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Superficial superhero

Brie Larson as Captain Marvel (Marvel Studios)


Superficial superhero

Captain Marvel can do almost anything except keep an audience interested

There’s a moment in Captain Marvel where the girl-power pandering is so over the top it makes the rest of the movie pointless.

Carol Danvers, aka “Vers,” finally discovers the full range of her superpowers and, to the never-so-subtle strains of Gwen Stefani’s “Just a Girl,” proceeds to pummel a battalion of alien bad guys single-handedly. Her abilities prove so dominant that she can seemingly do anything, be it fly to farthest reaches of space without protective gear or destroy intergalactic warheads with a single blow. Thus does the cause of female empowerment lay waste to old-fashioned storytelling notions like tension and surprise, otherwise known as ... reasons for the audience to stay interested in what’s happening on the screen. 

You almost wonder why Nick Fury bothered assembling all those other Avengers over the years. Why not just keep paging the one-woman wrecking crew?

Clumsily draped around this one-note moralizing is a backstory that’s equally sanctimonious and dull. Played by a wooden Brie Larson, our heroine starts out as a strong, valiant Kree warrior who keeps having flashbacks to another life on another planet. When the Kree’s ancient enemies, the Skrulls, take Vers captive and start digging around in her memories, Vers begins to realize she once had a different identity. It turns out, before becoming a tough-as-nails fighter pilot in outer space, she was a tough-as-nails fighter pilot on Earth. Thankfully, the experience teaches her the importance of being a woman who’s tough as nails.  

Beyond Carol Danvers’ lack of even elementary-level depth or growth, Captain Marvel (rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive language) fails on basic plotting as well. Anyone who saw Guardians of the Galaxy is going to see the major twist coming in the first few scenes. There is a bit of fun to be had once we enter Earth’s atmosphere, but this is in spite of the movie’s titular character, not because of her. We get a thrill seeing the early days of S.H.I.E.L.D., we get some laughs from seeing how Nick Fury lost that eye, and a Blockbuster Video cameo coupled with a few 1990s songs provides some pleasant nostalgia. Beyond that, the story is almost solely a hectoring reminder to hear women roar. Which would be a lot easier to do if not for the fact that every character in the film is able to upstage Carol on the personality meter, including the cat.

To be blunt, it’s insulting that Marvel felt simply making its first leading woman “one tough chick” would be enough to placate female fans. All the male Avengers' origin stories feature character flaws, physical weaknesses, and romantic interests who complicate their missions. Captain Marvel has none of these things. It’s impossible not to compare her to DC’s leading lady, Wonder Woman, who proved so winsome, warm, and witty she alone breathed life into the flailing Justice League franchise.

Diana Prince’s Amazonian strength and agility, combined with her traditionally idealized feminine traits like innocence and beauty, create a nicely complex mix. Her chaste romance with self-sacrificing soldier Steve Trevor only compliments her loveliness. Over the course of the story, Steve helps her learn some hard lessons about her own naiveté that ultimately make both of their heroics more meaningful.

Captain Marvel, in contrast, has nothing to learn beyond discovering that even those supposed flaws some man-mentor kept yammering at her to restrain are really strengths. Every challenge she faces is because someone with an XY chromosome is trying to box her in. She overcomes them by throwing off her male-forged shackles. 

So Wonder Woman willingly leaves the Eden-like perfection of Themyscira to grapple with humanity’s capacity for evil and weigh whether their fallenness still makes them worthy of her sacrifices. Captain Marvel returns to Earth on a journey of self-actualization to struggle with the idea that she’s even more awesome than she thinks she is. Which one sounds like a real role model for girls?


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  • JerryM
    Posted: Thu, 03/07/2019 06:02 pm

    Add "Alita: Battle Angel" and you have Hollywood's social engineering at its most blatant.

  • JennyBeth
    Posted: Sat, 03/09/2019 03:16 pm

    An apt contrast: DC pulled itself up by making Wonder Woman, a rather dull character in the comics, very likeable. Marvel seems to be crashing its rolling success by making its big female character, who had lots of potential, dislikeable. Not to mention that the actress insulted a huge portion of her audience saying she didn't want white males watching her movie.

  • Midwest preacher
    Posted: Mon, 03/11/2019 05:49 pm

    What??  I am confused.  I am almost 67 years old and I totally don't get this.  Don't know enough about it to say it's bad I just don't understand.  Is reality and people with real lives and real problems so boring that we must fly into absolute fantasy not only in action but also apparently in morals?  I'm a white male and not really ashamed of it but I will honor the ladys request and not see her film.  I think she may have been paying all us old white fellows a compliment.  

  •  phillipW's picture
    Posted: Tue, 03/12/2019 03:27 pm

    Perhaps I'm not the audience that movie makers care about, but as a 51 year old white male I am finding it harder and harder to spend the $25 - $30 that it requires, at a minimum to go see a movie in the theatres.  Take the controversial lead character playing identity politics with her product, and basically giving white men the middle finger, you still have to try and convince me that your product is worth (literally) the price of admission.

    Look, Brie Larson can say whatever she wants, if she values her opinions that loudly.  But I can just as easily find alternatives for my "entertainment" dollar.  And quite frankly, it doesn't take much to have me looking elsewhere to spend my money, especially as limited as it is.

    The wife and I were simply saying a week or so ago that there just aren't very many movies that have come out in the last 5 years or so that have been worth the expense of seeing it in the theatres.  And that is coming from my wife, who lives for the movie going experience (me, not so much - I can wait for it to release on DVD or stream online for free).

