Captain Marvel Teaches Us to Trust Ourselves
WARNING: There are many spoilers in this article. Read at your own risk.
As we celebrate the 21st film in the MCU, Captain Marvel, let’s take a moment to understand why this film franchise has been so successful. More than anything, Marvel strives to build believable and engaging characters. Each character has a pivotal moment where they must prove themselves—Tony announcing that he’s Iron Man, Steve diving onto the grenade, Mjolnir returning to Thor, etc. These moments are an intersection of plot, character, and theme, and for that reason, they are critical to the success of the individual films and the overall Marvel cinematic universe. Captain Marvel is no different, but the pivotal moment in this film—when Carol Danvers punches Yon-Rogg—requires examination of three other moments in the film.
Captain Marvel differs from your traditional superhero origin story because we meet Carol after she’s received her powers. She believes her powers are a gift from an alien race known as the Kree. The Kree have trained her for the past six years, molding her into a more perfect warrior. During a sparring session with her mentor, Yon-Rogg, Carol reveals that she has recurring dreams, memories of a past lifetime. She doesn’t know who she was; she only knows what she is now, a warrior for the Kree.
After a special operations mission goes wrong, Carol finds herself in the hands of the enemy, the shape-shifting Skrull. The Skrull use a device to search her memories, looking for a superweapon to help them win the war against the Kree. This begins her journey to find answers about her past, leading her to Earth where she encounters a young Nick Fury (sans eye-patch). Over the course of the movie, we learn that Carol was a test pilot and her mentor, Dr. Wendy Lawson, was actually a Kree in disguise working on a superweapon.
In the first of four pivotal moments, a Skrull leader named Talos reveals himself to Carol. He is looking for the superweapon, but he needs her help. Going against all her Kree training, Carol allows the Skrull to explain himself. The Skrull have managed to find a black box, and within it lies an audio recording that reveals two important things: the superweapon was actually a lightspeed drive, and Carol’s powers are not derived from the Kree.
Talos explains that the Kree declared war on the Skrull for not conforming to their intergalactic plans. The Skrull have been in hiding for centuries with hopes of one day finding a new home planet, and the lightspeed drive developed by Dr. Lawson was built for that purpose. Dr. Lawson wanted to correct the injustices of her people by helping the Skrull find a new home far from the reach of the Kree.
Carol’s compassion for the Skrull drives her to find a hidden base orbiting Earth where the power source for the lightspeed drive resides. Once Carol and company arrive, we learn that the power source is none other than the Tesseract aka the Space Stone. Unfortunately, the Kree arrive at the hidden base and call in back-up, the powerful Accusers who lay waste to entire cities. Carol is taken prisoner, and the Skrull are rounded up for interrogation and extermination.
During a private conversation with the Kree hive-mind known as the Supreme Intelligence, Carol rejects her Kree identity and breaks free from the Kree restraint placed on her neck. Her self-doubt disappears, and her true powers are revealed in this second pivotal moment.
The power of the Tesseract resides in her, and once it is unleashed, the Supreme Intelligence and the Kree warriors are no match for Carol. In a dazzling display of her newfound abilities, Carol destroys an entire Kree warship as Ronan the Accuser (the villain from the first Guardians of the Galaxy) watches in awe. What follows is the next pivotal moment.
Two (possibly three) Kree warships remain, but Carol has made her point. She hovers in front of Earth, and makes a fist, sending a clear message to the remaining Kree in this third pivotal moment: don’t mess with me. Wisely, the Kree retreat, and Carol turns her attention to her one-time mentor.
For the final pivotal moment, Yon-Rogg realizes that he’s no match for Carol so he challenges her to a fist fight, no superpowers allowed. He insists that she still hasn’t proven herself to him, but their conversation is cut short when Carol punches him squarely in the chest; the battle is over before it begins. Carol decides to spare Yon-Rogg, asking him to send a message to the Supreme Intelligence: I’m coming for you. Afterwards, Carol says goodbye to Earth and joins the Skrull on their mission to find a new home.
While Captain Marvel touches on several themes—the injustices of war, the strength of womanhood, testing the limits—ultimately one theme rings loud and clear: trust yourself. The Kree wished Carol to believe that she was weak and inferior. Yon-Rogg wished her to believe that she needed to be an emotionless to be a true warrior. In the final fight with Yon-Rogg, Carol rejects both of these notions. She didn’t need to prove herself to her former mentor, but she also didn’t need to kill him. Only by trusting herself was Carol able to make the right decision when it counted, whether that was sparing an enemy or destroying an entire warship.
Captain Marvel teaches us that if we trust ourselves, we too can go higher, further, and faster.