Kirese Narinesingh reviews Marvel’s newest, female-led blockbuster, Captain Marvel.
After reading a few reviews about Captain Marvel in which it was criticised for the very reasons that Marvel films headlined by male superheroes are praised, I entered the film with doubts in my head. I left with these doubts completely gone. I realised that most of the reviews were, in fact, written by men.
Captain Marvel begins with a memory of the past: the near-death and rebirth of Carol Danvers, who is integrated into Kree society as a warrior, possessing no memory of her life on Earth. She is taught by her mentor to control her power, which is connected to her emotions, and is subsequently used to fight alongside the Kree against the ostensibly villainous Skrulls. Of course, Danvers recollects her lost past, with the help of the budding SHIELD agent, Nick Fury.
Contrary to belief, it is not a “buddy film” where Fury and Danvers team up, make a couple of jokes and defeat the “bad guys.” Captain Marvel is exactly what the title is about. Repeat after me: Captain Marvel. It is far more nuanced than the premise implies, it goes “higher, further, faster” than you might be led to believe. It offers a genuine story comprising genuine people, with Danvers at the forefront of it, with feminist themes of empowerment that go beyond the typical Marvel formula, thanks to a brilliantly written script and the direction of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck.
It is neither a film that valorises action over emotional resonance and solid character development, nor one that abandons the importance of supporting characters; Samuel Jackson’s Nick Fury and Lashana Lynch’s Maria Rambeau are some worthy mentions, and major highlights of the film are where we see a more complete spectrum of characters, rather than mere instruments of comic relief. The CGI never feels disorienting or heavy-handed, and the special effects do not take away from the reality-oriented foreground that centres around the feminist themes.
But at the same time, it is branded a “Marvel movie” and we expect action upon action that we rely on, whether consciously or unconsciously, to make us feel as empowered as the superheroes that we watch on screen. Captain Marvel delivers this, but it is a type of empowerment that is felt in our core, rather than a temporary exhilaration usually achieved when we see the lead beat up the antagonist. It is a more permanent, nuanced feeling brought about by a genuine affinity with a character whose power is drawn from her raw, human emotion. Danvers actually reaches her fullest potential when she breaks from the Kree-enforced, masculine control over her emotions and reveals the sheer power that makes her Marvel’s mightiest hero.
This is in part thanks to Brie Larson’s portrayal of Danvers, which contrary to what viewers expected from the trailers, was not one dimensional; in many ways, she is the film’s heart and soul. I don’t think that it would even be possible to criticise her interpretation and performance as Danvers. It seems to me, at least, that Larson has made herself completely identify and immerse into Danver’s story, expressing every subtle emotion that makes Carol Danvers a real person, with real feelings and vulnerabilities, rather than an archetypal superhero.
There is so much more to say about a film as much needed as this. It is, after all, Marvel’s first superhero movie headlined by a female protagonist. I felt empowered when I saw it. I got goosebumps, I was stunned by the visuals, I was engrossed by the humour, the characters and plot. So do not be put off by bad (and let’s face it) sexist reviews of a film that we expect to be a “Marvel film” with all the grandeur of spectacular action and entertainment. It is in many ways that, but also so much more. Perhaps instead of criticising it for not being what we expect, we should rethink our own expectations.