Captain Marvel, like all superhero origins, is at its core an empowerment story. The arc of any superhero character starts off with them as a normal human, who then gains fantastical powers and ultimately learns to accept responsibility for those powers and to use them for the betterment of others. It doesn’t get more literal than that.
But rather than tell this story in a normal chronological fashion, Captain Marvel writers/directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck have chosen to drop us into halfway through that arc, giving us a lead in the character of Carol Danvers who already has her powers, but who has been brainwashed into believing she is someone other than who she is. As she investigates that mystery and slowly learns her true, terrestrial origins, the story travels both halves of that standard superhero story arc somewhat simultaneously – We see how Carol received her powers as well as face the choices of what to do with these powers, especially in the light of the deceptions employed on her when she received those powers.
Inverting this order was a trick that Sam Hamm’s screenplay for Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman managed to pull off rather slickly. But here, it doesn’t quite work as well, with Boden and Fleck not creating much of a compelling mystery in “Who is this woman really?” To be fair, Larson does much to get the audience engaged with her character. However at the beginning of the film, the script calls for her to be aloof and it is not until later in the movie once she has discovered her true identity that we can really start to connect with her.
Thanks to the weight of expectations that the film comes with, I was disappointed to find that Captain Marvel is merely an adequate superhero film, not the game-changer it should have been. The film’s screenplay structural issues and by holding back the mystery of who Carol really is for so long it is hard to emotionally bond with her and her journey. Much in the same way that Black Panther was a key stepping stone to Avengers: Infinity War, Captain Marvel should be to Avengers: Endgame. Unfortunately it feels more like a rare Marvel Studios stumble.