‘Captain Marvel’: A Lesson in Screenplay Structure

* Spoilers ahead! Precede with caution!

Captain Marvel is without a doubt one of Marvel’s most ambitious and original scripts to date. I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t sure what to expect of the film, and the confusing jumble of images presented by the trailers did nothing to point me in any direction. After seeing the movie, this seems completely intentional, as if it was more rewarding for viewers to go in without any preconceptions about the plot. I don’t normally like trailers that keep that many secrets (ahem, Stranger Things), but with the unusual structure of Captain Marvel, maybe that really was the best way to do it.

So what exactly does Captain Marvel do that makes it so different? Let’s dive in and find out!

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Brie Larson as Captain Marvel. Source: Marvel Entertainment.

From the trailers, we could see that the film took place in Los Angeles in the 90s. This is only partially true though, because the movie is actually split into 3 sub-timelines, each marked by our heroine’s name & identity: Carol Danvers (America, 1980s), Vers (Hala, 6 earth years), Captain Marvel (1995 forward). These three identities become the core structure of the film, which roots the whole script in discovering who Captain Marvel really is. This creates excellent dramatic tension, because with each new identity there comes a new antagonist, and often that antagonist comes from Marvel having been told that they were an enemy. At no point does Marvel revert to any of her older selves, even after she learns the truth, because the fact is that she doesn’t fully identify with the lost or manipulated parts of her. When she gains full possession of her powers, she also gains control of who she will be, free to make her own judgments about who she should trust.

The issue of trust provides the film’s many plot twists, and each is done with increasing skill as the story weaves together the lost pieces of Marvel’s life. The discovery that the Skrull, with whom Vers & the Kree army had been fighting in a deadly war, were actually being forced out of their homes by the Kree, and that the initial antagonist Talos was searching for a way to end the war prompted Marvel’s separation from her “home”. This twist was a smart move by Marvel Entertainment, who have been criticized for their many forgettable villains. At first, Talos seemed to fit easily into this category, but the script used their own trope to create something new.

The second reveal, which turns Yon-Rogg from friend to enemy, flips another Marvel Cinematic Universe trope on its head — the blind following of a superior, without a clear understanding of their motives. The audience falls for this trap as much as the heroes. Captain Marvel is the not the first MCU film to suggest that the systems in power deserve to be questioned (Captain America: The Winter Solider handles this theme very nicely), but it is the first to provide an actual character for that critical consideration.

But even more than that, more than all the twists in the film, is the way that the script has you questioning your own Marvel knowledge. While there are definetely super-fans out there with an encyclopedic knowledge of all the mentioned alien races & their political affiliations, the majority of viewers likely have only a semblance of recognition at the word “Kree,” and perhaps could jog their memory enough to say “Wait, aren’t the Kree bad guys?” But by the time they could think about it, they are being told that the Kree are the good guys and they’re fighting the bad guys — the Skrull. This little gamble the screenwriters took pays off impressively in the film, when the audience realizes the Kree are in fact the bad guys (when we see Yon-Rogg speaking with Ronan the Accuser, who we know is a bad guy), and their knowledge of the MCU is reaffirmed.

Dropping easter eggs for the audience is always fun, but what sets this film apart is its ability to weave those easter eggs into the film as actual plot points that hold actual weight. The result is a film that’s exciting, unpredictable, and rewarding for audiences — especially those that have been on the journey every step of the way.

Tell Us: What did you think of Captain Marvel? Was it better or worse than you expected?

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Author: JaimeeRindy

I love good entertainment. I hope to make it someday!

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