Vers knows who she is. How she got that way … well, that’s a bit of a puzzle.
Yes, she’s secure in her identity as a Kree warrior. She knows that even among the Kree, she’s pretty special: Not every Kree can shoot plasma bolts out of her fists, after all. And she may feel at home on the gleaming planet of Hala, where she and her mentor, Yon-Rogg, continue to hone her skills.
But is Hala her home? When she sleeps, she sometimes dreams of a different sort of life in a different sort of place—one that feels quite separate from Hala. Quite … alien.
But no matter. The Kree have a war to wage, and she has no time for introspection. They must protect their towering civilization from the Skrull—a race of shape-shifting terrorists that will stop at nothing to … well, do really terrible things to the Kree, I guess. (When a war’s been going on as long as this one has, the motives can get a little blurry.)
But the Skrull, being shape-shifters and all, can be a sneaky bunch. And Vers’ plasma-powered palms don’t save her when a Kree-in-need-of-rescue turns out to be a Skrull-in-need-of-a-prisoner. Vers becomes that prisoner: She’s taken back to the Skrull ship, where her brain is virtually picked through for clues about who she is, what she knows and what in the blazes is up with those hot hands of hers.
But no ship can hold Vers. She manages to escape, and she follows a handful of Skrull down to a small, backward planet known only as C-53. Indeed, she sort of crashes there—landing in something called a “Blockbuster Video.”
If Vers asked a native about her whereabouts, he or she’d likely tell the oddly-dressed woman that she landed somewhere in California in 1995—a year when people were still doing the Macarena, Amazon sold its first book and Batman Forever was the biggest superhero flick around. And maybe, if Vers talked with one or two of the right folks, they might’ve said that the Kree warrior looked somehow … familiar. Like someone that they knew six years ago, before she died in a terrible, experimental plane crash.
But Vers doesn’t have time to chat—not even to that S.H.I.E.L.D. special agent that keeps pestering her. (What’s his name? Flurry? No, no, Fury.) The Skrull are on the loose, and she’s got to catch them before they simply fade into C-53’s sea of humanity.
Vers doesn’t know it yet, but she’s one of them. Vers—Carol Danvers—has come home.
Vers may be a little uncertain about who she is, but she knows what she is: one of the Kree’s “noble warrior heroes,” and she does her best to live up to the part. She fights the Kree’s enemies with courage, aplomb and a bit of sass. Surely Yon-Rogg would be proud.
But as she learns more about her past, she comes to a better understanding of who and what a hero should be. It’s not all about taking on and taking out the “bad guys.” It’s also about saving and protecting the innocent, be they just a handful of refugees or a whole planet of sentient beings. And she learns that it’s not her near-divine superpowers that make her a hero: It’s her frail, sometimes fallible humanity.
We see plenty of flashbacks to Carol’s childhood—flashbacks that focus especially on her failures. She flies off a go-cart track in one such miscue, gets brushed out of a batter’s box in another. Her critics seem legion, telling her repeatedly how weak she is, how she’ll never succeed. But each time, Carol climbs back up and digs back in. It’s not about how many times she falls, but how many times she gets back up.
And here, she always gets back up. That’s a nice message for all of us, I think: Sometimes we imagine that our greatest achievements are, naturally, our successes. It’s easy to forget that we are more shaped by our failures—and that our character is formed in the resiliency we show in the face of them.
Captain Marvel’s powers look practically limitless here, and she sometimes glows as if she’s some sort of angel. But rest assured, Carol Danvers is very human, and we have nothing else to add to this section at all.
Superhero movies are not known for their romantic subplots, but Captain Marvel may be the chilliest of the lot. Indeed, the most affection we see on screen here is, really, the lavish attention that Nick Fury showers on Goose, the movie’s enigmatic cat.
That said, Carol wears an outfit that’s quite formfitting (which Fury describes as “rubber” at one point). And in a flashback, Carol is verbally subjected to a sexist double entendre that crudely alludes to the male anatomy.
Someone present during a Skrull autopsy looks underneath a towel covering the Skrull’s midsection, perhaps to verify the gender or perhaps out of more prurient curiousity. We see a disrobed (and anatomically suggestive) mannequin torso.
Captain Marvel isn’t quite as violent as some of its Marvel predecessors. Still, it’s no traipse through the tulips, either.
We see people shot and apparently killed via laser blasts and the like. A tentacled creature grabs others, viciously throwing and banging its victims around before (apparently) swallowing them. Small spaceships engage in whirling dogfights while larger ones perform carpet-bombing runs, dropping scads of explosive payloads on a planet’s surface. And lots of spaceships—most of them small but one very, very large one—are destroyed, and we can presume the casualties thus suffered are fairly astronomical (though, as is standard for superhero films, completely ignored).
