(No spoilers. I’m going to do my best to avoid spoiling anything, which is tricky, since the movie thrives on secrecy and reveals.)
There’s a moment in Captain Marvel powerfully reminiscent of a moment in another recent geekdom movie owned by the House of Mouse.
It’s cold, it’s dark, all hope seems lost. The hero seems defeated, the bad guy is on the verge of getting what they want, and a lot of people we’ve come to love are in danger.
Then the music swells, the lightsaber veers away from Kylo Ren’s grasp and propels itself into Rey’s hand, and she stands before us revealed for the hero she is. Not because she is powerful (though she is) but because she is willing and ready to claim that power for herself.
Captain Marvel has a similar moment, which profoundly affected me in the theater. It not only captures who Carol Danvers is and what she stands for, but also the whole point of the movie and the entire narrative thrust and power of this character and her story.
This is a story about female power: about controlling it, restraining it, and fearing it. About what awakens it, unlocks it, and strengthens it.
And make no mistake, Carol Danvers is the mightiest hero we’ve seen in the Marvel Universe. I won’t qualify that with “female” hero–there’s nothing about her power that is distinctly female, other than that it is hers, and that makes ALL the difference.
In a way, it is nothing new: we have seen this narrative over and over again, the hero called to the quest, awakening to the power inside them, and finally learning to harness and unleash it. But in almost every case (95%+ of the time), it’s a male character undergoing this quest, and the female characters are secondary. They’re love interests, companions, or wise elders. They might even be heroes in their own right, but they don’t claim center-stage in the story, and even in the rare instances of those who do, usually their quest isn’t about them as women.
Captain Marvel is about a female hero, from start to finish. She faces patriarchal methods of control at every turn: warnings about allowing emotion to overwhelm her logic, for instance, or being chided to smile and insulted when she doesn’t. There’s a whole segment in the movie about struggling to use her power despite literal shackles. Her overall story is about realizing the bondage placed upon her and breaking free. Demanding and claiming her right to go higher, to go faster, and to go further.
A note also about the setting: This is a very 90s movie, full of 90s music that resonates so well with the action as well as lots of 90s jokes that really appealed to a 90s kid like me. From the trailers, I thought it might just be a gimmick, but upon seeing the movie I finally realized WHY Marvel set this movie in the 90s. The cultural context was pivotal to the story and its themes: the 90s wave of feminism and female empowerment, the pressure on military services to accept female pilots and soldiers, all of that is key to making this story make sense.
I do want to acknowledge that this is not a perfect movie. It isn’t entirely ground-breaking: Wonder Woman broke a lot of this ground a couple years ago, so Marvel missed its chance to be first to the punch. But Captain Marvel offers us a different view of female empowerment and heroism than WW did, and both movies are extremely good at what they do.
There’s your typical supply of what, at this point, we can call “Marvel Cheese.” Some of the jokes, some of the slapstick, etc, reminded me of watching a Guardians of the Galaxy movie, and the dynamics among the aliens were very much in that vein. So if you liked GoG (and statistically speaking, you probably did), you’ll probably love the tone of this movie.
There’s the humor you expect, though not always from the people you expect. Clearly, Samuel L. Jackson had a GREAT TIME with this movie. His Nick Fury is surprisingly fun and warm, something he hasn’t been allowed to be in the other MCU movies. Saying more might head into spoiler territory, but some unexpected humor is unexpected but ultimately effective, I think.
(Also, I totally saw Kelly Sue DeConnick in her second-long cameo! Rock.)
Now, because, ugh, let’s talk about this: There’s a whole movement out there by a LOT of dudes who hate women (and especially hate women in their superhero movies) who have a weird fixation on Brie Larson not smiling (I know, ironic, isn’t it?).
At first, her portrayal worried me that she’d come off as relentlessly grumpy or prickly, the way clearly feminist characters sometimes do, but give her a minute, and you start to see the meaning behind her Carol Danvers’s behavior.
She is a woman who has been relentlessly bullied and cowed into being emotionless (as if that’s a strength) and expected to be a perfect little servant who always does what she’s told. Her experiences throughout the movie show her growing, breaking free, and finally harnessing her feelings and the power that comes with them. Her development is emotional, wrought with the aid of friends both male and female, as well as metaphysical.
(Also, all the haters are wrong, and EVS and his Comicsgate minions played themselves yet again by bashing on this movie. What fools.)
Ultimately, Captain Marvel is a great, fun, powerful movie and one that Marvel sorely needed to add to their line-up. That this movie didn’t happen five years ago and the MCU hasn’t put out half a dozen women-led films since is kind of a shame, but at least it’s here now, and it sets a precedent for the universe going forward.
The future is here (well, the future by way of 25 years ago), and while that future may not be entirely female, it is female-led, and that is a hopeful, marvelous thing.