Why I Love Captain Marvel
Captain Marvel is probably my favorite Marvel movie to date.
I find it weird how in some circles this is a controversial stance. I am not claiming that it is the best made Marvel movie (I’m not a film critic, and it’s hard to see past personal taste biases, but my instinct is the best overall Marvel movie--as far as artistic craft, writing, direction, etc.--is probably Captain America: Winter Soldier. I have the hardest time coming up with, “Well, they could’ve done that a little better” things with that movie. Plus the way it shook up Steve Rogers as a character and worked as both a turning point in the MCU and a standalone film … it’s just really good), but I have a strong sense of what I like, and it’s not always dependent on measurable variables let alone subjective things like quality. I’m an intuitive. That’s just how I roll.
That said, I know I tend to have favorites that are outside of the average top ten lists. Up until Captain Marvel, my favorite was Doctor Strange, not because it was a perfect movie (even I noticed the parallels between Strange and Stark’s origin stories, and while I’m not sure how that lines up with the comics, it did lead to the first part of the movie feeling a little like “Iron Man light.”), but because it had the most points of personal satisfaction for any Marvel movie up to that point.
However, when I said Doctor Strange was my favorite, most people kind of just accepted it (I just like wizards, I guess), but with Captain Marvel, there seems to be more of a push for me to justify that choice … or the assumption that it’s only because she’s a woman and I’m a woman … or just because of the cat which--well, that’s not totally wrong. I do love that Flerken.
So I’m going to list the top three reasons why I think Captain Marvel appeals to me over other superhero movies … two kind of light and fluffy points and one more in depth one (so if you’re looking for me to scratch beneath the surface, stick around until the end).
I didn’t realize I was nostalgic for the 90s.
Okay, yeah, yeah, yeah, I get that nostalgia-bait is an easy way to get people excited and drive ticket sales without actually putting out a quality project. Not that all nostalgic properties are bad, but I’ll admit, many of them are the entertainment equivalent of putting a picture of a Disney princess on a box of cereal that tastes exactly the same as regular Cheerios so that the kids want it. It’s style over substance, and attempt to piggyback ride on previously established good feelings so you don’t have to do the heavy lifting.
That said, there have been plenty of nostalgia driven properties that have risen above this to also become quality entertainment (it’s also not a new thing by any means).
But come on. You 80’s people have had your turn for almost a decade now. It’s time to give something to those of us who are five to ten years younger than you and really only remember the 80s to the extent that we can quote classic Sesame Street routines and might have owned a second hand Cabbage Patch doll at some point.
I personally didn’t find the nostalgia aspects of Captain Marvel to be pandering, in that they made sense as to the setting and while we occasionally got a “oh, ha ha, remember Blockbuster … and, oh, man wasn’t dial up internet painful…” nod to the camera, it made sense with the story being told.
The place it was the most heavy handed was probably the soundtrack, but it just made me realize I missed a lot of songs I hadn’t heard in years … or missed completely because I had a comparatively sheltered upbringing. Anyway, I’d say it was only a small percentage of my enjoyment, but it is worth mentioning.
A much BIGGER percentage of my enjoyment was ….
Captain Marvel had a Cat, E-I-E-I-O …
Yeah, I’m a sucker for almost anything feline related. When I first heard that Captain Marvel was on the slate, I made a point of checking out one of her actual comic books (I’d like to read more comics generally, but I get lost in all the options, so I think I check out three or four a year on average.). The, “OH MY GOSH! SHE HAS A CAT!” reaction was almost immediate. I adored Chewie, and any woman’s whose priorities include taking her cat into space is immediately my bestie.
However, I never thought Chewie would make it into the movies (I’m still not 100% sure why Chewie became Goose. With Disney owning Star Wars, Chewie seems a slightly more obvious choice, but I guess they thought Top Gun was a better reference than Star Wars. Maybe Mar Vell really had a thing for Tom Cruise).
Saying that Disney was smart about how they marketed something is kind of a “well, duh” statement at this point. However …. Dang, Disney was smart about how they marketed the cat aspects of the movie.
