Heroes and Humanity
Why Captain Marvel disappointed, and how Endgame can do better
For as long as I can remember, I have eagerly purchased my tickets and headed to my local theater for an opening weekend showing of the latest Marvel movie. Although I was not quite as engaged with Captain Marvel, I thought it was about time Marvel produced a female-lead movie, knew that Carol Danvers would have a big role to play in the upcoming Avengers movie, and bought my tickets for a few weeks after the release.
But I was disappointed by Captain Marvel. I think it would be a mistake to pretend that it met, let alone exceeded, my expectations for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I am not going to give it a pass for its awkward pacing, forced one-liners, and flat acting simply because it’s the feminist Marvel movie. It should not get a gold star just because it sets the Avengers franchise up for Carol’s sudden appearance. The movie certainly does not deserve to be exalted above the other moving, powerful, and entertaining films the MCU has produced in the last ten years.
Captain Marvel tried to do too much. It tried to be the feminist, female-lead movie audiences wanted after Wonder Woman, while also being an origin story for a character most Marvel movie fans did not know. It works to wax poetic about the nature and complexity of war and the meaning of good and evil, but changes its mind about the good and bad guys so many times I got whiplash. We are told that Carol Danvers is representative of all the women who have been told that their emotions cloud their judgment, but we never see any out-of-control expression of those emotions. If anything, Brie Larson as Captain Marvel is flat, restrained, and emotionless. If emotions are her greatest weakness, but she does not show any, does she not have any weaknesses?
That, I think, was the larger issue with Captain Marvel as both a movie and a character. She failed to feel, failed to demonstrate any sort of real development besides an instantaneous transfer of power, and failed to demonstrate heroism that was more than physical invincibility. No amount of clever one-liners, no powerful female supporting cast, and no Pulp Fiction Samuel L. Jackson references could save this movie from that.
Marvel has succeeded because it has created a world of compelling and profoundly human heroes. It is at its best when it’s at its most human: when human heroes that are fallen and broken exist through and within compelling relationships. Pride drives Tony Stark movie after movie. Anger literally creates a beast within Bruce Banner. Steve Rogers is haunted by guilt for the life he left in the 1940s. Hawkeye has been all but absent lately because he is with his family: wife, kids, and all. Even the most broken of Marvel’s relationships feel real and moving. Thor and Loki have fought too many times to count, but they remain grounded in their fraternal relationship.
The films stumble when they let go of their humanity. Marvel’s unwillingness to let characters die and stay dead, for example, is problematic. Mortality is both uncomfortable and profoundly human. Real hurt and real stakes bring humanity to even non-human heroes, and that lends Marvel strength.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is all about the larger picture. Every character, every end-credits scene, and every easter egg (hidden reference) plays a larger role. Nothing exists in isolation. Its writers and directors have created a carefully crafted and beautifully connected world. Captain Marvel did not seem to fit in that world, and that’s a problem.
As you read this, Avengers: Endgame will be hitting theaters nationwide. Though many look forward to new heroes like Carol taking center stage, and though she has been hailed as the coming savior to defeat the now-triumphant Thanos, I want to argue the opposite. To allow Carol Danvers to be the hero of Endgame would be a disservice to the universe Marvel has constructed these past ten years. I would be disappointed to see the end of this era fail to uphold and honor the humanity, and the heroism, of the core cast that I have followed and loved for so long.
I will not accept an exaltation of an all-powerful new hero swooping in to save the day, even if she is a woman. Endgame asks for real sacrifice so that it might have real stakes. The original Avengers ought to be willing to, and I would even argue they need to, die defeating Thanos. Heroism is more than physical strength, and as the heroes of this MCU fade (or dissolve) away, they ought to go out as human as we have known them to be.
Maggie Garnett is a freshman studying Theology and Constitutional Studies. You can find her sobbing in a theater seat watching Avengers: Endgame this Friday night. Send any condolences or popcorn funds to firstname.lastname@example.org.