In 2017, Wonder Woman was released, setting superhero film franchises down a new path of female led films (on screen and off). If not for the chill inducing "No Man's Land" scene beautifully rendered by Patty Jenkins, we might not be seeing a Captain Marvel film - and definitely not one beating out original male-led Marvel films at the box office.
But apart from the female leads, these two films are worlds apart.
Wonder Woman had everything to prove. "No Man's Land" was a remarkable portrayal of a woman entering the battlefield, going where men wouldn't, and proving that she belonged there. Thanks to that, Captain Marvel could simply exist. Where Wonder Woman was all about proving that women can and should be in the spotlight, Captain Marvel just placed one there. Carol "Vers" Danvers (or Carol "Avenger" Danvers) started off a hero. Yes, she had lost the memory of how she got her powers, but with intense Kree training, she begins the film as a capable Noble Warrior Hero. She doesn't owe you a smile, she doesn't need to prove her power. She simply is.
Perhaps my favorite undertone is her emotions. Jude Law's Yon-Rogg is constantly telling her to battle her emotions, to suppress them, to use her brain and not her heart - a sentiment most women have likely felt in their lives, since we're constantly "too emotional." But what Captain Marvel (and Brie Larson's impeccable and sassy performance) proves is that emotions don't get in the way, they rather make us who we are. Carol lets her emotions literally sway her position in the Kree-Skrull War. And it is for the better. The emotions that might be considered weakness by the world (read: the patriarchy) are actually her greatest asset. For she is willing to see the humanity in others, while also having the grit to get back up after every fall. (Fitting that the falls all happen at the hands of, or in front of males. That's symbolism for you.)
Captain Marvel is an action packed, 90s nostalgia treat. It's not the most powerful film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (hard for anything to top Black Panther), but it certainly makes a cosmic explosion that will launch the MCU into the next decade.
Amazing what can happen when you let women be in charge.