Did you know that Nick Fury lost his eye in an incident with a cute ginger cat (or what appears to be a cat) named Goose? Or that he can’t eat toast if it’s cut diagonally? Before watching Captain Marvel, probably not.
The problem is, this ain’t his film – it’s Carol Danver’s. But unfortunately, her character isn’t given half as much time to develop and shine as the (mostly) male supporting cast around her. Frustrating that, isn’t it? For a movie that is such a benchmark in terms of female comic book representation, it sure is.
This is another Marvel origin story, but it was supposed to be different. Their first solo female protagonist, their first female (co)writer and director; and, with talent like Brie Larson on board, expectations were sky high. Captain Marvel is known for being one of the most powerful characters in the Marvel universe, and after the hint of her introduction at the shockingly morbid end of Avengers: Infinity War, there was peak excitement about what she could bring to these films.
Captain Marvel plunges us straight in to Carol’s (or Vers, as she’s known at this point) everyday life. We’re given a basic introduction to her – she’s scrappy, smart, and sharp-witted – before heading into a set piece that is nowhere near as impressive as we’ve seen from the MCU in the past. Even after that, the entire first act makes it really hard to grasp who our hero is. Sarcastic quips are great, and Larson delivers them brilliantly, but they’re just not enough.
As the film progresses, Carol’s character development barely improves. Her relationship with her friend Maria (Lashana Lynch) and her daughter is touching, truly, but we never get to the nitty-gritty of who Carol Danvers really is. In the scene previously referenced where we get to find out Nick Fury’s toast preferences, a fantastically specific character beat that tells us something we didn’t know about someone we’ve seen on screen so many times before, all Carol gets to do is fire her fists at the wall. Don’t get me wrong, it’s super cool that she’s so powerful – but how does she like to eat toast on a morning? Is she even a toast kind of girl, or does she prefer cereal? We’ll never know. We didn’t exactly need her breakfast order, but some insight into the details of her personality and life experience would have gone a long way in helping her character to feel properly fleshed out.
Carol isn’t the only woman underserved by what was supposed to be a huge moment for female representation; Annette Bening plays an incredibly key figure in Carol’s story, but is barely on screen as that actual character, instead mostly showing up as something entirely different. Even Ben Mendelsohn’s apparent antagonist Talos gets more attention, with a character arc and backstory delivered on a far deeper level than the protagonist’s.
None of the blame here lies with Brie Larson. A truly astonishing actress, filmmaker, creative and activist, her performance on screen is matched only by her incredibly thoughtful, inspiring and inclusive actions off screen. She is an asset to the MCU in every way, but is simply not given enough to do. Carol is badass, let’s not play around, and the satisfaction in seeing a woman being the strongest one in the room cannot be underestimated, but our sense of who she is feels meagre in comparison to what we got from, for example, Black Panther’s minimal appearance in Captain America: Civil War.
Have we simply been too spoilt by the consistent quality that we know Marvel can produce? Is it too hard to introduce new heroes now, when we’ve built such deep relationships with all the existing ones? Captain Marvel was never going to match the spectacle of Infinity War, but compared to the grittiness of Winter Soldier, the comedy chops of Ant-Man or the directorial vision on display in Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok, this latest instalment feels like the most ‘safe’ Marvel movie yet.
Captain Marvel is not a bad film; far from it. It’s just a perfectly alright one. There’s a tonne of messages and choices woven into this movie that I am overjoyed young girls are getting to see in the cinema – Carol isn’t sexualised or objectified at any point, there’s no obligatory love interest (not a man, anyway – though many queer fans have really connected with this film), and the series of flashbacks where we see her continue to get back up, no matter how many times she’s knocked down, is probably the most powerful image it leaves you with. But, for MCU lovers who have patiently waited this long for a solo, female fronted movie, it may ultimately end in disappointment.
Character building aside, Captain Marvel is breaking boundaries. It recently sailed past the $1 billion mark at the worldwide box office, showing how evident the film’s resonance is with global audiences. It’s just a shame it was going for ‘Higher, Further, Faster’ rather than ‘Deeper, Better, More Interesting’.
Carol Danvers – I’m pretty sure I like you, but I’m not totally sure, only because I don’t know you well enough yet. I can’t wait for Avengers: Endgame, where I really hope we can get much better acquainted.