The Marvelous Captain Marvel
Captain Marvel is the latest entry in the MCU lineup, and my most anticipated of 2019. This is finally the first movie with a female superhero lead, though it still boggles my mind that Black Widow never got one, and takes us back in time with Carol Danvers origin story as Captain Marvel. After Black Panther’s break through last year and success with seven Academy Award nominations, this movie had some big shoes to fill. So, the question is, how did our lady do?
First, some spoiler free thoughts for those who are still pending a viewing of the film. As a woman, I was clearly on the train for a good superhero film. I enjoyed Wonder Woman immensely and felt that, while it had its own hurdles, the film was one of DC’s best in a long time. With that qualification, I can say that I actually enjoyed Captain Marvel more than Wonder Woman. I loved the 90s soundtrack in the movie, which I found more engaging than Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. The character development was done well, though there were no crazy twists and turns that were not televised. It was also interesting to see the “start” of the MCU - the pre -Avengers Initiative pitched by Fury at the end of Iron Man, which I still remember got a huge pop in the theater. The very opening of the movie will get a tear out of every Marvel fan. The colors popped when they really needed to and the special effects were gorgeously integrated into the movie that allowed it to feel grounded while taking you to the skies. The only issue that I had with the film was in the first half of the film - the camera work in the fight scenes. I don’t like that hand-held, close up view of a fight - pull back and let me see what’s going on. Other than that, I can confidently say that Captain Marvel did not disappoint and made me excited to see how they continue to use the character going forward.
Alright, now let’s enter into spoiler territory. From here on out, I want to dive a little more into specifics, but I won’t go into the entire storyline as I think that that’s not as important as some pieces.
First, I feel like I should say that, while I have dabbled in the comic book world and enjoyed my fair share of Marvel, I have not had the opportunity to read Captain Marvel and so I was not familiar with her, her story, or even the differences between the Skrull and Kree races - the only exposure to them was via the MCU films and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television series (which I have unfortunately not had time to keep up with for the past few seasons). However, even with my limited knowledge, this film did a great job of ensuring that no prior understanding was required. I’m sure if you had more familiarity there might have been some fun nuggets, but nothing was necessary for this viewer’s enjoyment.
As a movie that played around with timelines, there’s always the possibility of confusion on the viewer’s part. However, this movie, while giving us plenty of glimpses into Carol’s past, was never disorienting to the extent that I was taken out of the movie or had difficulty following the storyline. They did a brilliant job casting McKenna Grace, who you may have seen as young Theo in The Haunting of Hill House, as teenage Carol - she again shows great acting acumen and promise for great things in her future career. The sequence where we see the greatness that makes Carol superior than any Kree allows Grace to shine as brightly as Larson and cements the fact that it’s not how many times you’re knocked down, but how many times you get up that matters. Without that terrific young actress in this role, I feel that the movie might have not have had the impact it did, especially with younger viewers.
Ok, so, let’s discuss a bit more about our heroine. While Marvel loves to have the main character tied to someone that is already familiar to the viewer, I feel like it’s done in such a different way in this film that I don’t think it’s actually comparable to the prior situations. Usually, the new character, despite being the main character, can sometimes be outshone by the familiar face - or rather the familiar face is there to help our character because the main character has some weakness that precludes them from fully realizing their true potential and the familiar character acts almost as a guide of sorts. In Winter Soldier, Black Widow is there to help Captain America navigate the new world on his own and his dealing with what Bucky has become. In Spider-Man: Homecoming, you had Tony there to guide Peter in this new life as a superhero with all the fancy gadgets, though the scene in Civil War should have given it away that Peter was doing pretty well in his friendly neighborhood hero role. Many times, the films seem to force the main character off to the side while the familiar face walks them through their own film. Here, however, in Captain Marvel, Danvers is not overshadowed or pushed aside. While we have Fury as the familiar face, Danvers actually takes on the role of tutor to Fury’s young agent. He has no idea about the vastness of the universe and what is possibly out there that could threaten the world he is living in. Danvers never needs to rely on Fury, at most, they work as a team with both characters holding their own. And the fact that they did not brush aside our main character shows that the writers knew they could not do that to our female heroine - which is similar to Wonder Woman. Both of these heroines show that they do not need the male counterpart in their film to be successful or to get things done.
The writers also gave Danvers a great sense of humor - while she’s not as one-liner witty as Starlord or snarky as Stark - she has her own understated humor that hits when it needs to but doesn’t define her character. The other great part of Danvers is how she carries herself. One of the people I watched the movie with denoted that Danvers holds herself with confidence throughout the film, not cockiness. This distinction allows for the viewer to fall in love with her more than say the cocky Iron Man or Starlord, who come off as somewhat obnoxious at times. I love that there was no typical woman discovering her strength or beauty - Danvers knew she was strong but once she realized how strong she was throughout her life, she became even more powerful.
Speaking of strong women, Danvers counterpart Maria Rambeau is another character worthy of praise. I loved that not only was she Danvers flying partner, they had a deep connection that was clear despite the small pieces that the viewer gets of it. There was no typical girl fighting or competition that can sometimes tank female relationships. Both women had their own strength and they recognized the other’s. An important scene that needs to be called out is the one where Danvers shows up to Rambeau’s place after the years she’s been “dead” - there was no fighting or hurtful doubting that soured their relationship. It was acknowledged that Rambeau was deeply hurt that her friend had gone, but she didn’t need it explained that Danvers had no control of her disappearance. They did what the best of friends can do - they easily fell back into their friendship routine of jokes and taking care of each other. This is what true female empowerment is about - no bitterness or jealousy, just understanding and love. You want to embolden women - show this type of relationship more in movies.
Speaking of relationships, I need to point out the thing that was lacking in this film - but that was lacking in a good way. There was absolutely no love interest for Danvers. There was no time where she was put into that trope of female in love - the closest we get is her friendship with Rambeau, but this does not prevent her from taking care of what she needs to take care of, at the end especially. They didn’t do the love interest with Danvers’ teacher or some past love that she was trying to figure out. This film allowed Danvers to shine as her own independent person without being defined by someone or something else controlling her emotions. If anything, this film shows that being in control of your own emotions, while acknowledging they are there, is its own super power. Jude Law’s character, Yon-Rogg, is the one pushing Danvers to be less emotional - a clear parallel to how women are spoken to most of their lives. How many times do we classify a woman as “hysterical” while a man doing the same would be “passionate”? Yon-Rogg constantly tries to push Danvers to put away her emotions, but she finds out that there is power in harnessing those emotions and allowing them to work for her. Fighting them just leads to worse outcomes, while embracing them, along with her entire being, takes her to the next level and puts her above everyone else. She can truly do anything once she accepts who and what she is - all of it. I can’t think of a better message for all females.
While I’m sure there’s plenty that I missed after my first viewing, I can say that this movie did not disappoint. It lived up to my own internal hype and brought me a strong female character that I want to show off to everyone. Celebrate women and support this movie by going to see it on the big screen. Show Marvel that they should have done a female-centered movie long before this, but if waiting allowed this to be their first, then huzzah!