Does the most recent MCU superhero movie need to be inspirational? Does it matter?
Recently I was asked if Captain Marvel is an inspirational movie.
I’ve seen a lot of this conversation in the week following the Marvel movie’s gargantuan release. Does Captain Marvel live up to the hype of being the franchise’s first female-led movie? Is it political enough? Is she an inspirational heroine? Is she empowering? Is she feminist enough? Is she too pro-military?
Captain Marvel was always going to be a heated topic, whether it turned out to be a cinematic triumph for the MCU or a box office bomb. There was a lot riding on it — the weight of the 20+ movies before it, the pressure of it to lead up to Avengers: Endgame, its place as the first female-led MCU movie (and yes I mentioned that already). That isn’t even going into all the press in the weeks leading up to its release, from star Brie Larson calling for a more diverse slate of press to trolls bombarding sites like Rotten Tomatoes with negative reviews before the movie was even out.
The movie had a lot to live up to and in some minds, it didn’t rise to those expectations. I’m wondering, however, if that matters. Does the question about whether Captain Marvel is inspirational even mean anything?
There are a few issues
I understand a lot of the criticisms. The first 30 minutes leading up to Carol Danvers crash-landing on Earth are slow and mostly forgettable; it hit a lot of the same beats as origin movies before it; the action scenes aren’t particularly innovative; there wasn’t nearly enough of the Rambeaus (more on this later); and Carol, our core protagonist, doesn’t get an emotional arc or character growth. She’s the same person at the beginning as she is at the end with the added bonus of accurate memories and a cleaner moral slate.
The message the creative team, including directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, was trying to convey with Carol’s story is also basic and hamfisted. Carol’s taught to hold back her emotions by a fascist regime/men, but she gets back up, learns that her emotions are her strength, and tears through a spaceship on her own. That’s the sum of it. It’s a fine story arc with some inspirational touchstones, but there could’ve been more to show how it affects Carol and not just how it makes the people around her either in awe or afraid of her. She’s free now, but how does she feel knowing she was gaslit and kept down for years?
She’s got nothing to prove
However, despite all of this, I find myself not caring. At the end of the movie when Carol decides she’s not going to fight Yon-Rogg in hand-to-hand combat and instead blasts him, that’s a perfect spit in the face of the movie’s version of the patriarchy. She says “I don’t have to prove myself to you,” and it’s her defiance wrapped up. It’s a feel-good moment because having the power and confidence to say that to somebody who was in almost complete control is vindicating and cathartic (especially if you can also shoot them with your glowing fists).
Then there’s the Rambeaus. We’re introduced first to Maria, Carol’s friend from the Air Force who is kept in the dark about Carol’s death. She’s headstrong and willing to take on something much larger than herself. She’s a mother, but she’s also a world-class pilot and can hold her own in a fight. She’s Carol’s friend for a reason, and throughout the movie, we get a sense of the friendship they lost and subsequently, the one they gained back.
Then we meet Monica, an enthusiastic kid who not only worships Carol as a superhero but as just a plain-old hero. She wants to rush into action and be in the loop about everything. She wants to grow up and do good just like her mother and Carol. This is a sweet gesture on its face, but knowing that in the comics Monica grows up to take on the Captain Marvel moniker and become a hero herself is most definitely a sign of things to come.
Who knows what Phase 4 has in store, but considering the setup and the comment from Carol how one day Monica can be a hero, there’s a strong possibility that we could be seeing a black female superhero in our future. If she headlined her own movie, it would be a first not just for Marvel, but across cinema. Even just the idea of seeing Monica portrayed so strongly is great for young girls of color who aren’t used to that representation on screen. Black Panther was a great start for representation in the MCU, and Captain Marvel continues that not just with its protagonist, but even with the side characters.
Inspiration as a concept is subjective. What is empowering is subjective. Feminism is also not a broad objective marker for a piece of media and can be viewed many different ways.
Captain Marvel can be both of those things but also neither. Maybe it’s just an OK movie, a fun time before Endgame crushes us even further into the dust left over after Infinity War.
Then I think about all the young girls and women who are out purchasing Captain Marvel swag, or who might dress up as her for Halloween, or who might go to a convention in cosplay they made themselves, and it doesn’t seem as complicated. Captain Marvel is filled with heart-warming, fist-pumping moments and even if the whole package isn’t perfect, there’s something there to consider and even maybe enjoy.
Could it have gone higher, faster, further? Absolutely. But Yon-Rogg gets put in his place at the end and Carol flies into space to a No Doubt song and that’s pretty cool.
Higher, Faster, Further
A solid, if predictable, balance of action and giggles.
Captain Marvel reaches out to every corner of the Cinematic Universe in an attempt to tie this new character into the whole series so far. But the movie struggles with classic prequel story mistakes while relying on a standard origin story format we’ve seen so many times already.
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