The “cat shadow” easter egg in an early poster had me going, “OH MY GOSH! Are they going to have the cat?” Then when they released the character posters, and Bruce … er … okay, full disclosure. I have a big orange cat named Bruce. I love him. He is the best cat ever … and he looks so much like the cat they have playing Goose (who is named Reggie, by the way.), that I squealed when I saw the poster. It does present some gender confusion with the cat. Goose is a she-cat according to the film. She’s not played by a female. Apparently male cats are easier to train than female, and the cat they picked for Goose is very obviously a male cat (not talking reproductive organs. He just has a male cat face. I have a 90% rate of accuracy of telling a cat’s gender from looking at their face and build before checking beneath the tail, and Goose is so obviously a male cat that … this is off topic).
Let’s be honest: cats are my favorite thing ever. I cannot be expected to remain unbiased about a movie that has a big orange cat that looks like my best bud Bruce in a major role. He got more screen time than fan favorite Colson, I’m pretty sure (someone needs to time this and prove me wrong or right because I am far too lazy to double check it).
But yeah, the cosplay opportunities for me and Bruce exploded when Goose stepped on screen, and I won’t lie, I love that so so so so much.
A heroine for ME!
There’s a lot of “first Marvel Female Led Movie” buzz that seemed to overshadow the perception of the film. A lot of this was Disney being all, “Look at me! Look at me! I’m being diverse and inclusive now! It only took me … like 20 films, and we let our limping competitor, DC, beat us to the punch, but who’s counting, right?”
That said, I didn’t feel I needed a female led superhero movie for empowerment. I’m a grownass woman (sorry) … and yeah, geek female role-models are rarer by far than their male equivalent, but they aren’t non-existent. I had Leia. I had Eowyn. I had Gadget from Chip and Dale: Rescue Rangers (you laugh, but dang, when I was seven, I wanted to be Gadget with her goggles and, well, gadgets so badly.).
And Wonder Woman was great. I have very few problems with the movie, and none of them centered around the portrayal of the character. If I’m judging Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman side by side based on artistic merit without considering the “things Heidi finds shiny” count, they’re pretty equal films (I’ve heard more direct criticism of Captain Marvel from critics and “unbiased” sources, but I am willing to bet a lot of that is the personal taste combined with the “controversy” of Captain Marvel making people hold the film up to more of a microscope than Wonder Woman which kind of sailed in on a wave of good feelings and didn’t really upset anyone, that I remember). Either way, Wonder Woman is fine, and the fact that Captain Marvel was female wasn’t enough to make or break her character for me either way. I have a history of being more invested in male characters … not because of their gender, but because writers just seem more likely to give men character traits I relate to.
I’m a Shawn Spencer, not a Juliet. More a Rory than an Amy. More an Aang than a Katara. When watching Justice League Unlimited with my girls, even with a decent line up of female superheroes to choose from, the character who I related to the most was the sincere but silly Flash. My favorite Marvel character up to Carol’s introduction was 100% Doctor Strange. I loved how he rolled with the punches and was driven by intellectual curiosity and how he thought his way out of a crisis even when outmatched. He was confident, maybe a little cocky, but not in a “going to make impulsive decisions that ruin things” Tony Stark sort of way. More in a, “I know what I’m doing and I am not going to doubt it” way. He bent rules with finesse rather than plow through them. (I still might slightly like Strange better than Danvers, but it’s really close. We’ve gotten a little more of Strange, and I want to see how future movies use the characters before I make a final call).
A lot of the traits that got on other people’s nerves about Carol Danvers are things that made me go, “Oh, yeah, that woman gets me.”
Mainly the smirking. Everything is a joke with her. Even at inappropriate times, she’s got that look on her face like, “I’m here to play.” I don’t know how many times in my life someone has been like, “This is serious business” and my brain has gone “Much srs bznz” and then I just couldn’t stop that “look” on my face … She’s not a sledge hammer to the rules, much like Strange, though she is a little more openly rebellious than him, but that, “I don’t like to be told what to do but I’m not a complete idiot so I’m also not going to break everything down … let me subvert you in subtle ways and push the boundaries instead.”
