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SYFY WIRE Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel's new origin story could be even more feminist than the original

By S.E. Fleenor

Captain Marvel is headed to the big screen this spring and if the trailers and interviews we’ve seen so far are any indication, she’s getting a brand new origin story.

“Your life began the day it nearly ended,” narrates Annette Bening’s unnamed Kree-aligned character in the second trailer. “We found you with no memory. We made you one of us, so you could live longer, stronger, superior. You were reborn.”

The idea that the Kree found and willfully changed Carol Danvers’ DNA to turn her into Captain Marvel is wholly original to the film adaptation and takes the character in interesting new directions that could be even more feminist than her comic book origin story.

In the comic books, beginning with Marvel Super-Heroes #13, Danvers starts out as an officer in the U.S. Air Force and security chief of a military base. When a Kree war machine called the Psyche Magnitron explodes, it threatens to kill Danvers and her companion Mar-Vell, who just so happens to be an undercover Kree spy sympathetic to humans. Mar-Vell protects Danvers, but in the process, her DNA is combined with his and she receives superpowers. Having always been a protector of others with a strong sense of what’s right, Danvers takes on the codename Ms. Marvel. Mar-Vell, aka Captain Marvel, was the one who wore the pips in the relationship at that time.

Like many female comic book heroes based on male characters, Danvers picked up a lot of Mar-Vell's attributes and powers — even her costume is inspired by his uniform. Making her derivative of Mar-Vell is a sadly common comic book trope that minimizes Danvers’ own unique personality, skills, and substantive training and by proxy suggests that women are derivative of men. Before taking on the Captain mantle after Mar-Vell’s death, Danvers, as Ms. Marvel, struggles with how to be a hero on her own.

While many of the issues with Danvers’ origin story certainly rest in the hands of early creators, it’s important to note that choosing the title “Ms.” and showing Danvers fight for equal pay were purposefully feminist decisions. That’s not to say that things stayed that way. In the 80s, a very messed up storyline put Danvers in the situation of being kidnapped, raped, and forced to give birth to another version of her assailant — just one of many problematic storylines that took place in early portrayals of Danvers — so let’s just say our hero’s origin story has been rocky and often filled with anti-feminist storylines. When Kelly Sue DeConnick took over writing Danvers, she not only helmed the shift from Ms. to Captain Marvel, but also retconned Danvers into the feminist hero she was always meant to be.

In the film, her origin story seems to be significantly altered. Danvers (Brie Larson) is found alone and injured, turned into a Kree warrior (at least partially), and then added to Starfire, an elite Kree fighting team akin to SEAL Team Six. She still has a mentor/mentee relationship with Mar-Vell (Jude Law), but he is no longer her alpha and omega. We’ll see if the romantic aspects of their relationship are preserved, but I for one hope they aren't, given the age difference between Larson and Law and our culture’s creepy fascination with older men dating much younger women.

Another compelling aspect of the film, which also takes place in many of the later comics, will be the focus on female friendships. We’ll see Danvers partner up with another badass pilot, Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), and lethal Kree warrior Minn-Erva (Gemma Chan). (In the comics, Minn-Erva is a villain, but in Captain Marvel, she fights on the Starfire team alongside Danvers.)

In the trailers, Danvers seems not to know the entirety of her own origin herself, but when she meets up with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), he helps her investigate her history. Fury finds himself tangled up in Danvers’ self-discovery, according to our on-set interview with Jackson. “During the course of interacting with her, they do become compatriots. They have a shared sense of humor. He's open to the difference in what she may be and what she may not be. And he's definitely willing to help her explore what she needs to find out to find out who she is and what and how she came to be.”

Larson also spoke with FANGRRLS about playing Danvers and how it has impacted her as an artist, “How I learned more about her and became her and embodied her was through […] discovering my own strength.” Larson continued, “She doesn't have an unrealistic expectation of herself, she just owns that she's really good and really skilled, which feels good to play.”

The trailers and interviews have provided, in a sense, a distillation of Danvers’ long history in the comics into a more cohesive origin story where the feminist threads that were always present in the comics and the punched up feminist elements of DeConnick’s run are integrated. Captain Marvel doesn’t have to become a feminist icon — she already is one.

So, what we have in Captain Marvel is a hero who is created by the Kree, fights alongside the Kree, finds herself on Earth (in a Blockbuster store, no less), discovers she had a life here and sets out to end the fighting between the Kree and the Skrulls, in the process rediscovering herself. Danvers is a powerhouse of a human being turned into an elite warrior who has been shaped by her friends and allies, but determines who she will be out of sheer force of will. Comparing that to the comic book origin story of accidental powers bestowed by a love interest makes the feminist overtones in the film all the more apparent.

In the first trailer, there is an already iconic moment that shows Danvers falling at different intervals throughout her life. Each time she takes a not-insignificant fall and each time, she rises again, more determined than before. What that sequence seems to imply is that it doesn’t matter how Danvers got here, how she got knocked down, but that she’s in control now and that even those who formed her cannot contain her. Damn. Talk about powerful.

The comparison of the two origin stories isn’t just interesting; it’s also a compelling example of how to make a feminist adaptation of a comic book in general. And, with the full head of steam of the new phase of the MCU, a new horizon for the DCEU, and even HBO getting in on some Watchmen goodness, it’s safe to say we’re going to have superhero adaptations for a good long while. We have to ask ourselves hard questions about these adaptations including: How can we preserve the integrity of our stories, but do away with the often deep-seated misogynist undertones?

Hopefully, films like Captain Marvel (and we can’t forget Wonder Woman) will be viewed as a blueprint for future adaptations. It’s exciting to imagine a time when we won’t be able to count on one hand the number of feminist superhero films.

Of course, we’ll have to see how true these musings are when the film appears, but for now, it seems that we’re getting a feminist take on Captain Marvel’s origin that builds on the comics but doesn’t feel hobbled by them.