most excited to talk about were the elements that the film ripped directly from the comics — and the way it changed those elements in smart, unexpected ways. I could only hint at the two biggest ones — the backstory of Annette Bening’s Dr. Lawson, and the Skrull mission — without revealing too much. Until now.
So who’s ready to talk SPOILERS?!
Dr. Wendy Lawson IS Mar-Vell (And The Supreme Intelligence)
Before the film premiered, everyone was wondering just how it would tackle the origin of Carol Danvers. In the comics, Carol is an Air Force officer working on a remote military base, where she meets the original Captain Marvel, Dr. Walter Lawson — who was a Kree soldier named Mar-Vell, sent to spy on Earth under a human alias. She initially receives her powers when a radioactive Kree device explodes, melding her genetic material with that of Mar-Vell, and she adopts the superhero mantle Ms. Marvel (and then Binary, and Warbird… and eventually goes by Captain Marvel herself).
The film keeps a lot of that origin intact: Carol is still an Air Force officer, working on a remote military base, and she receives her powers when a Kree device explodes (though instead of any genetic melding, her powers come directly from the device itself, which is powered by The Tesseract — yup, the Space Stone that is currently embedded in Thanos’s gauntlet). But the biggest change is that instead of Mar-Vell being a Walter, he’s a Wendy — and instead of being Carol’s love interest, Wendy is her mentor. This seems like a natural fit, playing on the film’s themes of strong female role models and relationships, but it’s actually one that came surprisingly late in the filmmaking process. Entertainment Weekly spoke with Captain Marvel directors and co-writers, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who revealed that early drafts of the script featured a male Mar-Vell, and they initially planned to cast a male actor in the role. And then Boden had an epiphany: What if they combined the roles of the Supreme Leader and Mar-Vell, and hired a woman for the part?
“Pretty late in the process of writing it, I think I just woke up one morning and I had dreamt it or something,” Boden explains. “I texted Ryan, and I was like, ‘Am I crazy that these could both be the same actor?’ And he was like, ‘Yes, you are crazy, and yes, you should talk to Marvel about it immediately.’ So it was a late-breaking idea, but something that I think helped pull those elements together in a way that it would’ve been hard to otherwise.”
The Supreme Intelligence is the leader of the Kree, and in the film it’s an artificial intelligence that takes the form of the person you admire the most. For Carol, that’s Wendy Lawson, and since we only ever see the Supreme Intelligence interacting with Carol, we only see her vision of it. Hiring one actor for both provided a hook into the mystery of Carol’s past, since the first time we see Lawson, it’s as the Supreme Intelligence — and neither Carol nor the audience know who Lawson is or why she’s so important, so it’s seeding that revelation. And it’s also a brilliant decision because in the comics the Supreme Intelligence is depicted as basically a giant floating face — but honestly, I prefer looking at Annette Bening.
Speaking of Bening, the directors also talked to EW about casting the actress for the role:
“We’ve just been big fans of her for a long time, and she’s got all those qualities,” Fleck says. “She’s got the great mentor quality that we were looking for in that character, but she can also be really tough, and that was really necessary for both aspects. She can be regal, which was perfect for the Supreme Intelligence, and she can also just be casual and cool and laid back, which was necessary for Lawson.”
The Skrulls Are Not Our Enemy
Look, we’ve known that the Skrulls would be a part of this film since we first saw Carol punching an old woman in the trailers. Of COURSE Captain Marvel isn’t a threat to the elderly! She’s just, you know, taking down some shape-shifting alien nasties. But the Skrulls have a long, complicated history in pages of Marvel comics, defined largely by their ongoing conflicts with the Kree… and by the fact that they keep trying to infiltrate Earth.
