Captain Marvel has taken over the box office, making $500 million worldwide, and with good reason. The film confidently and forcefully upends the male dynamic of the MCU and showcases how women can be the most powerful beings on the planet.
Brie Larson plays Carol Danvers, a former Air Force pilot who doesn’t remember anything about her old life. As far she knows, she’s “Vers” (pronounced “Veers”), a Kree soldier who was gifted special powers by the Supreme Intelligence (Annette Benning, who also played Air Force leader Dr. Wendy Lawson, otherwise known as rogue Kree soldier Mar-Vell). Her only family is Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), her Kree mentor and the leader of the planet’s elite warriors. Vers’ real awakening happens during a mission gone wrong; the Skrulls and their captain, Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), take her, and her memories are probed. It’s this jolt to the system, plus being stranded on Earth in 1995, that propels Vers on her journey toward remembering her name, life and her true capabilities.
Larson plays Carol with equal parts of seriousness and humor. She never oversells Carol’s immense power or vulnerability; instead, she plays the part with earnest relatability, which makes Carol’s ultimate showcase of strength genuinely astounding to watch.
While many viewers might have come for Carol, the characters who leave even bigger impressions are Lashana Lynch’s Maria Rambeau and Samuel L. Jackson‘s take on a younger Nick Fury. Lynch’s Hollywood star seemed truncated with the quick failure of the multicultural take on Romeo and Juliet, ABC’s Still Star-Crossed. But, thankfully, Marvel has scooped her up. We get to see more of Lynch’s talent than we ever saw in Still Star-Crossed; We view the hurt, anguish, confusion and relief play out all at once when Carol, Maria’s best friend and surrogate family member, makes her big return. Maria also acts as a fantastic support system for Carol without devolving into a typical Marvel POC sidekick. Instead of being below Carol, she’s her equal.
Maria’s motherly power also provides support for Akira Akbar, who plays young Monica Rambeau, who, in the comics, grew up to take on the Captain Marvel mantle herself before donning the name Photon. Since Monica Rambeau might be the MCU’s first African-American female superhero to take prominence after Avengers: Endgame, I can’t wait to see how the character evolves in the films to come.
If anyone fits that POC sidekick role, it might be Fury, honestly speaking. But that’s also a negative reading of his character. A more charitable interpretation is that we get more layers into Fury’s character. It’s nice to know that at one time, he was a more naive, friendly, happy-go-lucky guy. At one point, he was more like Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg, who also shows up in this film), which is charming. Seeing Fury interact with Goose the “cat” (who is, in reality, a dangerous alien) makes Fury even more likable than he already is. Overall, younger Fury allows us to see Jackson express more of his acting range and, in his way, play against type. It’d be nice if we could see more of Jackson playing the nice, happy guy in films instead of the “Bad-Ass Mother F*****” he always plays.
There are only two big complaints about the film. First, while Lynch and Jackson provide us with positive examples of people of color in the MCU, there’s still the fact that they are in secondary character roles. Marvel has a pattern of utilizing POC characters as secondary characters to the main, white superpowered one. This characterization is one reason why Black Panther was so revolutionary–it finally reversed the viewer’s gaze and showed what it would be like if the white character is the one trailing behind the Black characters.
To go along with that, several POC actors in Captain Marvel are playing the Kree warriors, the villains of the film. As Minn-Erva, Crazy Rich Asians‘ star Gemma Chan leads a cast of largely POC actors who have donned blue makeup to portray the Kree. That list includes Djimon Hounsou reprising his Guardians of the Galaxy character Korath, Chuku Modu as Soh-Larr and Algenis Perez Soto as Att-Lass. While POC actors can play any roles they choose, it’s also worth noting how popular sci-fi and fantasy films often use POC actors and looks to portray alien otherness, especially evil otherness.
Second gripe: The Skrulls do look like King Piccolo from Dragonball: Evolution.
Green aliens have it rough in films.
However, the Skrulls also provide the film with a chance to inject a subtle dig at today’s politics surrounding immigration. Whereas the Skrulls were painted as an invasive species by the Kree, it turns out the Kree are the ones who want to build walls and turn families into refugees. The switcheroo should give audiences a moment of reflection since, in our political realm, the president of the United States unfairly paints immigrants and refugees as violent invaders from “s**thole” countries.
But overall, Captain Marvel is a film you should be proud to let your children watch. It will inspire them to understand there should be no limits on what women can achieve, and, speaking from personal experience, it just might encourage adults, as well.