Riot Grrl

It’s the 90s, and ‘Captain Marvel’ Has Got Nothing to Prove

Captain Marvel, or Carol Danvers, or Veers, a heroine portrayed with grit and humor by Brie Larson, appears at first to be Wonder Woman’s spunky little sister. She’s funny and kind-hearted and entirely human, and she trades statuesque grace and perfect eyebrows for raw strength and determination.

But even though the average viewer will compare Captain Marvel to Wonder Woman,  the first two major female comic-book heroes to headline their own movies, it does a disservice to both characters (and both movies). But it also illuminates the ways in which powerful women appear on film in this decade.

CAPTAIN MARVEL ★★★★(4/5 stars)
Directed by: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Written by: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Starring: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law, Annette Bening
Running time: 124 min.


Captain Marvel opens with an elaborate 15-minute sequence that might as well be on Arrakis, with a training scene straight out of The Matrix. Then, Carol crashes through a Blockbuster Video on Earth in 1995, meets a younger and un-eyepatched Nick Fury, and begins to piece together both her past and her future. Eventually, she seizes her power, in a thoroughly satisfying (if a bit supercharged) conclusion.

Captain Marvel

So it’s 1995, as the filmmakers continually remind the viewer. The movie includes just about every song late Xers and early Millennials ever groaned and re-tuned the radio to get away from (“Connection,” “Just a Girl,” “Waterfalls,” “I’m Only Happy When It Rains,” etc.), including a really misplaced usage of “Come As You Are.” It intrudes on an entertaining and involving film that doesn’t need to stoop to nostalgia.  The filmmakers also lean too far toward sentimentality a few times, especially with family and parent/child relationships that haven’t earned the viewer’s investment.

As healing as it felt for a feminist like me to see Wonder Woman take the field in that No Man’s Land scene, watching Carol steal a guy’s motorcycle because he tells her to smile felt even better. Like early Thor, Wonder Woman never gets to be funny except as a fish out of water. But Carol drops a quip or two, a la Spider-Man. I loved that Diana cooed over a baby on the street, because it made her no less powerful to be tender. I love even more that Carol can trade barbs with Nick Fury, let her best friend’s daughter pick the color of her suit, and lay waste to a spaceship from the inside out.

Young Nick Fury

This doesn’t mean Marvel built a perfect film built around her. The close combat scenes don’t have much novelty to offer. The Israel/Palestine-type conflict between the Kree and the Skrull that Carol gets dragged into doesn’t resonate as strongly as Carol’s past and her powers, but gets a lot more screen time. However, this filmfinally gives Nick Fury enough to do, instead of granting him little dribs and drabs in after-credit sequences. In a sea of 25-minute first acts, I found the unusual structure of the first hour refreshing.  I saw the film in 3D, and it was totally gorgeous and well-integrated.

And, like other major films with female protagonists—Frozen, Wonder Woman, Atomic Blonde—there sits a jeweled moment at the film’s heart that makes it profoundly valuable through a feminist lens. Toward the end of the film, a male enemy bellows at Carol, telling her to fight him on his terms, fist-to-fist, no energy blasts or laser guns. She shuts him up, and then says, without rancor, “I have nothing to prove to you.”

“Captain Marvel”, the film, did have something to prove. Avengers: Infinity War possibly set up Captain Marvel, the character, as the great hope for the good guys of the Marvel universe. The film had to bear that out. With wit, heart, and stunning, unstoppable power, it does.

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Katharine Coldiron

Katharine Coldiron's work has appeared in Ms., the Times Literary Supplement, BUST, the Rumpus, and elsewhere.

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