And yeah, I know at the top I said I didn’t need empowerment, but … I might’ve lied a little bit. I didn’t think I needed empowerment when I watched Wonder Woman, and was like, “Oh, this is a good superhero movie, but yeah, it’s not getting to me any more than any other superhero movie.” I didn’t think I needed empowerment when Rey picked up a lightsaber … I may have gotten a little “squeeee-y” when Eowyn announced she was no man, but that was more because LORD OF THE RINGZZZZZZZZZZZZ, BABY! than “Oh, yeah, girl power. Yay.”
When Captain Marvel stood up, I got choked up. I felt like I was standing up. I got hyped. I felt like I was seeing me as a superhero for the first time.
I think the problem with representation is we tend to think in terms of “color” or “gender” or “labels” rather than people, personalities, and life experience. You present me with a female hero and say, “Oh, look, she’s just like you” but then she’s an ISTJ to my ENFP, and I’m like, “Nah, I kind of relate to her comic relief sidekick guy who serves as her moral compass while always cracking jokes. Do you make that guy’s costume in a woman’s medium?” The answer to this is, of course, good writing. Good writing will explore a variety of characters rather than reaching into an archetype grab bag and pulling out “we’ve seen that before” over and over again. The more types are explored, the more people will feel represented, and yeah, it’s nice to have someone you can cosplay as without having to gender swap them or dye your hair or worry that your skin is the wrong color or even that your body is the wrong shape, but what makes people relate to characters is very rarely those surface things.
I also get why a lot of people (both male and female) would not relate to Captain Marvel. The smirking and the confidence can get on the nerves of someone who doesn’t ride that natural buoyancy in their own life. Tony Stark and Stephen Strange both have some of that cockiness, but it tends to be played up as a flaw and cause them trouble, excusing it as a lovable foible that gets them sympathy rather than annoyance. Carol Danvers embraces hers and uses it as a strength … which isn’t bad writing. Most strengths have their corresponding weakness. With Carol’s story being one of having her true self suppressed and learning to take ownership of her own power, her being apologetic for these things would not have fit … and that’s fine. We already had Tony and Stephen’s story showing us the “bad” side of being over-confident … just like we’ve seen the pros and cons of Starlord/Peter making choices based on his heart/gut … just like we’ve seen both sides of the Hulk wrestling with the usefulness but also the danger of his inner green monster … just like we’ve seen that Natasha’s conniving and the walls she’s built can be a useful tool but also something that can hamper her connection with others and make her a little bit of a wildcard who might turn on you when you least expect it. Even the more “perfect” characters like Steve Rogers have to learn when to bend and when to stand because life requires both and different situations might require different reactions.
Could I see a plotline where Carol’s smirking and “guns blazing” attitude cause something bad to happen and she has to learn to pull back on both traits? Oh, totally, but for an introduction to the character, at the start of her arc, I don’t think it’s necessary. It’s kind of unfair to expect a character who we have spent one film (and a few underdeveloped moments from another film where she was mostly a side note) with to have the same growth and progress as characters who we’ve been following for most of a decade. If you get her to the end of her arc in one movie, there’s just not much left to do with her. That’s the point you either kill or retire a character, and considering that Marvel is attempting to flesh out a new Avengers team to keep cranking out movies until the sky falls … not going to happen any time soon.
I guess all that aside, I just found the movie fun along with the various places it spoke to me personally. I liked the (spoilers?) twisty take on the Skrulls. It wasn’t a huge surprise because of previous dealings with the Kree (we all knew Jude Law was playing a bad guy, right? That surprised absolutely no one), and I think Ben Mendelsohn is kind of awesome (I could listen to his voice forever) and am hoping he shows up a lot more. It had some cool fight scenes that mixed humor and action well. I liked the Indiana Jones moment in the end where she just blasts the guy … yeah, I just like this movie.
Now, I’m reserving the right to pull back on my love for the character based on future films. The next one she could go dark and evil and lose the cat (there BETTER be a Flerken in the sequel, Marvel. You’re on notice), but just based on the movie alone … yeah, I like Captain Marvel.
And her cat.
Especially her cat.