We arrive at the penultimate entry in this series, one that has taken me much longer to complete than I had originally expected. But here I am, talking about what I feel was a rare misstep from Marvel Studios this late in their game towards what I’m sure they’d regard as their masterpiece.
If you want to check out the series in its almost entirety, then this link will take you to the link archive, otherwise let’s get into Captain Marvel.
Marvel’s Woman of Steel
Growing up, I was always a Marvel fan. No disrespect to DC, but there was just something about the relatability of Marvel’s characters, aspects to them that made them seem so much more human. Which helped me connect to them far more than I ever could to the likes of Superman and the majority of the DC roster.
But that’s to be expected, because characters like Superman are made to be aspirational, you’re never really supposed to be able to identify with him. Just to admire them.
Which makes writing a story about him all the more difficult for a lot of writers, where that human story is so much harder to pin down. Because he’s so beyond that. It’s why the “Superman Problem” has become critic shorthand for telling stories about characters who, by their nature, are real hard to identify with. Usually because they’re not human.
That’s the problem that the writers found themselves dealing with when it came to creating the MCU version of Carol Danvers. Which is harder to forgive in her case, because it’s a problem they didn’t really need to deal with. I’ll put my hands up and say I’m not too familiar with the original Mar-Vell, nor Carol’s time as Miss Marvel before she took on the mantle herself. But from what I understand, the Carol we got here could have been something much more.
They needed to rub some dirt on her
While Carol is a fun character throughout the movie, she isn’t an interesting one. What makes all of the great Marvel characters so iconic is just how flawed and human they are. Arguably, the more flawed the are, the better characters they end up being. I mean, look at how riddled with character defects Tony Stark is, and he was the face of the franchise for its entire run.
Yet, with Carol, there is very little human about her. Which is ironic considering that’s her entire arc throughout this movie. Her story is essentially one of remembering how amazing she was all along. She doesn’t have any character flaw to resolve, any personal hurdle to overcome, everything she does overcome amounts to a ball and chain attached to her by other people. Thus she ends the movie back at square one, meaning that the events of the movie are technically a regression rather than growth.
Made all the more frustrating by the fact that the movie seems to fear diving into the most obvious issue at hand and only really makes a wink and a nod regarding it throughout; the point of gender and her being a woman in a man’s world. (Both the Military and the MCU thus far.)
As shown through the many flashbacks that litter Carol’s memory throughout the movie, she’s lived her life being told over and over that she can’t compete, can’t be included, can’t be as good. It’s never outright stated, but it’s painfully obvious that has been something she’s had to deal with because she’s a girl.
Marvel wimped out
There’s a large subtext to the movie that being a woman has held Carol back from the greatness she earned and rightfully deserved. Unable to fly jets in combat, forced to work as a test pilot. Even being held back by the Supreme Intelligence and Jude Law’s character after going to Hela.
It’s like the movie did everything it could to touch upon these very poignant issues that half the world’s population have to deal with on a daily basis without actually addressing them. For fear of the internet shitstorm that would inevitably follow lead by the hoards of insecure men who desperately cling to their geekdom as some kind of trophy. Captain Marvel had the chance to be outspoken, but failed to go for it in any remotely meaningful way.
By the movie’s end, Carol’s message to the antagonist is that she had nothing to prove to him. Which a certainly a positive stance to take, but from a narrative standpoint, it’s boring. The movie wanted it both ways, but didn’t fully commit to either. You either go deep into the issue, or don’t go into it at all. Either go full feminist, or full Superman story. The movie does neither and ends up feeling half-hearted in a ton of ways as a result by the time we’re over.
It doesn’t end up feeling deserved
Carol being unleashed at the end is a fantastic visual sequence. Seeing her tearing through the Kree Acuser fleet looks amazing, but is doesn’t carry the emotional weight it needs to. Carol’s story wasn’t one of coming to accept these powers that came at the expense of her mentor’s life, nor was it one of her wrestling with the greater expense attaining the power came at when realising what Mar-Vell was trying to do for the Skrull.
It’s just a case of her getting caught in an explosion and then she’s Superman. The moral core of Spider-Man’s with great power comes great responsibility or anything like it doesn’t come into play. She gets the power, she accepts the power as completely her own and then just goes on a rampage.
Maybe they could have taken a different influence from DC and looked at Supergirl instead of the male alternative, in that she’s a person carrying a lot of rage and resentment, but covers it up as best she can. It would have made for a more compelling narrative for the main character to have a few more imperfections to her character.
In the end, I believe the movie ends up focusing on a lot of the wrong places. While the mystery element and twist towards the end would have been lost, I feel like a significant portion of the first half should have been dedicated to Carol’s time with Mar-Vell, learning what she was trying to do and then having the deal with the responsibility now on her shoulders throughout the rest of the movie.
Instead, she only realises this responsibly by the time the movie is over, too late for the audience to digest it.
In the end, as much as I think Brie Larson charismatic, funny and puts on a great performance, there is no real depth to anything she’ve given by the writers and director. The character is flat, passive and without any real deep moral drama to deal with. Which sucks. Had Sam Jackson not been there to steal every scene he was present it, I feel this would have been a much more difficult movie to sit through.
I didn’t hate this movie by any metric, but it ended up being an incredibly generic superhero romp without anything really important to say or anything innovative to add to the series at large. It felt like it was mostly present just to get Captain Marvel on the stage to be present for the final battle against Thanos, a battle she ends up feeling pretty inconsequential to by the time that movie happens.
Captain Marvel bums me, it’s a ton of wasted potential. I hope that, whenever the sequel rolls around, the writers can give Larson something more significant to sink her teeth into, because as it stands Captain Marvel was one of the most disappointing MCU movies, not for what it did, but for what it failed to do.