Warning: major Captain Marvel spoilers are ahead.
Marvel’s first female-lead superhero film Captain Marvel is already, by design, a wonderfully feminist movie. Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers is strong, both mentally and physically, and knows her worth in a way that’s making audiences cheer out loud in theaters. Thanos should be shaking in his Infinity Gauntlet-wearing boots! But when you compare the Captain Marvel movie, out now, with the Marvel comics upon which it’s based, all the changes made from the source material make it even more feminist — and that’s something to really celebrate. After over 10 years and 20 movies starring male superheroes, it’s about time!
But what exactly are those changes, and how does it affect the MCU mythology? Obviously one movie can’t fit all the many, many decades of comic books into one succinct story, but what the film does include is basically all the best parts cobbled together with some new, modern updates. Below, check out all the ways that Marvel has evolved the Captain Marvel canon when adapting the comics for its big screen debut.
Captain Marvel Vs. Ms. Marvel
Throughout the entire two hours and five minutes of Captain Marvel, nobody ever once calls Brie Larson’s titular character Carol Danvers by her superhero name “Captain Marvel.” In the beginning of the movie, when she doesn’t remember her human life, she simply goes by “Vers” with her fellow Kree Starforce team members, since that’s the only part of her scorched Air Force dog tag that her mentor/kidnapper, Jude Law’s Yon-Rogg, can read after the accident that gave her superhuman powers. When she finally discovers her human past, she reclaims her birth name Carol Danvers. But she never officially assumes the moniker Captain Marvel, not even in the mid-credits scene when she shows up at the Avengers compound post-Avengers: Infinity War. Obviously, because of the title of the movie, we know that Carol’s superhero name is (or at least, is going to be) Captain Marvel. But in the comics, she actually started off with a different name.
When Carol Danvers first appeared in the comics, in 1968’s Marvel Super-Heroes #13, she very much had a similar origin story to that of Captain Marvel’s film arc. She was an officer in the Air Force with no superpowers to speak of. But after she was caught in an explosion with the Kree superhero Captain Marvel (yes there was another one, and he was a dude, more on that in a bit), she re-appeared in the comics with her own series in 1977’s Ms. Marvel #1, complete with superpowers of her own (the explosion had merged her DNA with Captain Marvel’s, giving her alien abilities). She was known as Ms. Marvel for 35 years, working with The Avengers and generally being all kinds of awesome. But in 2012, she finally took on the mantle of Captain Marvel to honor the late, original Captain Marvel (again, more on that in a second).
Obviously in the movie, Carol Danvers is never called Captain Marvel or Ms. Marvel, but the title alone tells us that the MCU is sticking with the more powerful, intimidating, militaristic and leadership-oriented name as Captain Marvel is going to be the secret weapon the Avengers need to defeat Thanos in the upcoming Phase 3 conclusion Avengers: Endgame. And she’s not being called that to honor any man -- she’s actually doing it to raise up another female hero.
The Mar-Vell Gender-Swap
About that original Captain Marvel… the Captain Marvel movie actually does a great job of sticking to the story of the original Captain Marvel, aka Mar-Vell, from the comics. But there’s one massive twist: the MCU has gender swapped Mar-Vell, changing the Kree military officer from a man to a woman. Played by Annette Bening, Mar-Vell is a scientist who defected from the Kree during the Kree-Skrull War when she discovered the shameful secret: that the enemy Skrulls are actually a peaceful people who lost their home planet and are refugees searching for a new home, all because they don’t want to follow the militaristic and tyrannical Kree rule.
Mar-Vell hides for years on Earth under the alias Dr. Wendy Lawson (in the comics, his human name was Walter Lawson), and that’s how Carol and her BFF Maria Rambeau meet her: she is their superior in the Air Force at Pegasus, a joint NASA and USAF project. Carol and Maria believe in Lawson and her morals and vision so strongly that even when it means putting their lives on the line for a mysterious mission they know nothing about, they don’t ask any questions. Even after her death, Lawson/Mar-Vell is Carol’s hero, someone she is willing to die to protect and follow.
But the way in which Carol becomes a superhero is a little different in the movie than in the comics. Instead of having her DNA fused with Mar-Vell’s in an explosion, Carol destroys a Tesseract-enhanced Light Speed Engine, a unique energy core that had the power to end the war and help the Skrulls find a new home planet. In that explosion, Carol’s body absorbs the energy, giving her powers. She all human in the film, unlike in the comics where she’s half-human, half-Kree. In the MCU, she’s a human with Tesseract/Infinity Stone-given powers with the Kree blood of Yon-Rogg running through her veins after a transfusion. What this means for her eventual fight against the Infinity Stone-wielding Thanos is anyone’s guess. It’s either really good news, or really bad if Thanos’ Infinity Gauntlet could negate Carol’s powers. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Gender-swapping Mar-Vell from a man to a woman is just another instance of making Captain Marvel even more feminist, as Carol’s hero and reason for becoming a superhero is a strong, smart, inspiring woman who went against her own people to do what’s right for the universe, even though it cost her her life. We stan Mar-Vell in a whole new way thanks to Captain Marvel.