No really — the “Secret Invasion” crossover event was all about how the Skrulls had secretly captured and replaced a bunch of superheroes, and the heroes we thought we knew had been imposters for awhile. And then everything goes haywire. The tagline for the event was “Who do you trust?” — and it’s that sentiment that pervades Captain Marvel as we get our first look at the MCU version of the Skrulls. They trick Carol by taking the shape of the Kree spy she was on a mission to locate, then they capture her and manipulate her memories, looking for information on Lawson. And when they all arrive on Earth, the Skrull leader, Talos, takes the shape of Nick Fury’s boss at S.H.I.E.L.D., forcing Fury to side with Carol because he, you know, doesn’t know who to trust.
It seemed painfully obvious to cast Ben Mendelsohn as Talos, since he’s sort of become the go-to guy for playing “Smarmy Middle Manager Villain” roles, as Kayleigh has put it in the past. Your expectations are set the moment you see him on screen — and that is why his casting was so strategic in Captain Marvel. In fact, you DON’T trust him … and the reveal is that, actually, you should. Because the Skrulls, as they’ve now been introduced in the MCU, aren’t really villains at all. They’re refugees, looking for a new home and being hunted by the Kree. And Mar-Vell had actually turned against the Kree and was aiding the Skrulls by creating a lightspeed engine (the device that blows up) to help them explore the universe.
The idea that the Skrulls are essentially an alien race without a home is familiar to readers of the more recent comics. Most of the Skrull Empire’s planets were destroyed during the “Annihilation” crossover event, which led pretty directly into their renewed attempted to conquer Earth in “Secret Invasion.” But the idea that the Skrulls are sympathetic is a pretty unprecedented twist, and one that most comics fans wouldn’t have anticipated. They aren’t trying to conquer — they are merely trying to survive, undetected by the Kree. Making the Skrulls misunderstood refugees works as both a (too?) broad indictment of American anti-immigration policies, and as a cause for Carol to align with. Realizing the extent to which Yon-Rogg and the other Kree had manipulated her and recognizing their attempted genocide of the Skrulls inspires her to shift her loyalties and redefine what she stands for — finally turning her into Captain Marvel.
Of Flerkens And Rambeaus…
Those may be the biggest twists Captain Marvel pulled from the comics, but they are hardly the only ones. The reveal that Lawson’s scene-stealing pet cat, Goose, is actually a terrifyingly powerful alien called a Flerken is based on the history of Carol’s own cat Chewie in the comics (with an added Top Gun nod, natch). Bigger still is the inclusion of another Captain Marvel, Monica Rambeau — though the film sidesteps the complicated history of Monica being a non-Kree energy-based hero that also changed her superhero moniker several times, and then chewed Carol out when she discovers that Carol has adopted “Captain Marvel” without asking her first.
(Also, if you thought the fight between DC and Marvel over the name “Captain Marvel” was fraught, just look at how complicated that name’s history is within Marvel! There are at least 7 characters who went by Captain Marvel at some point or another. Oh, comics!)
Many of us — myself included! — have a soft spot for Monica. She was the first African-American heroine to join the Avengers, and eventually became leader of the team herself (not to mention the fantastic N.E.X.T.W.A.V.E. — even though I’m CONSTANTLY mentioning that series anyway). And though the film heavily edits her character and origins to include her in Carol’s debut by making her the daughter of Carol’s best friend and fellow Air Force pilot, Maria, it was still oh-so-satisfying to see her given attention on screen. She’s played with glee by Akira Akbar as a pre-teen, and considering the film takes place in 1995… who knows what Monica is up to by the time Avengers: Endgame takes place?
And Speaking Of Avengers: Endgame…
The first end credit sequence finds our surviving post-snap Avengers, including Cap, Widow, Banner, and Rhodey, wondering why Fury’s weird beeper has stopped beeping. Of course, we know exactly why: because its signal has been answered, by Carol, AND SHE’S STANDING RIGHT BEHIND THEM.
Of course, she wants to know where the hell Nick Fury is, which is fair. Can’t wait to see how Cap tries to explain all this to her…
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