A Feminist Rant on ‘Captain Marvel’ – She Deserved More
My brothers and I have a tradition of watching any Marvel/DC movie that comes to theaters. Good or bad, we are there, in the center of the cinema, ready with our popcorn and our hot opinions. So of course, the moment Captain Marvel was released, we started planning our routine pilgrimage to the movies. As we tried to coordinate schedules and figure out the best time to go, I found myself dragging my heels.
This is due mainly to the not so favorable reviews that are littering up the internet. Even here at MovieBabble, the movie was awarded a C+, so you can see how I wasn’t so enthused about heading to the movies. I heard stories about people finding it so boring that they fell asleep. But tradition is tradition, so we went. And it was…well, let’s go with decent. The movie suffers from pacing issues and Captain Marvel herself would have benefited from more added layers.
So why weren’t those layers given to her? It isn’t like Marvel doesn’t know how to give us a strong female character — Black Panther is a stellar example of that. The issue with Carol Danvers is the lack of an emotional arc. Despite the fact that Jude Law’s character Yon-Rogg keeps screaming at her to keep her emotions in check, I never quite see a display of this so-called emotion. She seems cold and detached, with only a sliver of camaraderie with Fury. Every other relationship lacks authenticity, and this is because of the way the story is structured. Let me explain.
Negation of a Past in Origin Story
For an origin story, the past is a huge factor in setting up the journey for the protagonist. For Black Panther, it is his father’s past with his brother N’Jobu that becomes a contention T’Challa has to deal with. In Captain America, Steve’s experience as an outsider helped him to build up a strong moral compass. Tony Stark’s blindness in not seeing what his business was being used for helps in cementing his redemption arc. Captain Marvel gets nothing. She has no past, just mere flashbacks of her constantly trying to dominate male spaces and failing. She gets up each time she fails or falls, but that’s not the point. What inspired her to join the air force? What compelled her to stick it out in these spaces? It has to be more than sheer stubbornness. The problem here is we don’t know, and neither does she.
This lack of past affects how her relationships play out as well. Her connection with Maria and her daughter is shown to us through artifacts (clothes and pictures), we never get to see these relationships develop. The movie feels that if they tell us they are close and the best of friends, and show us montages of them laughing and dancing, then we will buy into this relationship. This is why her relationship with Fury comes across a tad bit better, since its set in real time and we are privy to their banter and shared humor.
Her Story’s Position in the Marvel Universe
While reading comments on a review for the film, one in particular stuck out, where the commentator noted that the movie better not let the “feminist factor blot out the actual story”. If Captain Marvel is a feminist (which she is), then doesn’t feminism become a part of the story? Feminism asserts equality between men and women, so the fact that a woman finally gets a narrative of her own in the Marvel universe is a step in the right direction. If I wanted to be pedantic, I would say it is far from equal. Marvel waited until it had a host of successful movies under its belt before deciding to include Captain Marvel in the mix. This is because by then, people have invested so much in these string of films they would see any movie that belongs to the franchise, even if they didn’t find the appeal in a female superhero.
My prevalent thought while watching Captain Marvel is I felt that her narrative comes a bit too late. She would have succeeded better among the early days of Iron Man and Captain America. Because of Captain Marvel‘s position in the line-up, this means that her narrative needs to be maneuvered to the point where we left off in Avengers: Infinity War, with all of us waiting for the moment in the movie where she answers the page that Fury sent. So instead of a proper origin story, it comes across as mere set-up for the bigger picture that is Avengers: Endgame. In other words, she was shortchanged.
Yon-Rogg as the Mentor Figure
They could have done something more with this plotline. Danvers spends every day for 6 years with this man training her — that has got to build some sort of bond. It did seem that he was protective of her, but I guess all he really wanted to do was weaponize her. After she finds out he is the one who killed Mar-Vell, she is angry for a moment and then she is over it. Think about how different her response is compared to how T’Challa felt when he discovered what his father had done to his own brother, or Stark’s reaction when he discovered Obadiah’s betrayal — both on a personal as well as ethical level. The movie had a real opportunity here to properly set up a conflict, and while I do like that she rejected his challenge to fight him on his own terms at the end, once again Danvers feels like a blank slate.
An Empty Kind of Feminism
As the film progressed, it became clear that the main obstacle for Danvers to overcome is the objectification of her body. Yon-Rogg takes her under his wing, but in doing so, subjects her to his control as well. She fights him according to his rules and the spaces he set up. Hence, at the end, we are supposed to feel a sense of inspiration when she breaks away from what has been holding her back. Her powers get full rein, and even when Yon-Rogg tries to push her back into the space he created, she refuses.
I’m not gonna lie, I got teary-eyed during the montage of scenes where we see her falling but then getting back up again. It is akin to the manipulative skills of a really good commercial. Once my tears dried, I realize the tears I shed were for a hollow purpose. If Carol Danvers was breaking free from patriarchal restrictions, then the question is, to release what agent self? Who is she beyond these impositions? There is no sense at all of what motivates her. Why does she help the Skrulls? Does she feel bad for them? Is she just an all-round do-gooder? Everybody else who surrounds her are developed to the point of at least possessing a motivation that pushes them forward. Danvers is devoid of this. She is a mere vessel for feminist rhetoric and girl power, with none of the substance beneath.
It is such a shame, because Captain Marvel had such potential, and with her next appearance being Avengers: Endgame, it might be a while before we circle back to her character to get further developments. DC might have dropped the ball many times when it comes to their movies, but it still has the better female superhero movie. Though at this point it doesn’t really matter, since Marvel is just laughing all the way to the bank.
Thank you for reading! What are your thoughts on Captain Marvel? Comment down below!
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