Review: ‘Captain Marvel’ is unapologetic female power in a fun superhero film

Just in time for Women’s History Month, and International Women’s Day, Captain Marvel blasts its way into theaters around the globe. The latest superhero film installment from Marvel Studios expands the narrative of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) while making history as the first woman-led film of the franchise. The movie has many elements of superhero films that audiences have come to love, yet does so with a heavy dose of female power, successfully avoiding overused tropes in this genre that often cater to the male gaze. Captain Marvel unapologetically ejects the centralizing of the straight white male narrative, without sacrificing good storytelling.

Produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Captain Marvel is the twenty-first film in the MCU. The filmmaking duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Mississippi Grind) wrote and directed the movie, starring Brie Larson as Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers, Samuel L. Jackson, Jude Law, Ben Mendelsohn, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan, Annette Bening, and Clark Gregg. As one of the taglines for the movie, “Before the Avengers,” alludes to, the film is an origin story of sorts for the character of Captain Marvel and many of the other plotlines that have been explored in the MCU. Although the movie serves as something of a prequel, it stands on its own as a solitary film for those less familiar with the entire franchise.

The character of Carol Danvers first appeared in Marvel comics in 1968. Danvers was an officer in the United States Air Force and a colleague of the superhero Mar-Vell. Mar-Vell was the first Marvel comics character to be known as Captain Marvel, as he was an alien from another planet on earth as a spy to fight evil. Through a scientific blast, Danvers gains superhuman abilities similar to the first Captain Marvel, and becomes known as Ms. Marvel. Elements of this origin plot remain in the film as well. The character had a self-titled comic book series in the 1970s as Ms. Marvel. In 2012 there was a comic series relaunching of the character written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, titled Captain Marvel, which ushered in a resurgence of popularity.

At a little over two hours long, the film does a satisfying job of placing Carol Danvers in the already complex MCU timeline while allowing the audience to get to know who Captain Marvel is in live action. There’s a balance of mystery, action, humor, and drama as you go on the journey of Danvers coming into her full power. Brie Larson performs well at giving layers to the character of Danvers in her portrayal as a human woman up against beyond-human odds.

The humor sprinkled throughout the film is entertaining without detracting from the dangerous high stakes of intergalactic war that Danvers finds herself in the midst of. Supporting actors, such as Samuel L. Jackson, who is no stranger to the MCU, having played the character of Nick Fury for nearly a decade, along with Jude Law, Ben Mendelsohn, Lashana Lynch, and others, play well with Larson through the showcasing of their various relationships.

The movie does well to avoid overused clichés, such as highly emphasized heterosexual romance subplots in women-led films, that often only serve to give a male character more importance in the movie. Female friendship is given major focus through the Danvers and Maria Rambeau relationship. This is a detour from the repetitive theme in these types of films where, if a leading woman does appear, she is often solo and without significant female friendship.

Not only are women key players in the plot of Captain Marvel, there is a significant showcasing of women of color in the movie, as Lynch and Chan play pivotal roles. Annette Bening does well in the role of a major comic book character, proving that older women in superhero films can play more than ill-fated mothers set to die in order to fuel the male hero’s fight for justice.

The great thing about Captain Marvel is that although it emphasizes the case of female empowerment and issues of sexism, it still stands as an entertaining superhero movie. This is despite the backlash from some comic book fans who have claimed the movie is “anti-white male.”

Larson came under scrutiny from this segment of movie-goers when, in June 2018, she voiced her concerns about the lack of diversity in both film and film criticism during a speech at the Women in Film Crystal + Lucy Awards. Since then there have been a number of targeted attacks on the movie, such as audience score review bombing on the popular movie review site Rotten Tomatoes. This is where negative postings were published on the site about the movie even before its release in theaters. Conservative author Jack Posobiec, a correspondent with One America News, has gone on record as starting a boycott of the film.

Posobiec claimed in an interview that Larson’s “anti-male rhetoric” and Marvel Studio’s “injection of leftist politics” is “insulting and unwarranted.” Posobiec went on to express that movie audiences go to the theater to be entertained and “not to be indoctrinated and brainwashed with left-wing propaganda.”

What these detractors seem to miss is that a mainstream film can be both entertaining and inclusive, which Captain Marvel achieves. Black Panther, an Oscar-winning, history-making, Black-led Marvel film, showcased what studies, such as those by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, discovered: That moviegoers respond well to entertaining films that also showcase diversity and inclusion. The one hundred top-grossing movies of 2018 featured more leading roles for both women and underrepresented races and ethnic groups.

Captain Marvel is not a perfect film, as there are times, if one is not well-versed in the plotlines of the MCU and Marvel comics, that viewers may find themselves lost on the significance of certain characters and references. Yet this shortcoming is not a glaring one, as it serves as a treat for MCU fans, without completely alienating casual viewers. Also, this movie is clearly more of a surface introduction to a character that we will most likely be seeing more of in future film installments.

Captain Marvel showcases a new era of the superhero film genre, one that we’ve seen begin with recent movies such as Black Panther, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman, where the central narrative is diversified. This may ruffle the feathers of certain viewers who are accustomed to always seeing characters that look like them as the main focus, but it’s a welcome change for those seeking art that better reflects the world around them. It’s a good movie, and it’s made better because of the way it challenges what we’re used to seeing.


Chauncey K. Robinson
Chauncey K. Robinson

Chauncey K. Robinson is an award winning journalist and film critic. Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, she has a strong love for storytelling and history. She believes narrative greatly influences the way we see the world, which is why she's all about dissecting and analyzing stories and culture to help inform and empower the people.