The Marvels Finally Did Right By Carol Danvers

2023 has now come to a close, capping off a year of highs and lows across the world of pop culture. Marvel StudiosThe Marvels, November’s sequel to 2019’s Captain Marvel, was thrown into that conversation in some surprising ways, after an underwhelming box office performance that even Disney quickly tried to distance itself from. While there was no shortage of negative discourse around The Marvels, there were some elements of the film that were worth celebrating — particularly, the way it meaningfully fleshed out Carol Danvers / Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) as a character.

Carol’s introduction into the MCU, at the very tail end of the franchise’s massive Infinity Saga, was definitely something distinct. In order to explain away why she hadn’t previously bumped elbows with the Avengers or stopped any modern-day supervillain threats, Marvel Studios set her Captain Marvel solo movie in the 1990s, arguing that she had spent the decades after its events traversing the cosmos to find a new home world for the Skrulls. As a result, Captain Marvel and her return to present-day Earth in Avengers: Endgame provided two snapshots of who Carol is — but didn’t go far beyond the surface.

Captain Marvel, in and of itself, was built around the narrative of Carol re-learning her own identity that the Kree Starforce had brainwashed out of her, but only dipped in and out of those revelations when the plot needed. When we learned via flashback sequences that Carol has been a tenacious person since childhood, or the bond she shared with Maria and Monica Rambeau, or the inciting incident that led to her getting superpowers, it didn’t help paint a complex picture of who she is — in part because she doesn’t know who she is, either. Endgame, meanwhile, only gave her three-and-a-half minutes of total screen time, in which she only had space to briefly react to the cacophony of heroes and villains around her. It didn’t help that, due to Marvel Studios’ production schedules, Carol’s Endgame scenes were written and filmed before Captain Marvel, preventing any sort of meaningful development or synergy between the two storylines. (The fact that we didn’t even get a connection between Carol’s “Avenger” call sign and the team it inspired feels particularly egregious, in hindsight.)

Sure, Marvel readers — especially the “Carol Corps” fandom surrounding the Captain Marvel relaunch — are well aware of how interesting Carol is as a character. But too much time was spent telling us that the Carol we met in Captain Marvel and Endgame is compelling, instead of showing it to us. Her only appearance in the first season of the What If…? animated series placed her in a similar role, only existing on the orbit of Party Thor’s story. Even 2022’s Ms. Marvel Disney+ series, which hinges on Kamala Khan / Ms. Marvel’s (Iman Vellani) personal fandom towards Carol, basically stuck to the same platitudes about her. That’s what made the prospect of The Marvels — really, the first MCU project that could approach Carol as a character first, instead of just a fixture in a larger plot — so full of potential. And luckily, the film reached that potential and, in some ways, skyrocketed past it.

The Carol Danvers we meet in The Marvels, who gets thrown into a bizarre power-switching plot with Kamala and a now-adult Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), could not be more different from the snappy stoicism she displayed just a few years before in Endgame. Yes, Carol still has piles of emotional baggage to deal with, particularly regarding her unintentional role in the planet Hala being thrown into a decades-long Dark Age. Yes, she is continuing to unpack the memories that the Kree previously stole from her, with the help of a Skrull mind-reading device. But at no point in The Marvels does Carol collapse under that narrative weight — if anything, it helps further illuminate the complex woman she has become. She has lived a life through her decades among the stars, helping various planets and even agreeing to a marriage of convenience because she recognized it was the right thing to do. Just as quickly as she is able to make tough decisions on the battlefield, she is able to offer a heartfelt and understanding apology to a teammate she slighted. Across The Marvels, we’re able to actually see the natural leader that Carol is, when left to her own devices.

And beyond that, The Marvels allows Carol to just exist, as someone who isn’t afraid to laugh, cry, make friends, and sass her way out of an argument. The technical elements of the film helped hammer that point home beautifully, filling her spaceship with artifacts of a cozy-but-busy life like thriving plants, dirty dishes, a fancy coffee maker, and random half-filled cups and water bottles. Carol’s street style helped that point as well, dressing her in unabashedly comfortable elements like Crocs and basketball shorts and tank tops.

As Kamala openly acknowledges in the text of The Marvels, her adoration towards Carol prevented her from seeing her as “a real person” — something that, in a way, the MCU itself had been guilty of as well. When establishing Carol Danvers as a character, the franchise became more concerned with the fanfare around debuting their first headlining female superhero, and the brief role she would need to play in their grand finale, that her larger character development took a backseat. Luckily, The Marvels helped illustrate why Carol Danvers is such a magnetic part of the superhero landscape — here’s hoping her future MCU appearances keep the ball rolling.