Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) becomes one of the universe’s most powerful heroes when Earth is caught in the middle of a galactic war between two alien races. But, if you’ve written Captain Marvel off as “just another superhero film”, you’ve made a huge mistake…
Warning: this review may contain some light spoilers for Captain Marvel.
Captain Marvel may mark the first time that Marvel has allowed a female superhero to take the reins, but it seemed, for a very long time, as if Brie Larson’s movie would be just another superhero origins story. Indeed, the first trailer piled on the nostalgia factor (baseball caps, pagers and Blockbuster Video, oh my!) as it set up an overwhelmingly classic plot: Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers gets her Top Gun on as she trains to be a fighter pilot, is involved in a fiery accident, gains some mysterious ‘glowy hand-based’ superpowers, teams up with a very young Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson, sans eyepatch) and fights some intergalactic baddies.
So far, so ‘the broad brushstrokes of every superhero movie ever made’. Which didn’t particularly bother long-standing (non-misogynist, obviously) Marvel fans, to be honest: we know what we like, and we like what we know.
Or so I thought. But then I – amid a sea of excited fans – sat down to watch Captain Marvel for the first time, and I realised that I had completely underestimated the enormous impact this movie would have upon myself and audiences everywhere.
The film begins with a series of fleeting and jarring images: Carol’s memories, we soon learn – flashbacks from a time before she joined Starforce, an elite Kree military unit tasked with clearing the galaxy of murderous shape-shifting alien Skrulls. These visions disturb our heroine, and force her into a state of wakefulness. But that’s fine: as she’s up anyway, she goes and raps on the door of her commander and mentor, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), so that they can get a training session in before breakfast.
Suffice to say, Marvel’s choreographers have outdone themselves with these opening scenes. Law and Larson’s limbs are a fast-moving blur as they rain blows down upon one another, both seemingly anticipating the other’s every move with ease. What’s particularly striking, though, is that they are equals in battle. After all, superhero movies usually revolve around selfless figures who find within themselves the strength to save the planet – or at the very least rescue a kitten from a particularly hard-to-reach tree branch. But Carol is already a heroine, intent on saving the universe. And she already has both the physical and mental strength to do pretty much anything she puts her mind to.
So… well, what’s this movie going to be about?
The first clue is dropped during Yon-Rogg and Carol’s training session. He may be the superior officer, sure, but he has met his match in Carol. Indeed, when she loses control of her emotions and sends him flying across the training arena, it actually seems as if she has the upper hand in this fight. Alarmed, Yon-Rogg reminds her to shut down her emotions. To stop listening to her heart, and start using her head in battle. To be more Kree. To be more… well, to be more like him.
Carol is quick to take his feedback on board, without question. This is the nature of their relationship: he gives the orders, he sets the parameters, he makes the rules. Her role, on the other hand, is to do as she’s told. And this, it seems, is the basis for the important lesson which Captain Marvel sets out to teach its audiences: become aware of the patriarchal rules you are bound by, and break the f**k free.
This is the overriding plot of the movie. When Carol returns to her home planet with questions about her past, she quickly begins to challenge the status quo. We see her handle catcallers and shut down mansplainers with ease. We see her shun the skimpy outfits so often favoured by women in superhero movies, instead donning a grungey biker jacket, tee and jeans combo. And, when she teams up with a young Nick Fury, we really see our hero come into her own.
In previous movies, Jackson’s Fury has been portrayed as the all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful director of S.H.I.E.L.D. He has always had the upper hand. He has been cold, calculating, and emotionless. And he has always been able to yank the rug out from beneath the feet of Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and their fellow Avengers. In this movie, however, Fury is… well, he’s a low-level desk jockey, with little to no knowledge of superheroes. He does the washing up, he baby-talks at any fluffy cat he comes across, and he makes mistakes. Big ones. Huge. And, perhaps most importantly of all, he’s not the cleverest or most capable person in the room: Carol is, 100%… and she’s not afraid to let him know it, either.
The resulting dynamic is, without a doubt, one of the most interesting we’ve seen so far in the Marvel Universe. Carol and Fury strike up a friendship – or a “compatriotship”, to use Jackson’s terminology – over the course of the movie. She teaches him about the other-worldly forces that threaten planet earth, saves his life a bunch of times, and relentlessly calls him out on his bulls**t. He, in turn, teaches her the very human lesson of trusting your gut over your head. And, as the story progresses, the duo learn to trust one another other. Indeed, Fury comes to trust Carol so much that, when Thanos wreaks havoc on the world some 25 years later, she is the first and only person he reaches out to for help.
However, while Carol and Fury’s friendship is important, it’s the comic book hero’s relationship with Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) that truly sets this movie apart from all those that came before it.
A single mum and former fighter pilot, Maria has been dubbed “the representation of love” in Captain Marvel – and no wonder. This resilient woman isn’t just one of Carol’s oldest friends: she’s her family, too. And, while the duo are playfully competitive, they are never pitched against one another. Instead, they work together, support each other and are the absolute definition of #girlpower – a point which is made abundantly clear when Carol wonders aloud whether she’s strong enough to take on her enemies.
“You were the most powerful person I knew even before you had glowing hands,” Maria reminds her, recounting all of her friend’s past achievements and successes in the sort of rip-roaring speech that makes you want to stand up and cheer for the sisterhood.
Her words force Carol to acknowledge that true power comes from within. It’s not enough to punch through walls, or shoot fire from your hands, or fly: you need the strength to get back up when you fall down and try again. You need the strength to blaze your own trail. And you need the strength to believe in yourself and your abilities.
This train of thought lights a powder keg in Carol’s soul. And, when faced with a male enemy who informs her that she has to play by his rules, she point-blank refuses to submit.
And, in just seven little words, she gives womankind everywhere a mantra to live by:
“I have nothing to prove to you.”
It’s a beautiful message – and one which feels all the more relevant in the face of the waves of criticism this film has faced from mewling misogynists all over the world. When it was first announced that Captain Marvel would be soaring into cinemas on International Women’s Day 2019, there were those who opined that a female superhero movie would “suck balls”. That it would be “boring”. That Carol needed to “smile more”. That the whole thing sounds “painfully bland”. That she “should look and sound more like Thor”.
It is unlikely that these idiots will be swayed by the magnitude of Captain Marvel, but that’s OK: Larson’s character does not need to prove her worth to a cesspit of sexist trolls, because this movie was not made for them. Instead, it was made for those who believe in equality of the sexes. It was made for those women and girls who, failing to see themselves reflected on screen, always thought that superhero movies were not for them. It was made for those of us who just want to see another kickass superhero light up their screens, regardless of his/her gender. And it was made for those Marvel fans, like myself, who have gotten complacent in their expectations.
All of that aside, Captain Marvel is a brilliant movie. It’s fast-paced, surprising, and laugh-out-loud funny in places. It boasts a ridiculously talented cast (Larson, Jackson, Lynch and Law aside, you have the likes of Gemma Chan, Annette Bening and Ben Mendelsohn in the mix, too!). It stars the cutest ginger cat you’ve ever seen. And it boasts the high-octane Nineties soundtrack of your dreams, too.
Essentially, it does everything it says on the tin. It takes us higher, further, faster than any superhero movie before. And I, for one, can’t wait to see Carol take Thanos on in Avengers: Endgame – because, judging by this movie’s after-credits scene, it seems as if he is well and truly f**ked.
Captain Marvel is released on International Women’s Day on 8 March 2019.
Image: Marvel Studios
Kayleigh Dray is editor of Stylist.co.uk, where she chases after rogue apostrophes and specialises in films, comic books, feminism and television. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.
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