Someone dies in a car accident. An experimental plane and a few alien spacecraft crash spectacularly. A dead Skrull undergoes an alien autopsy, and we see flaps of Skrull skin pulled away from its chest cavity (from the side). Nick Fury suffers a pretty nasty scratch from a cat—wounds so surprisingly bad, in fact, that they leave telltale scars. One or two people are shot by lasers but survive to tell the tale. Some folks are rounded up in preparation to be launched into space (and, of course, die). Fury engages in some seriously dangerous driving.
Vers and Yon-Rogg engage in a spirited sparring session as the film opens. They both throw punches and kick and twirl and kick some more. Vers also fights with a Skrull who’s in the guise of an old woman: The Kree punches the nice old lady right in the nose, leading to a frenetic, somewhat comical melee aboard a train. Later, that Skrull transforms into a sweater-wearing guy, and they fight some more on the train’s roof (with the Skrull at one point getting shocked by an electrical current).
Vers tangles with several Skrull as well, and she later uses her powers to knock around and eventually subdue other adversaries. But when she tries to fight the visible manifestation of a cosmic A.I. leader (known as the Supreme Intelligence), her fist goes straight through its face.
The hero fires her plasma projectiles into people (sending them flying), walls, ceilings and doors (punching glowing holes in them) and also manages to heat up a kettle of water with her hands. (Not violent, per say, but a nifty skill to have.)
We see a selection of glass eyeballs. People are threatened with guns. Someone is momentarily knocked unconscious in a crash. In flashback, Carol crashes a go-cart (and suffers some bloody wounds) and falls from a high rope (painfully landing on the ground).
After a cat scratches Nick Fury, the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent utters an exclamation that hints at the f-word (and might sound like one to some). We also hear two s-words, along with a few uses each of “a–,” “d–n” and “h—.” The vulgarity “b–tard” also makes a solitary appearance, and we hear two misuses of God’s name.
Shortly after she arrives on earth, Carol Danvers walks into a bar (where patrons are drinking and bottles behind the bar are visible) and remembers having lots of fun experiences there.
In an effort to blend in a little better on Earth, Vers swipes some clothes off a mannequin, along with someone’s motorcycle. Lots and lots of people/aliens lie to further their own ends. A cat hacks up an Infinity Stone.
“I want you to be the best version of yourself,” Yon-Rogg tells Vers at the movie’s outset. He gets his wish—though, perhaps, not in quite the way he’d imagined.
Captain Marvel is more than an origin story: It’s a story of self-discovery, of Vers finding out who she is and what, exactly, the “best version” of herself looks like. And that, as far as it goes, is great. Unfortunately, the movie fails to realize its own potential. The best version of itself gets lost along the way.
This is not to say that Captain Marvel is a “bad” superhero movie. The MCU has been, over the course of its 20-plus movies, a competent, reliable entertainment factory. If you like superhero flicks, the worst you can say about any film in the MCU is that it was “pretty decent,” and that’s not a bad track record.
Unlike Carol Danvers and her many discouraging flashbacks, these films never fail outright. And this one has some thrilling, fun moments. The nods to its 1990s setting are pretty priceless, too, including a wink at Stan Lee’s extensive cameo in the 1995 film Mallrats.
But Captain Marvel suffers from its hero being too big and the film being too little. It feels almost like a prelude to a larger story: an under-realized introduction to a character set to really flex her muscles in Marvel’s upcoming Avengers: Endgame.
But whatever relative shortcomings the film has aesthetically, it’s pretty much of a piece, in terms of content, with what we’ve come to expect from Marvel’s superhero flicks. It’s a little less violent, but a little more profane. It gives us an inspiring protagonist—the first female superhero to get her own movie in the MCU—without giving her a chance to transcend the traditional superhero story.
Yes, this hero here is really, really “super.” But when it comes to what makes her a hero? What powers her heart and will? This movie feints in positive directions without really unleashing the character of its heroic character. And it’s that character¬—her soul and sacrifice—that makes a superhero story compelling. All her annotated powers are mere CGI decor.
Captain Marvel doesn’t fail, but it does fall short. Perhaps its hero can find her real power, her narrative power, in the next movie.
With the many hero movies that have come out, we, as parents, are often faced with explaining what is a real-life hero. Here are some ideas on how to call out the greatness that lies within you and your kids.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.