Captain Marvel's Simplest Twist to Carol Danvers' Origin Is Its Smartest Choice

Captain Danvers, reporting for duty.
Captain Danvers, reporting for duty.
Photo: Marvel Studios

Carol Danvers has never had the cleanest origin tale in the comics—even the most recent retcon is still a bit convoluted. It’s no surprise then, that Captain Marvel’s attempt to give her a new one is likewise a little muddy in parts. But the way it honors one aspect of comics history is one of the best choices the film makes.

Illustration for article titled Captain Marvel's Simplest Twist to Carol Danvers' Origin Is Its Smartest Choice

The opening act of Captain Marvel is as fractured as our titular hero’s memory of her own past. As we dart forward and backward in time through the present events out among the stars and inside Carol’s own mind, we’re treated to glimpses of a life she cannot remember living. One full of Street Fighter II matches, karaoke nights, and a mysterious female scientist, played by Annette Bening—a face meant to matter to Carol the most, as it’s the one worn when she psychically connects to the Kree’s Supreme Intelligence back on Hala.

Bening, in the gray techno-dreamscape of Hala’s Supreme Intelligence.
Bening, in the gray techno-dreamscape of Hala’s Supreme Intelligence.
Image: Marvel Studios

Bening’s character is revealed twice more as the film progresses—first as Doctor Wendy Lawson, lead scientist on a lightspeed engine being tested by Carol and Maria Rambeau, but then again as her real identity. She’s not a Human scientist, but a Kree one.

And her name is Mar-Vell.

In the comics, that, of course, is the real name of the original Captain Marvel, the male soldier sent to spy on Earth before he ultimately decides to defend it from his own people. The movie actually honors him in another moment too—when, while asking lil’ Monica Rambeau (who was actually Mar-Vell’s direct replacement as Captain Marvel in the comics after his death) to select non-Starforce colors for her suit, Carol briefly dons the green and white of Mar-Vell’s very first costume.


But it’s in the twist with Bening’s character that Captain Marvel makes the better tribute, both honoring a legacy integral to Carol’s lengthy history in the comics across years and multiple hero mantles, while updating it in a smart, clean manner. And it’s not in changing up Mar-Vell from a man to a woman that’s the big deal—although that at least removes the idea of Carol inheriting her powers from the man she was a love interest to—but it’s really in making Mar-Vell a scientist rather than a soldier following orders.

In the movie, Mar-Vell is on Earth not on behalf of her own people, but the survivors of the Skrull race; she’s there investigating ways to help them find a new home away from the threat of the Kree themselves. It’s a mission of mercy, a mission to end war rather than perpetuate it. In the comics, Mar-Vell is initially on Earth as an antagonistic force, a playground in his homeworld’s wider conflicts.

The lightspeed engine blasts Carol with some very special energies.
Gif: Captain Marvel

Carol, acting as Doctor Lawson’s protector when the Kree come calling to stop one of their own, inherits that mission of mercy when Mar-Vell dies. But it’s not the mission that makes her a hero, and in the film, it’s not Mar-Vell who gives Carol her power—it’s a fate she claims herself out of a heroic action, by choosing to shoot Mar-Vell’s engine before Yon-Rogg steals it. Not really an accident as it originally was with the Psyche Magnetron in the comics (Carol presumably thought she’d die and take Yon-Rogg with her, not get turned into a flying cosmic nuke who occasionally has a fauxhawk), or the awakening of a lineage she never previously knew about, as it is in the current retcon.


It puts Carol as the core focus in her own story—and it’s one that really works thanks to how Captain Marvel re-imagines Mar-Vell and her part in that legacy. That it also gives us the joy of Annette Bening dancing around in a bomber jacket is just an added bonus.

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James is a News Editor at io9, where you can find him delivering your morning spoilers, writing about superheroes, and having many feelings about Star Wars. He wants pictures. Pictures of Spider-Man!


Angrier Geek

Okay, let’s get into it…

This is not a great film. Not bad, but not great either. It’s a decent origin flick that suffers from the malady that’s plagued Marvel from Day One: having to piece together the Marvel Universe and set up an Avengers film more than stand on its own (Thor, Thor The Dark World, Iron Man 2, half of Captain America…). And that’s why I don’t blame the cast or the directors. Look at their past work and when given the right material, they can come through, but when you see six credited writers, that means probably nine touched it and they were no doubt given strict marching orders from Marvel, so they had zero room in which to operate. Get in, get out, set up Endgame. That’s the only job they had and honestly all they did.

And no one suffers from this more than Bree Larson, an actress who can become anything you want, but doesn’t bring an automatic charm or charisma if you don’t like say, a Bruce Willis. Her entire character is a smirk and a listlessly delivered wisecrack. She doesn’t come across as a hardened soldier for the Kree anymore than she does a badass test pilot or someone suffering from a loss of identity because it’s simply not there in the script for her. Her obstacles are either ridiculously contrived (pretty sure it’s a father’s job to protect his children from hurting themselves, not some kind of patriarchal oppression for losing it when his daughter emerges bleeding from a crash) or underserved (we never really see her overcome them, just marching in slow motion to do so). And Larson doesn’t have the decades of experience of a Sam Jackson to know how to fill in the gaps. He does have charm and charisma in spades, but knows not to overpower his co-star making them a nice buddy team. He also knows to play the Fury of 20 years ago different from the one we see today. Similarly, Annette Benning as Mar-Vell & the Kree Supreme Intelligence who imbues both with warmth and even a twinkle which is impressive given one is a bad guy. And while I’m disappointed that this means that we probably won’t get any original Captain Marvel funko pop figures, I fucking love that reveal (as MRA dipshits tiny little heads probably exploded)! And that they still managed to stay true to Mar-Vell’s story and importance to Carol’s origin. But this way she’s not just a copyright move and it’s damn sure better than the recent comic book retcon of her having been Kree all along. Yeah, she just happened to have met Mar-Vell and just happened to fall into into “Psyche-Magnetron.” It defies belief by somehow managing to be even less original than a female copy of a male hero.

Also loved: The Skrulls as refugees which doesn’t preclude them to becoming an angry empire in their own right 20 years later….Ben Mendelson actually being a good guy and a charming one at that…Maria Rambeau being a badass pilot and not dying like I feared she would so she can turn up as a badass SHIELD pilot now…Monica being foreshadowed as a space-ship building scientist who’s ready to follow her Aunt Carol to the stars…when she finally cut loose and ripped through the Kree cruiser (made me think of when Superman did it to multiple ships in Superman vs. Muhammad Ali)…beautiful end credits…and that fucking stinger credits scene “Where’s Fury?”

It’s a solid “B” and I hope that the inevitable sequel allows the filmmakers more freedom so that she doesn’t follow Thor down the path of having to wait until the third film to be truly satisfying. And while I’ve do doubt a sequel will be used to partially “explain” Carol’s power is what sent Ronan to Thanos, I’m afraid of it being all about that.

Oh, I can totally understand why some people are confused by the second credits scene. Goose coughing it up on an empty desk feels post-Infinity War, despite obvious signs it’s not. It might have been better served if we saw 90’s Fury get up from his desk only to have Goose hack it up seconds later.