Captain Marvel left me disappointed. I felt it as I left the cinema. I felt it as I was watching the movie. I new why I was disappointed, but it’s taken me a while to put it to words.
On Strength and Power
Before I get into explaining my reaction to the movie, I need to clarify two of the terms I’m going to use. In the context of this article:
Power: super-human abilities such as ability to lift great weights, take significant damage, shoot photon blasts, etc.
Strength: an aspect of character displayed in bravery, determination, and self-confidence.
While Captain Marvel is (I think, unarguably) the most powerful character in the MCU, she’s also the weakest. And that really bothered me.
Changing of the Guard
Captain Marvel is being groomed as the “replacement” for Captain America. As the MCU finishes the Infinity Saga and moves into more cosmic locales and stories, Captain America will be passing the torch to Captain Marvel. I had been looking forward to that. Now, I’m not so sure.
I remember reading stories with Ms. Marvel and Binary back in the day. But after being introduced to the Kelly Sue DeConnick run on Captain Marvel, I gained a new respect for the character. Not only was she a powerful character, she was a strong person.
Growing up, Captain America was “my hero”. When he was brought into the MCU, I felt that the writers, directors, and Chris Evans captured “my” Captain America perfectly. Evans, especially, has done an excellent job of finding the right balance for Steve Rodgers as both a hero and a good person. The key to this has been showing that Steve Rogers is strong—not because he’s the Super Soldier, but from the very beginning. This has been a vital component of his leadership.
Weakness for the Sake of “Drama”
In the first act of Captain America, is the classic scene of Steve—as the proverbial 90-lb weakling—getting knocked to the ground by a bully, and standing right back up. This shows us that Steve is a strong person. We respect him for that.
In Captain Marvel, however, we continually see Carol being knocked down—and not getting back up. The directors chose to show Carol as weak throughout the movie so that they could have the “revelation moment” at the climax. “Surprise! She was really strong all along!”
Nope. Sorry. Doesn’t work that way. It was a bad decision from a storytelling standpoint, and from a role model standpoint. The storytellers purposely “lied” to us throughout the movie. They intentionally portrayed Carol as weak—as not standing up for herself.
And that was exceedingly disappointing.
What Could Have Been
How would I have done it? With a few simple edits. Take all the times Carol “Stands up” in the montage, and place them where they happen throughout the movie. Each time she gets knocked down, show her standing again. Show the little girls watching that women are strong; when they’re knocked down, they stand up again. Show it through the entire movie—reinforce this message. Girls are strong.
Establish that she has always been strong—so we’re faced with the question “What’s changed? Why isn’t she standing up for herself now?” Build tension in the conflict between a history of strength and a present of allowing others to control her.
I wanted to see that little girl on the beach stand up right at the start. And at the go-cart track. And on the baseball diamond.
Instead I got a montage.