Captain Marvel‘s Co-Editor Debbie Berman On her Favorite Scenes
In order to defeat the all-powerful Thanos, the Avengers will have to reach back in time. That doesn’t mean using the Time Stone to rewind back to before the snap, although we won’t rule that out. I’m referring to our recent trip to 90s era MCU to meet the newest and most potent Avenger.
With a decade of character development behind us, Marvel had just one movie to catch us up on all things Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) before pulling her into the fight of a lifetime. Not only that, but we dropped in on the middle of her story. We meet Carol Danvers the first time she crash-lands on Earth since becoming a Kree warrior hero and losing all memory of her human past. Captain Marvel co-editor Debbie Berman was tasked with guiding audiences to discover the truth to Carol’s former life at the same time she herself did.
“As long as people are enjoying the ride, people can forgive not understanding everything immediately as long as ultimately you answer those questions,” Berman explained. “There were a lot of things to consider.”
Caught in the middle of an intergalactic war, Carol discovers she harbors critical knowledge she didn’t even know she possessed. The first clues come in bits of manipulated memories the Skrulls extract from Carol’s brain using a Mindfrack machine. Although she considers herself a Kree, there is an immediate curiosity about her lost time on Earth in the U.S. Air Force.
“That Mindfrack sequence was a huge challenge and a very collaborative one,” Berman said. “It’s important to connect to Carol as a human being in that sequence so that you almost miss seeing her as a human being.”
A mysterious woman appears to Carol as the Kree Supreme Being, but a strange vision recalls her name – Dr. Wendy Lawson (Annette Bening). Carol begins to realize her own identity is more complicated than she ever believed. Berman and her team carefully balanced revelations with mounting mysteries and unexpected secrets.
“You have to figure out how much obscuring information can you give before the audience taps out,” Berman explained. “On top of all that, how do you tell the story that this is actually a scene about [the Skrulls] going through her mind looking for very specific information and they’re controlling this, but she’s becoming aware of it. That sequence was a toughie. There was a lot that we had to try to get right in a short space of time.”
Carol isn’t the only character who isn’t what she seems. The Skrulls’ ability to shapeshift and imitate any being they see establishes distrust early on. One of the tensest moments in the film comes when S.H.I.EL.D director Keller quietly whispers to the body of a fallen Skrull that he will avenge him. Berman admits that making the decision to reveal Keller was Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) in disguise before Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) discovered the truth wasn’t easy.
“It’s not something we normally do because you’re putting the audience ahead of the character. Now we know something Fury doesn’t know,” Berman explained. “We were concerned that would strip the moment that he figures it out in the elevator. But Ben Mendelsohn gave such a moving performance, as he speaks to his slain friend. It gave so much depth to his character and it allowed a certain tension to arise.”
After Carol arrives on Earth, Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) and her daughter Monica (Akira Akbar) become vital anchors to their friend’s past. They’ve maintained strong emotional ties to Carol since her disappearance and have the tools to help remind her of her past. Their reunion becomes an emotional tipping point in Carol’s search for the truth. Amidst some incredible action sequences, Berman was deliberate in taking a pause to fully experience their connection.
“I have always felt when she goes to Louisiana, that is the heart of the film,” Berman shared. “The actors just gave such a raw and grounded performance. Sometimes as an editor, you just have to honor that and let it play and then the magic is there.”
Berman drew out the special power of the scene by giving the audience space and time to take it all in.
“I put in those really wide shots of the two of them talking and the table and I just held it there. I held it way longer than you would normally hold that kind of shot, especially in a film of this genre,” Berman admitted. “It was one of those things where I thought they were never going to let me hang out in this wide shot this long for a movie like this, but everyone just loved it. You settle, you breathe, you watch them connect.”
It is a rare moment of rest for Carol before she continues in the race to discover who she truly is. Despite the loving intent of Monica to share her favorite memories with Carol, Berman recognized that the information would be overwhelming. Monica inundates her with pictures and stories from their time together.
“Originally that was shot in a linear fashion, so it was just played straight,” Berman revealed. “She would show her photos and say the memory and then another photo and explain the memory. When I saw all the footage, I thought there had to be a way to make this more emotionally resonant and put it in Carol’s perspective. I wanted it to almost feel overwhelming because you’re looking at memories of your life that you can’t remember that someone else is telling you about.”
Still unable to fully recall her time on Earth, Carol discovers that not only have the Kree lied about who she is, but also who they are. When she finally frees herself of all the deceit and manipulation, Carol reaches one of the most pivotal moments in her life and MCU history. Her full potential is unleashed, and it is a display that is as moving as it is powerful. Brie Larson performed the scene multiple times, but one version struck Berman immediately.
“There is a moment where she says, ‘My name is Carol’ and a single tear runs down her face. She did it in such a powerful, beautiful way that I was really drawn to those takes,” Berman said. “When the character is standing their ground and announcing their power; to see a tear is really different to anything I have experienced before.”
Berman’s decision took courage. Vulnerability and strength are often exclusive in superhero films, but Captain Marvel is unlike any superhero we’ve seen before. Her compassion is as potent as her photon blast and that moment shows why she may be the strongest force in the universe.
“It thematically ties into what the film is trying to say,” Berman explained. “You don’t have to run away from your emotions. Your emotions can, in fact, make you more powerful. I felt like that added to the complexity of the character.”
Captain Marvel’s explosive origin is just one of the surprising revelations of the film. The movie is packed with tie-ins to the MCU and other Easter Eggs. Berman revealed to us one Easter Egg that only Marvel insiders would notice.
Carol crashes down in a Blockbuster and approaches a stunned security guard to orient her to the area. That actor, Berman revealed, is none other than Marvel’s head of security, Barry Curtis.
“He’s hilarious,” Berman said. “It’s one of the funniest parts of the film. He auditioned and just nailed it. I guess he’s probably been on set for years watching these phenomenal actors and he must have picked up a thing or two. Barry was brilliant.”
Curtis wasn’t the only scene-stealer, of course. Carol’s cat, Goose, provides the most laughs. The cuddly creature is actually a Flerken who has surprising ways to defend itself when necessary. Berman takes Marvel’s spoiler prevention seriously but admitted it was difficult to keep the secret.
“Honestly the most difficult thing was not telling people there was a cat in the movie. That almost killed me. It was so much fun. I go to Marvel and I watch cat videos. I never dreamed that this could be my life,” Berman laughed.
Conventional wisdom warns that you should never work with kids or animals, but Berman dismisses those claims.
“Those cats were amazing. They were very professional. They tended to stay in character. They had good days and bad days like all actors do, but in general, it was a joy.”
Goose actually gets the final laugh in a post-credits scene when he coughs up a very unusual item. The movie was completely wrapped when Berman had the idea to add several seconds of an empty desk before Goose jumps onto it to build the anticipation. Recognizing the idea was funnier than the current version, every department rushed to make it happen.
“You have to keep fighting to make the film better,” Berman said. “That was my last contribution to the film. It had to be a kitty contribution. That’s how I want to end my work on this project. It’s about the kitty.”
Featured Image: Marvel Studios’ CAPTAIN MARVEL. L to R: Att-Lass (Algenis Perez Soto), Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and Minn-Erva (Gemma Chan). Photo: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2019