    All that being said, the above review made my decision that much easier.  If Marvel or whomever continues to go down this politically correct road with their product, then I won't be sending them a single dime of my money.  Just make movies that entertain, and actually have a good story, and I'll show up every time.  But preach to me through your narrative that I am just a bad guy, simply because of the color of my skin, and (now) my gender, then I'll simply ignore you and move on to other things to spend my time doing.

  • godmadetastebuds
    Posted: Fri, 03/15/2019 12:55 pm

    I’m a guy and very sensitive to forced political agendas in movie storytelling, and I thought the movie was delightful. I found the themes to be more about the beauty of humanity than strictly female empowerment. I took her freedom from the shackles of her oppressors to be more matrix-like in its storytelling. Her plight was discovering her humanity and her beauty despite being fed a narrative of lies and deceit, much like our own fight against the lies of the world. And when she’s finally free and overpowering everyone, it was exhilarating to watch. I loved it. 

  •  West Coast Gramma's picture
    West Coast Gramma
    Posted: Sat, 03/16/2019 07:29 pm

    I don't read much about movies. By that I mean, I'm not into their back stories, thier behind the scenes philosophies. I like adventure movies because they're what I call "light," as in no heavy duty human social issues, just fun action. I like the first Jurassic Park, many of the original Star Wars, and I liked the Avengers, which I saw out of a blue sky, never having read Marvel Comics, and not even having seen Captain America.

    That said, you'll understand when I say I approached Captain Marvel without a lot of baggage. I wasn't offended by any of the "women stuff" our World reviewer describes. In fact, my most pressing concern was to understand why the Kree Mar Vell was destroying the light speed engine before the Kree could get to it.

    If you want to talk offensive feminist movies, than talk Walt Disney. Moana is the HUGE exception, but I find most of the Disney movies that feature female characters as heroines over-the-top belittling to men. Start with Peter Pan. The father was portrayed as a fool. It's what a movie does with the male characters rather than the female, that marks it as being offensively feminist. Captain Marvel doesn't belittle its male characters in order to build up its feminine heroine. The male and female are peers.

    Our culture has reached the point where the world of adventure fantasy is ripe for female heroines. (One of these years, the US will have its first female president.) You have to do Something with your female character. I found the Marvel captain to be neutral--her interactions with the male characters didn't rub me the wrong way at all. I liked the movie. I spent $10 at my local theater, and that included a $3 bottomless bag of popcorn I refilled once. The movie achieved my goal of causing me to forget the real world for a while. I'm hazarding the opinion that perhaps our World movie reviewer imported some of her own preformed baggage into her perception of this movie. Oh, and the animation was incredible.


  • Laura W
    Posted: Wed, 03/20/2019 04:03 am

    I decided I'd better see the movie before I commented. I just did, and it's alright as a funny action flick. That's not what I go to see Marvel movies for. I'm hoping to see likable, flawed heros working together to overcome impossible odds. Or something like that, at least.

    I guess I got the "hero" part? But I don't really want to be like her. She was way too easily convinced by the first sob story she heard, and didn't really show anything that could be mistaken for compassion either. And [spoilers] what was the deal with the scene where her trainer challenges her to beat him without her powers? She says she doesn't have to prove anything to him, but rather than actually declining the challenge, she goes and blasts him into a rock. Because she can. I mean, he's supposed to be the villian and all, but he actually seems like a decent sort of guy, even if he is on the wrong side. I can't really say the same for her.

    Oh, and the part about how it's supposed to represent women's struggle to break free from the shackles of society or something? Give me a break. "Go slower!"--said no boy ever.

  • ML
    Posted: Sat, 03/23/2019 04:19 pm

    I think you give too much credit to the "Wonder Woman" film, it was, afterall, DC's version of "Captian America: The First Avenger" (almost same battle field) meets "Thor" (unearthly powers and fantasy homeland) meets "Lord of the Rings" (the prologues flash-back summary) especially meets "The Fifth Element" (the closing climactic battle scene with almost the same exact dialogue and staging).  So...if "Captian Marvel" is trying to copy and yet manages to come off worse than "Wonder Woman", it must be bad!

    Also, Wonder Woman being "chaste"?!  Although keeping it off-screen, unfortunately it's implied she was not in the film, which was another thing that disappointed me in DC's handling.

  • ET
    Posted: Mon, 03/25/2019 04:35 pm

    Perhaps it would have been better if Megan had entered the movie without and preconcieved notions about the movie and its so-called feminist agenda. As a whole, the movie itself offers much less of a leftist propaganda than was assumed by the majority of people before the movie came out. Maybe the plot itself was not well-conceived, but to say that the fault is on the filmmakers trying to push a feminist agenda is simply plain ridiculous. Captain Marvel debatably may not have been the sturdiest step for Marvel to take in providing a more equal make up of their line of superheroes, but it is a step I'm more than glad to support. From what I've seen, the faux-controversy was centered around its marketing in commercials, trailers and posters that were trying to make an appeal to its more feminine audience--not actually over the movie itself.

    Let's compare, for example. Avengers: Infinity War amassed ~52,000 user votes on Rotten Tomatoes in its whole year since its release. On the other hand, Captain Marvel received ~46,000 user votes within the FIRST weekend of its release with a 37% rating, this extreme unbalance forcing Rotten Tomatoes to rework its guidelines to ensure that voters had actually watched the movie before they voted. How exactly is this not a projection and echo-chamber of unreasonable hate? Is there not many other things people can spend their time being angry on? Knowing the tendencies of a publication like WORLD, I am expecting this comment to be deleted, but maybe I can hope they will allow it to encourage reasonable discourse.

  • godmadetastebuds
    Posted: Thu, 03/28/2019 09:55 am

    Here is a very different take on the film which highlights biblical womanhood characteristics portrayed in Captain Marvel. I tend to agree: