Captain Marvel: The Importance of a Good BackstoryMay 20, 2020
Captain Marvel is, for all intents and purposes, another MCU success story. It raked in big bucks at the box office and critics raved about its story, setting, and characters.
Audience reviews were a bit more…mixed.
That is unsurprising, given the amount of controversy that enveloped the film before it was even released. Review bombing based on nothing but prejudice is a possible reason that the audience reviews weren’t glowing in the majority.
There is another aspect about Captain Marvel that also wasn’t well-received…the mystery that was the titular character’s past was also reviewed quite poorly.
The Mystery of Carol Danvers
Vers, as the Kree call her, is haunted by a past that she cannot understand because it has been taken from her. It always lurks in her subconscious but when she comes to Earth, it comes out in full force. As she searches for answers to the mystery surrounding her, Carol becomes the warrior she always knew she could be.
All that is technically covered in the movie, but it doesn’t inform her character.
Despite the fact that she is haunted by things she cannot understand or remember, Carol does absolutely nothing to look into her past during her time on Hala. It obviously bothers but the movie chooses to ignore in favor of moving forward with the main plot.
Her history, or lack thereof, does nothing for her character.
Vers is told to forget the past and move on into the future but it is also established that she has a rebellious streak and will pursue what she thinks is right, no matter what her superior officers think or order her to do. And, given the advanced technology the Kree have at their disposal, some investigation could have at least been attempted.
And, when the mystery is uncovered, it wasn’t worth the wait.
Carol Danvers fought prejudice every day of her life as she grew up. It’s as straightforward, strait-laced and predictable as stories go. Her history isn’t checkered or questionable, there is no doubt that she has always been the heroic protagonist.
Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow) does have moments of villainy in her back story but she is a compelling character because of her redemption and how the red in her ledger pushes her to be better than who she used to be.
Captain Marvel doesn’t have an intriguing history to uncover and its uncovering is woefully mishandled.
It is unfortunate because such stories are great when done properly…and Marvel already did a similar story and did it properly.
The Mystery of Daisy Johnson
During the first season of a little-known show called Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, we are introduced to a character called Skye.
Skye also has a past that is mysterious and she wishes to uncover it every day. To that end, Skye becomes a hacker, invested in uncovering and exposing all kinds of secrets.
Skye’s desire to discover her past motivates her dislike of secret government organizations like S.H.I.E.L.D and she goes as far as joining a hacktivist group that is manipulated by the villains of the story.
Skye initially joins S.H.I.E.L.D to use their resources to learn more about her past and, when she is exposed, must work to regain the trust she lost.
Her history, or lack thereof, informs her character.
Then, Skye finds her father, a gruesome killer and amazing doctor rolled up into one man.
She unlocks her latent Inhuman abilities in a powerful but sorrowful scene and struggles to come to terms with those powers and the guilt she feels with her discovery.
The story of how Skye becomes Daisy Johnson (Quake) is compelling and intriguing as it makes you wonder if this mysterious girl could become a powerful ally or a menacing villain.
And that was how Captain Marvel needed to tell the story of Carol Danvers.
When you shroud your main character in mystery, the plot must treat that shroud carefully and not just rip it off with all the subtlety of a rhino in a china shop. But the mystery must also be worth that kind of reverence or it isn’t worth the audience’s time and money.
Captain Marvel is an ok movie but a properly handled backstory could have been the difference between ok and great.