Captain Marvel is officially one of the most financially successful superhero films of all time. It has recently out-grossed every Batman film. However, it has received a mixed response from audiences, with some loving it and others hating it. It's quite strange, too, since, in many respects, Carol Danver's journey in her film runs parallel to Tony Stark's in his.
In fact, Captain Marvel and the Iron Man trilogy have a lot in common in regards to their basic plot structure and style -- in particular, the first Iron Man. It may seem like a radical statement to make. After all, on the surface, they're very different. Sure, both are superhero films, but one's a space adventure while the other is a techno-thriller. One is dry without a lot of humor, while the other features Robert Downey Jr. cracking jokes the whole way through. Right?
The Plots on Paper
What are Captain Marvel and Iron Man about?
Both films focus on a person deeply involved in war. Danvers is a soldier, while Stark is a weapons manufacturer. Both people feel like they're establishing peace through their violent actions. That is, until they end up stranded behind enemy lines, where they learn that their actions have resulted in more harm than good. They have been deceived, and, in the second half of the film, both Stark and Danvers set out to make up for their actions by attempting to both liberate the people they've put in harm's way and strike down the deceptive authorities who have misled them.
There are obviously many differences. Stark doesn't have amnesia. Danvers doesn't create a source of renewable energy in a cave with a box of scraps. But the core plot points are present. Both movies are incredibly internal stories about confronting the wrongdoing of one's past and trying to make amends.
Only thing is, Captain Marvel actually carries through with this theme into the final battle, whereas Iron Man doesn't.
Internal vs. External Story Telling
When Iron Man first came out, audiences adored it, though they criticized the third act of the film. Many felt the final fight with Jeff Bridge's Obadiah Stane felt out of place, and that the fight felt generic or bland. While it's impossible to account for why people reacted that way, it appears many audience members picked up on the fact that the film, up until that point, was an incredibly internal story.
While Stane was a fairly good villain, the film wasn't about a bad guy. It was about Tony Stark coming to terms with the consequences of his action. Every event in the story shaped Tony's worldview, forcing him to grow. What Jon Favreau managed to do was tell an internal story that was shaped by external forces, but not defined by them. By the time Stane appears, Tony's internal conflict has already reached its climax. He is Iron Man.
On the other hand, Carol's arc has to do with her realizing her own potential, as well as coming to terms with her actions in the field of war. This is why the final fight of Captain Marvel is so cathartic. Her blasting away Yon-Rogg without taking his bait is the culmination of her arc: Learning to fully express her value and her actions on her own terms, not someone else's.
Which brings me to the particular character arcs of both Tony and Carol.