Captain Marvel: Fun, But Not Phenomenal, and That’s Okay

Captain Marvel is just a fun movie, so let’s not pretend it is some wonderful/terrible “woke” story.
on Mar 12, 2019

You’ve heard all the fuss over Marvel’s Captain Marvel and feminism. Given all that, I expected at least some ultra-feminist stuff in the actual movie.

Instead, the movie only delivered a few male characters making lewd remarks, which hardly even hurt our hardy heroine.

Plus we got one reference to women being kept out of combat situations.

Plus we got a quick montage of our heroine picking herself up after, say, a go-kart wreck, or a baseball stumble.

If that’s “woke” feminism or progressive propaganda, then this “culture war” should be a cinch.

Quips don’t help us invest in character growth

I must say, the film, stumbles a lot in trying to achieve two contradictory goals.

First, Captain Marvel wants to show us fighter-pilot-turned-alien-commando Carol Danvers, consummate tough girl, offering versions of ’90s-action-movie-tough-hero smirk-‘n-quips.

But second, the movie also wants to show us this story: “Here is a person whose emotions were trained out of her and who must recover this to become truly strong.”

Problem: we have to be told by exposition or other characters about this progression. Unfortunately, Danvers (Brie Larson) never persuasively shows us this progression. At the movie’s start, she’s smirk-‘n-quipping and throwing proton punches. At the movie’s end, she’s still smirk-‘n-quipping, and throwing larger proton punches, while also flying.

The smirk-‘n-quips stay the same no matter what stage of the journey she is. And this may be a result of writing or direction, not Larson herself. She could really take off as a fun character in Avengers: Endgame (the same way Natasha Romanoff took off in The Avengers).

Stop this endless fandom war

Mind you! I enjoyed the movie. It’s a fun rollick. It was similar to the “just for fun and characters” intents of Thor: The Dark World or Ant-Man and the Wasp.1 Clearly its makers didn’t truly mean the film to be a great ode to feminism.

It does not try to show even a surface-level view of a human problem, like Tony Stark’s struggle with PTSD in Iron Man 3.

It also does not attempt to break ground for the genre while still following the general Marvel film tradition, such as Captain America: The Winter Soldiers or Avengers: Infinity War.

But if the film didn’t even give us this much–why for have we been having all this fandom fighting?

At Speculative Faith last week, I tried to explore why fans turn against their favorite franchises. This article was inspired by the Captain Marvel debacle. But honestly, the backlash against Captain Marvel makes little sense. By contrast, the backlash against Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi makes more sense. Unlike that film, Captain Marvel brings back fan-favorite characters and doesn’t mock them.2 It’s not trying to “subvert” fans’ expectations.

What about actress Brie Larson’s comments that seemed to demean men?

Well, I can understand any fan feeling put off, after any actor goes out in front of her/his movie and says something like, “This story isn’t meant for you.” It’s hard to feel welcomed after that.3

At the same time, it seems clear that Larson, or someone, felt the movie needed some kind of Big Social Meaning. But now this can be shown as the remedial measure that it was. Why? Because the movie, frankly, didn’t share this Big Social Meaning on its own. Instead, this Big Social Meaning had to be provided from outside.

That should invite Marvel fans’ sympathy and perspective–not our automatic mockery and boycottery.

It’s just a movie. And that’s okay.

Discerning viewers can enjoy this for what this is.

But let’s not set up Captain Marvel to be something its makers clearly never (seriously, anyway) meant for it to be.

  1. Unlike some Marvel fans, I defend every movie in the franchise. For example, fans often call Thor: The Dark World one of the worst Marvel movies. That’s absurd. It’s not the worst, certainly not craft-wise. Whereas Ant-Man and the Wasp frankly offers some bizarre editing and suffers as a result. But even that movie isn’t trying to be some great artful achievement.
  2. Captain Marvel doesn’t mock its characters, yes. Spoiler here. One possible exception: the film shows the very silly reason Nick Fury got his eye scar. It also literally pictures an alien cat-creature swallowing one of the most powerful objects in the universe, an Infinity Stone, and then hawking it up on Nick Fury’s desk.
  3. By contrast, the makers and actors of Black Panther invited everyone to the world and challenging themes of Wakanda. Sure, the film and marketing paid special attention to black viewers. That makes perfect sense, especially given the fact that the movie was literally set in Africa. But the movie’s marketing offered a tone of inclusive joy. I felt welcomed in enjoying and talking about the movie. Still do.
E. Stephen Burnett explores fantastical stories for God’s glory as publisher of and its weekly Fantastical Truth podcast. He coauthored The Pop Culture Parent and creates other resources for fans and families, serving with his wife, Lacy, in their central Texas church. Stephen's first novel, a science-fiction adventure, launches in 2025 from Enclave Publishing.
  1. […] of Captain Marvel‘s supposed radical feminism have been grossly exaggerated. If anything, adding even some preachy feminism could have given the story more substance and direction. […]

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