Captain Marvel marks a departure from Marvel Studios' traditional origin story formula, and it's the movie's biggest weakness. Marvel has built a well-oiled machine with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, establishing what many people refer to as the "Marvel Formula" to tell and retell successful stories for numerous character. Unfortunately, Captain Marvel tries to break new ground from its predecessors, and while it succeeds in making it stand out as a different movie amongst the franchises 20 other movies, Captain Marvel suffers severely in quality for it.
The movie is undoubtedly a success, marking one of the all-time greatest opening weekend weekends at the box office and garnering mostly positive reviews, but a number of detractors also knocked the movie for being underdeveloped and little more than a commercial for Avengers: Endgame.
These criticisms can't take away from Captain Marvel's great success, but the underwhelmed reviews were enough to only rank Captain Marvel 14th (out of 21 MCU films) on Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer and 15th on Metacritic, although the box office has been beyond great and it scored an A on the Cinemascore audience survey.
- This Page: How Captain Marvel Broke the Marvel Formula
- Page 2: What Captain Marvel Should Have Done
What Is The Marvel Formula?
Over 10 years and 21 films, a number of consistencies have started to show in the filmmaking of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While many of these similarities are intentional to keep the look and feel of the universe cohesive, many people have also started to point to a "Marvel formula," and it's often used to criticize the movies for showing a cookie cutter development and production process
Although, there are many different definitions for what the "Marvel formula" even is. Some people cite it as a positive aspect, complimenting the formula for helping movies like Ant-Man see box office success when others point to it as a flaw, either in a bland sameness in the movies' look and feel, or story and tonal similarities.
In the case of examining the use (or deviation from) the Marvel formula, we're going to look at Captain Marvel's approach to an origin story and how it compares to the origin story formula used in the other origin movies. With Iron Man setting the standard and Thor, Captain America, Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, and Black Panther all following with a similar formula, Marvel Studios has the benefit of a lot of practice getting character origins right.
How Captain Marvel Broke Marvel's Origin Story Formula
On its surface, Captain Marvel has a lot of similarities to Marvel's other origin stories, most notably Captain America: The First Avenger, but it makes significant deviations in its non-linear structure and it also should have been 2 separate movies.
In Captain America: The First Avenger, we are introduced to Steve Rogers as a sickly, scrawny kid from Brooklyn who won't stop trying to join the Army and can't stay down when he takes a punch. His motivations are established and his character is developed, so when Dr. Erskine tells him they want him for his heart, not his body, the audience knows exactly what that means. We'd seen him declare that he doesn't like bullies and take a beating, saying "I can do this all day" - a mantra that future movies would harken to for an emotional payoff.
After Steve becomes the super soldier Captain America, we see him face a whole new set of obstacles, sacrificing himself to defeat Red Skull and save the world. This backstory would become one of the most essential in the MCU after he's thawed from the ice decades later and he becomes the leader and moral compass of The Avengers.
Captain Marvel's backstory isn't all that dissimilar from Steve Rogers'. She faced many obstacles on her path to the US Air Force, many of which are a result of her gender, which also keeps her from flying combat once she actually makes it in. She then gains powers and also gets taken out of her time, although instead of being frozen in ice like Captain America, she loses her memory and is kidnapped and taken off-planet.
The problem is, we don't actually see any of this developed in the movie. It's certainly explained through exposition and shown in pieces from flashback montages, but other than just explaining the basic fact that she overcame obstacles, we don't really know what that means other than a few snippets such as the sexist taunting of "you know why they call it a cockpit?" which appears to be the closest thing she has to Captain America's "I can do this all day."
Because Captain Marvel deviated from Marvel Studios' normal origins story formula and put all the normal origins development into brief vague flashbacks, we're left with very little familiarity of who she even is - which is normally the biggest strength of Marvel's characters - a product of the formula. She starts the movie essentially as a different character, Vers, who has no memories and is encouraged to not show emotion (which she mostly complies with).
When it comes time for her to finally discover who Carol Danvers truly is, it's all simply explained by Maria Rambeau. With none of the setup of the normal origins arc, this reveal likewise has none of the payoff seen at this point in a character's arc, which usually occurs in the second movie like when we see Tony Stark overcoming his demons in Iron Man 2 or Steve Rogers facing his past in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Page 2 of 2: What Captain Marvel Should Have Done
- The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 05, 2019