Opinion: A force to contend with – Ashley digs deeper into Captain Marvel

The Story Geeks blogger Ashley Pauls responds with an additional perspective to the same topic discussed in this week’s podcast – digging deeper into the film “Captain Marvel.” Want to share your own take? Join the conversation in The Story Geeks Facebook group!

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The arrival of “Captain Marvel” marked a significant moment for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as it’s the first solo MCU film with a female lead. While I wish the MCU had given us a solo female superhero film sooner (fans waited for approximately 10 years and 20 films for this moment!), it’s still an important milestone, and hopefully the sign of much more to come.

As a movie, “Captain Marvel” lands somewhere in the middle of my MCU film rankings. I enjoyed the movie and had a lot of fun watching it, but I also felt like there were a few small things holding it back from landing higher on my list.

For me, the best part was the characters — Carol Danvers is awesome, and I can’t wait to see her take on Thanos in “Endgame.” I also loved her friendship with Nick Fury (a digitally de-aged Samuel L. Jackson, with CGI effects that are so realistic they’re a little eerie). And of course, I can’t forget about Goose the Cat, who manages to be adorable and terrifying at the same time. As this film teaches us, don’t ever underestimate a Flerken.

Although “Captain Marvel” is technically an origin story, the character’s background is not told linearly, but rather through a series of flashbacks. I thought this was actually a cool technique, and helped give the movie a different feel from the origin story template we’re used to seeing. We meet Captain Marvel as she is right now — serving as Kree warrior — and then we get to learn about her past alongside her as she rediscovers who (and what) she really is. This helps the audience empathize with Carol and form a connection with her.

Even though there are things I would have tweaked about the film itself (we’ll get to some of that in a minute), it has been wonderful to see what this movie means to female fans. The lead character has definitely resonated with young girls, similar to the way Rey and Wonder Woman have. It’s awesome to watch Carol become a fully-fledged superhero, and the story of how she overcomes her challenges will undoubtedly be inspiring fans of all ages for many years to come.

A villain…who actually isn’t a villain?

So far, I’ve been focusing on the heroes in this film, but let’s dig a little deeper into the villains (and who doesn’t love to talk about a good villain?).

About halfway through the film, Captain Marvel and Nick Fury visit Carol’s former wingmate, Maria Rambeau, and they learn that the Skrulls are actually refugees and victims of Kree oppression — rather than the shape-shifting villains we assumed them to be. It’s a pretty big twist, one that reshapes both Carol AND the audience’s perspectives. Carol has dedicated herself to fighting against the Skrulls, and now she learns that she was actually “the bad guy.”

Since I haven’t read a lot of the original Marvel comics, I’m not sure how closely this movie does (or doesn’t) follow pre-existing storylines. While I like the idea of the twist (a villain who actually isn’t a villain), the execution of this twist felt just the *teeniest* bit hollow to me.

Maybe it’s just because I love complicated villains/anti-heroes too much. But the story the film told us felt, perhaps, too simplistic at times. I feel like there’s a more nuanced story that could have been told here.

Instead of Kree = bad guys and Skrulls = good guys, the script could have emphasized that both the Kree and the Skrulls have complicated pasts, and both have committed acts of war that are morally unjustifiable. (We also needed to see more flashbacks/examples of how their actions impacted the galaxy in negative ways.) Then, maybe Carol learns that the Skrulls are actually trying to change and end the cycle of violence, but the Kree have no interest in this.

Carol ends up helping the Skrulls to start over and defeat the Kree, maybe planting the seeds for Yon-Rogg and some of her former teammates to start questioning their own actions in the future. I wish they’d done more with Yon-Rogg’s character, actually; I love a good sympathetic villain, and Yon-Rogg felt like a bit of a missed opportunity, at least to me. Maybe we’ll get more development in a future film and they’ll add more shades of gray to this character.

In short, I love the idea of the Skrull twist and think it adds an interesting element to the film. But this twist wasn’t executed as well as it could have been.

‘I have nothing to prove to you’

Despite some of my issues with the villains and plot (the film drags a little in parts), as a character Carol Danvers gets a big thumbs up from me. I touched on this earlier, but as the star of Marvel’s first solo female superhero film Captain Marvel has already become an important symbol for female fans.

Although I may not have hidden superpowers, I can relate to some of Carol’s experiences. If you talk to female geeks, most of them can probably point to a time where they ran across misogyny in fandom. Whether that misogyny was intentional or not, the behavior is damaging and discouraging, sucking the joy out of a geek experience that should be accessible to all.

You catch flashes of Carol’s own encounters with sexism in the film. I’m sure real-life female pilots have heard comments along the same lines as “why do you think they call it a cockpit.” And then there’s the scene where a motorcyclist gives Carol grief for not smiling enough. She’s also encouraged to keep her emotions “in check.”

Subtle (or not so subtle) comments like these can be used to put female fans down. That’s why it’s so important that at the end of the film, we see Carol break free of her restraints (in both a physical and metaphorical sense). She’s made mistakes, but that’s part of being human, and those mistakes don’t define her. She IS strong enough, and she IS brave enough to save the day.

Even though films like “Captain Marvel” are fictional stories, the themes and ideas they present are incredibly powerful. I hope the young fans who watch this movie will be inspired by Carol’s story and want to look for ways to be heroes in their own lives.

We’ve still got a ways to go, but “Captain Marvel” is an important step forward for diversity in fandom. And even though it’s not my top favorite Marvel film, I love what it represents. Carol is definitely going to be a force to contend with in the future of the MCU.