March 12, 2019

A Screenwriting Twist: Which Key 'Captain Marvel' Character was Originally A Man?

Casting and character creation go hand in hand. But what happens when you want to change a character's gender at the last minute? 

Beware - the following column contains spoilers for Captain Marvel!

Keep Reading about Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel was successful at the box office this weekend, scoring with critics and audiences alike. It was a tour-de-force in America and abroad. While this should put the "will women show up at the box office?" debate to rest, check out the numbers in the tweet below for proof. 

While many are cheering the feminist and Bechdel-passing story that hit the screen, a lot of work went on behind the scenes to make sure the best version of the story hit theaters. That involved making some key changes to a character, including switching the sex from male to female. Let's dig into how and why these changes happened, and how they affected the story. 

Mar-Vell-ous casting

One of the big twists in Captain Marvel is that we learn Annette Bening's character is a Kree working to help set the Krulls free via a lightspeed engine. Her name is Mar-Vell, and she is a member of the original cast and character from Stan Lee. The key difference: Comic book Mar-Vell is a male while movie Mar-Vell is female. According to directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the gender swap happened “very late” into development.

“That was one of the epiphanies in the writing that came fairly late in the process,” Boden told Entertainment Weekly, "too late in the process for comfort, to be perfectly honest!”

Let's dig deeper into this switch! 

Captain Marvel's Character Switch

Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige said the gender swap occurred so late that the film’s casting team had already begun looking at male actors for the role. “No one specific,” Feige said, “but we’d started looking at lists. And we were struggling with it, frankly.” That's a crazy bombshell, especially since the character works so well within the story. We get to see why Carol Danvers appreciates Wendy Lawson (also Mar-Vell) as her mentor, and how her work goes underappreciated by the men in the military. 

She is probably the reason Danvers is imbued with the Kree skills, as we know the explosion that sent her into space made her visible to Jude Law's character and was ultimately the reason she saved him. 

It seemed like a natural choice to make the Supreme Intelligence appear as Mar-Vell to Danvers. This was a great way to combine characters and make the script tighter. 

The directors expanded on this choice: “Pretty late in the process of writing it, I think I just woke up one morning, and I had dreamt it or something,” Boden said of making Lawson/Mar-Vell and Supreme Intelligence the same. “I texted Ryan, and I was like, ‘Am I crazy that these could both be the same actor?’ And he was like, ‘Yes, you are crazy, and yes, you should talk to Marvel about it immediately.’ So it was a late-breaking idea, but something that I think helped pull those elements together in a way that it would’ve been hard to otherwise.”

As we like to say, all writing is rewriting, and this choice not only combined characters, but most likely cut pages, confusion, and ultimately, the budget. And it looks like Kevin Feige was impressed. Speaking to The Wrap, Feige said “It was really about the development of this story, and about how best to showcase Carol Danvers’ growth, and development as a hero, and the notion that she had a female best friend and a female mentor seemed important to us, and was something that was an idea that Anna had as the script is as she and Ryan were doing their pass at their script, and it all sort of fell together, particularly then with Annette Bening being able to play both of those spoilery parts.”

Sounds like he will want Boden and Fleck for the sequel. They were also determined to get Bening because “she’s got the great mentor quality, but she can also be really tough. She can be regal, which was perfect for the Supreme Intelligence, and she can also just be casual and cool and laidback, which was necessary for Lawson.”

What's next? Unusual Screenwriting Tips

 Think swapping the gender of a character is wild? We have eight more unusual tips to get you in the writing mood. Use our Story Map to help you track your characters over time.  

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Captain Marvel is now playing in theaters nationwide.     

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