A Love Letter to Captain Marvel

When I saw the first trailer for Captain Marvel, my first reaction was not “Oh wow, I can’t wait!” It was more like “Kree? Really? They’re going to keep saying that with a straight face for the whole film?” In all honesty, I was feeling a little over the whole superhero thing, so I didn’t rush to see it when it came out. Then, last night, Partner and I took a little trip to the cinema to watch Captain Marvel and I loved it. Unironically, uncritically, unapologetically, I. Loved. It. I want to be up front: this isn’t going to be a review. This film has flaws, of course it does, but I’m not here to talk about the flaws. I’m here to talk about how freaking excited and happy I was walking out of that cinema. There will be spoilers, so if you haven’t seen it yet – why not?! Go see it, then come back and see if you agree with me. Aside from anything else, some of the plot references will be pretty confusing if you haven’t.

First things first: I thought this film was fun. I don’t think Marvel is capable of releasing a film where the main character doesn’t quip like their life depends on it, but Carol didn’t come across as snide or snippy. She was warm and funny, her one-liners were delivered with a cheeky ‘love me anyway’ vibe rather than the smug superiority of some of our previous superhero protagonists. She was a joy to hang out with for a couple of hours.

That wasn’t just because she was pleasant as a character, or because Brie Larson is fab, there was a delightful lightness to the whole film. That’s not to say there was no emotional depth, there absolutely was, but it steered clear of angst. Carol coming to understand the betrayal at the heart of the life she had among the Kree was, I thought, really moving. But she joyfully fit herself back into the friendship she hadn’t even known she’d lost, and she took action to start undoing some of the damage done to the Skrulls. She keeps moving forwards, she’s able to question herself without getting lost in insecurities, she forgives but she isn’t naïve – she doesn’t invite people to make the same mistakes twice. The whole way through the film I felt like she’d be someone you’d want for a friend. Like, Iron Man is probably fun on a night out, but I think he’d be pretty unpleasant to hang out with day to day.

Speaking of friends, let’s not forget the immense love I have for her rediscovered best friend! Maria Rambeau, former pilot, black single mum to an astonishingly cool daughter, I was ecstatic that she got to be the one to give the pep talk that brought Carol back into the game when she was reeling from discovering the extent of the lies she had been told by the people she thought were her allies. I thought her immediate rejection of the dangerous space adventure plan because of her responsibilities was sweet, but the fact that her kid talked her into going because “think of the example you’re setting for your daughter” was delightful. And then! And then! She wasn’t just tagging along, she was integral to the success of the mission because they needed a skilled pilot to take the Skrulls to safety when Carol’s ex-teammates showed up! She saved the freaking day!

It made me so happy that Captain Marvel was allowed to be openly compassionate. She has strong feelings, and she wears them right on her sleeve. Which brings me to one of my favourite moments in the whole film: The cheesy realising-of-power montage. Let’s be honest, I love those “the power was in you all along” moments in all of their forms. I always enjoy them, but there was something really special for me about seeing that little girl picking herself back up, over and over again. Growing into a woman, and falling down, and getting back up. Claiming her power. Was it cliché? Of course it was. Did it make me cry? You know it did. Like a little kid. I felt a soaring joy that stayed with me all the way home, and all through the next day, and hasn’t quite left me yet. And again, like I said, I like these moments a lot anyway, but I did also have the thought: Is this the way most little boys feel the first time they see those powerful montages in their usual form, with a male protagonist? Partner noted on the way home that it was momentarily jarring seeing that scene centred around a woman, whereas he wouldn’t have thought twice about it if the hero had been male, because we’re very used to that narrative arc.

I don’t want to put all the pre-release criticism of this movie down to a single motivation, but I do think there was an element for some (NOT ALL!) men of not wanting to share. Which I don’t understand, because I came out of the film wanting more – and not for myself. More heroes, more chances for people who haven’t had that moment to feel the unique joy of watching a reflection of themselves fully owning their strength. I’m a white woman, so I’m pretty high on the ladder of privilege, and it’s still taken a long time for me to start seeing faces like mine heading up superhero stories. I want black women heroes! Asian heroes! LGBTQ+ heroes! If there’s one thing we’ve seen over the last decade or so it’s that you can churn out a lot of superhero movies with broadly similar narrative structures and the money will keep on rolling in, so let’s take advantage of that and give more people a chance to have that moment of childlike wonder.

Plastic Wonder Woman toy, holding her lasso up and gazing off into the distance.
For the record, I did also like Wonder Woman a lot! And the scene with all the women training was glorious. I walked out of that film feeling a lot more conflicted though, and I think Captain Marvel dodged a lot of the issues that complicated my feelings about Wonder Woman’s movie.

Image by ErikaWittlieb from Pixabay

It would be remiss of me to ignore the things I was happy not to see in the film. There was no romance sub-plot, not even the hint of one with her training partner/mentor, which I felt left a lot more space to explore Carol’s growth and her platonic relationships with the other characters. I was also relieved by the lack of focus on her sexiness. No gratuitous close-ups of her boobs or arse, a uniform that was functional and not unnecessarily revealing, she was friendly and funny but not flirty, and I appreciated that.

It wasn’t a perfect film. There were plenty of things that I noticed that I thought were less-than-ideal or not as funny as they were clearly meant to be, and I’m sure there are a bunch of things I didn’t even notice because I was too excited about all the female characters having agency and moving the plot forwards. I’m also sure there are an abundance of people out there pointing out all the flaws that I haven’t talked about or noticed, but I haven’t gone looking for those yet because I wanted to keep living in this honeymoon phase with Captain Marvel. If you do have criticisms of the film I’m interested in hearing them, similarly if you want to join me in loving on this beautifully clichéd, playful, silly film, I’m well up for that too!

Featured image of young female superhero by prettysleepy1 from Pixabay

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