The Rambeau Legacy
Another way that Captain Marvel tells empowering stories about women is by making Carol Danvers’ main, emotional relationship not a romantic one with a man but rather a close friendship with a woman. Maria Rambeau (played by the fierce Lashana Lynch) is the closest thing to family Carol had on Earth. She provides the connection to Carol’s human past. But she’s not just some sappy side plot intended to tug on your heartstrings: she’s a badass warrior in her own right. Back when the Air Force didn’t allow women to fly, she volunteered to test Lawson’s planes to do what she loved. She doesn’t let sexist rules keep her on the ground. And she does it all while raising a daughter on her own! Maria didn’t have that much of story in the comics aside from being Monica’s mother, but the movie expands on her life and inspiring career by making her a hero in a much more relatable way.
However, the legacy of the Rambeau name is even more important than casual moviegoers may know. It’s Maria’s daughter Monica that has the bigger comic book history, as she’s destined to grow up and become Captain Marvel herself. In fact, Monica Rambeau in the comics was actually the second person to take the Captain Marvel moniker, where Carol Danvers was the seventh. And her origin story was almost identical to the Captain Marvel movie: when she was a lieutenant in the New Orleans harbor patrol, she tried to prevent a dangerous weapon from being created and was exposed to “extra-dimensional energy” which gave her the power to be able convert her body to energy. The public named her Captain Marvel and she became the Avengers’ first Black female superhero before going on to eventually act as their leader. After some time, she retired the name Captain Marvel out of respect for Mar-Vell’s legacy and adopted the names Photon, Pulsar, and Spectrum.
In the movie, Monica is just a normal 11-year-old girl, but it’s clear that her future in the MCU is extremely bright if Larson ever decides to retire and hand off the Captain Marvel moniker to a successor.
The Kree-Skrull War
A huge change that the Captain Marvel movie made from the comics is the central conflict between the Kree and the Skrulls. In the source material, the Kree-Skrull War is a lot more complicated, with no clear heroes or villains on either side. Both races are rapacious and brutal, making evil choices for the good of their own people. The war spans for thousands of years and there’s really no clear winner or side for which we should root. But the Captain Marvel movie takes some big liberties with this popular comic book mythology and gives us a clear picture of which side is good and which is evil.
The movie’s big twist comes about halfway through when Carol learns from the leader of the Skrulls, Talos (played with wry, punk rock glee by Ben Mendelsohn), that they’re not the villainous monsters the Kree has made them out to be. They’re actually a peaceful race of shapeshifters who have become refugees hunted by the Kree, simply because they won’t submit to Kree rule. The Kree previously destroyed their home planet and propagated lies about them ever since, making the war seem more equal and reasonable.
Carol ends up siding with Talos, helping him reunite with his family and other surviving Skrulls hiding on Mar-Vell’s hidden ship. After she defeats the Kree Starforce and scares Ronan (returning MCU favorite Lee Pace) and his Accusers away from Earth, the Skrulls are able to use Mar-Vell’s Tesseract-enhanced Light Speed Engine to fly away in search of the thousands of other Skrulls in hiding, scattered around the galaxy, as well as a new home planet with Captain Marvel by their side. This bait-and-switch turned the faceless war from the comics into a more empathetic story with real, emotional stakes, a smart and thoughtful move on Marvel’s part. Plus, it gives us a clear path for what a potential sequel could be about! That’s called investing in the future.
Flerken Name Change
Now this change from the comics for the movie is a little superficial, but we’d be remiss not to mention the ultimate scene-stealer Goose’s comic book origins. The adorable orange tabby cat is the reason why hundreds of thousands of moviegoers stayed in their seats long after the movie ended to watch him cough up a Tesseract and a hairball on Nick Fury’s (played by a remarkably de-aged Samuel L. Jackson) S.H.I.E.L.D. desk in the post credits scene. That’s seriously impressive!
And the character of Goose is pretty much ripped straight from the comics, albeit with one little change. He’s still a Flerken, a fictional alien creature that resembles an ordinary house cat in appearance and behavior, with only a few minor (and yet totally major) differences. He has a “myriad” of tentacles that can extend from his mouth, which allows him to take out and eat a bunch of Kree soldiers as well as swallow the Tesseract whole. He can lay eggs. His scratch is dangerous (as evidenced by Fury’s need for an eyepatch). And his weakness is getting muzzled — he’s totally helpless when his mouth is covered.
But in the comics, Captain Marvel’s pet cat/Flerken in disguise is named Chewie, not Goose. It’s a little change, but one that helped Captain Marvel keep some mystery around the cute cat featured in all the marketing in the months leading up to the movie. Some fans didn’t know Goose’s real identity before watching the film, making his tentacle scene all the more surprising -- and hilarious. And in the comics, Flerkens have even more powers that Captain Marvel didn’t dive into (like possessing “pocket realities,” which are bubbles of space and time that exist in other worlds, allowing Flerkens to store *entire universes* in their mouths and travel interdimensionally). Maybe that means we’ll get to see more of Goose in Avengers: Endgame, where he can really stretch his paws and show off his abilities.