Captain Marvel spoilers throughout, duh…
If Captain America was the first Avenger, Carol Danvers is the last, at least the last before the Endgame arrives next month.
A clever echo of its status as the final piece of the puzzle prior to the grand conclusion of the MCU’s first era, Captain Marvel is structured to fill in the blanks, both of Brie Larson’s memories as the pilot Carol Danvers as well as the larger mythology of the MCU (so THAT’S how Nick Fury lost his eye! Hilariously anti-climactic or just anti-climactic, your call). All that world-building doesn’t allow Larson to establish much of a character for Danvers, despite some moving scenes with her trusted friend Monica Rambeau (Lashana Lynch).
Far and away, the best part of Captain Marvel is the way it upends fan expectations about the Skrulls and their role in the MCU. I could bore you with the specifics about why I was certain the Scarlet Witch would be revealed as a Skrull agent in Infinity War. Suffice it to say, I had an elaborate theory about how the treacherous shape-shifters would be used in the MCU moving forward.
So, I definitely did NOT see the hard pivot to the wise-cracking, pinball-loving war refugees that inhabit Captain Marvel. It’s certainly one of the more surprising reinventions in the MCU thus far; all the way up to Goose’s fateful swipe of the paw, I was certain the Skrulls were going to betray Fury and claim his eye.
Nope. Instead, Captain Marvel decides to lead their interstellar refugee caravan to a new home, which apparently is taking like 24 years or so (apparently there’s no intergalactic housing market for shapeshifters). And those futuristic pagers she and Fury had? It turns out it they weren’t a Thanos-specific panic-button, as many speculated, but more of a regular emergency two-way. Apparently, Fury didn’t think Chitauri invasions and evil robot revolutions were desperate enough situations to make the call.
If you couldn’t tell by now, yes, I am someone who had a lot of stupid theories about Captain Marvel, too! When it was announced that Ronan the Accuser of Guardians of the Galaxy would return, I assumed he would serve as a bridge between Captain Marvel and Thanos, or at least put him on her radar. Wrong. But you know how did show up? Our old friend the Tesseract! Good to see you, pal, even if you are covered in cat puke.
That said, outside of the always great Samuel L. Jackson and Agent Coulson, these callbacks felt more like empty fan service than meaningful reintroductions. (Djimon Hounsou’s character has now appeared in two separate movies and I still don’t know his name.) Again, this was an understandable choice given Captain Marvel’s specific place in the timeline of the MCU. But combined with Danver’s literal blank slate of a character, Captain Marvel felt, to me, like a rather middling, pandering entry in the MCU.
It’s not all a mixed-bag. Captain Marvel succeeds admirably at ratcheting up the stakes for Endgame. The Infinity War post-credits stinger seemed to suggest Captain Marvel would be the MCU’s savior, the one hero powerful enough to not only defeat Thanos but wield the Infinity Gauntlet. The powerset she displayed at the end of the movie certainly indicates the awesome potential of her abilities. However, based on the Captain Marvel post-credits scene, it’s not clear that she had any foresight about Thanos’ plan and doesn’t seem too excited to make friends with the Avengers.
Getting powerful people to set aside their personal quests for glory was basically the plot of the first Avengers and Carol Danvers’ fish-out-of-water role is reminiscent of Steve Rogers’ circumstances entering that film. As Endgame directors Joe and Anthony Russo have already said, their movie will provide something of an “ending” to the first chapter of the MCU and characters like Captain Marvel are positioned to assume the mantle going forward.
Even when you consider the brief, tantalizing trailers for Endgame, it’s not at all clear how we’ll get there. There may be a new Captain in the Marvel Universe but guessing how she fits into the post-Endgame MCU is as futile as theorizing about a secret Skrull invasion … I’m still holding out, sue me.