Captain Marvel Is Subverting The Typical Superhero Origin Story

Captain Marvel in her Kree armor with mask and Mohawk

Thanks to the growth of the superhero genre, the structure of the typical origin story has become overly familiar. The first hour or so is spent establishing the protagonist pre-powers, and then something happens that changes their life forever. As they adjust to their new abilities, they face off with a dangerous foe that bests them at first -- but then the third act rolls around and the costumed vigilante finds the confidence to become the champion they've always been destined to become.

This, however, is not the tactic being taken in Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's Captain Marvel -- which will instead begin with the eponymous heroine in a costume and demonstrating superhuman abilities. It's an exciting approach for a character that has never been adapted into live-action before, though it does come with its own special issues. It was an aspect of the film that was discussed at length early last year during a press day on the set of the movie when it was shooting in Los Angeles, the subject first coming up during an interview with Marvel Studios producer Jonathan Schwartz:

You know, one of the challenges with subverting that origin structure is you've still got to find a way to let the audience understand who that character is, and there are some creative ways over the course of this movie where we're able to get that part of Carol's story across.

Rather than beginning with Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) on Earth and operating as an ace fighter pilot, Captain Marvel will instead see the bulk of its first act take place out in the cosmos and in the midst of an intergalactic conflict known as the Kree-Skrull War. Carol is an elite warrior fighting for the Kree, operating as part of a group known as Starforce, but the catch is that she doesn't remember anything about her life as a human, and believes that she is entirely Kree.

As a result, Carol finds herself mighty confused when she crashes down to Earth after escaping Skrull captivity and begins to register some familiarity with the world. Paired with a young and ambitious Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who is trying to make a name for himself at S.H.I.E.L.D., she sets off on a journey to find out the truth about her past -- which ties back to Jonathan Schwartz's comments about understanding the character. The key with Captain Marvel is that the audience and hero are learning the full story at the same time.

The producer wouldn't fully comment on Captain Marvel operating as a linear story -- offering instead a wishy-washy "it is and it isn't" and the promise of "a few cool surprises" -- but was stressed in the conversation was Carol Danvers' relationship with her own history in the movie. At the start she will have a very clear idea of who she is and what she stands for, but what the narrative ultimately sets out to do is show her that what she thinks she knows is basically all surface level. Said Schwartz,

A lot of the movie is about Carol not remembering her human past. When we meet her at the beginning of the movie, she believes that she is a Kree, and kind of has been inducted into their army, she's proud as a person, she loves being a Kree. And then over the course of her adventure, realized there's more to her story than that. So the movie kind of becomes her unravelling the root of her own origin, the root of her own mystery.

This kind of journey of self-discovery is really a staple of the superhero origin story, but the way that Captain Marvel is going about it certainly stands out from what we've previously seen from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Through their stories, Tony Stark, Stephen Strange, Thor, Steve Rogers, and the Guardians of the Galaxy all found themselves expanding their worlds to access new sides of their personalities, but the story of Carol Danvers will basically be the reverse of that, being much more internally retrospective in its character work and rediscovering more than discovering.

What further adds to the palette is the fact that Carol Danvers learning about her human past doesn't just eliminate the life she has lived as a member of the Kree. It's just the opposite, as it sticks around as an important part of who she is as an individual. The halves of her have to harmonize and she has to make peace with being someone who comes from two different worlds. This was an element of Captain Marvel that co-director Anna Boden went into on set, explaining,

For [Ryan Fleck and me], I think what we love telling about this story is that as a character, as a superhero, as she becomes more and more in touch with her own humanity... Thor was a god and was always a god, but it's as she comes more and more in touch with her humanity that she becomes her most powerful.

And when you consider that Captain Marvel has been touted as one of the most powerful beings in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, you realize that coalescence is pretty damn significant. It starts with strength, flight, and photon blasts, but things very much escalate from there, and we'll just have to wait and see just what this incarnation of the beloved character can do when she is operating at full capacity.

This is a big screen journey that Marvel fans have been anticipating for years now, and the wait is almost over. Captain Marvel, which stars Ben Mendelsohn, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan, Annette Bening, Clark Gregg, and Jude Law in addition to Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson, is just a few months from release, set to arrive in a theater near you on March 8th. Given that it's unquestionably one of the 2019 features we're most excited for, you can be sure that there will be plenty more coverage coming your way here on CinemaBlend -- including more from my set visit and peek behind the scenes!

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.