Captain Marvel – 2019’s Marketable Heroine
When one begins discussing Captain Marvel, you have to specify who you’re talking about as of now. Older people will think you’re talking about Shazam, 80s comics fans will think of Monica Rambeau and modern fans automatically default to Carol Danvers. But, why did Captain Marvel become such a marketing force in 2019? I think a lot of that is indicative of easy it is to manipulate Woke culture.
Woke itself is a tired buzzword that has become an effective brand against a kind of loud neoliberal minority that frequently wants you to acknowledge and adapt to its views. They are very active on social media and carry a message the way that rats used to carry the Bubonic plague. If you’re already tweeting a response, this is where you get off.
The tribe is strong in this cultural era. Watching the response to Captain Marvel is yet one more page in the growing Culture War. Yet, the fluid nature of the Captain Marvel identity is central to the character. The name is a title bestowed on various members of the Kree military in the Marvel Universe and a side moniker for Shazam in the Fawcett/DC universes. There’s never just one Captain and they all embrace various identities and backgrounds. Are you starting to see the appeal to marketers and their sample audiences?
The film itself is the side show to the experience. What starts as an earnest effort to expand upon the cosmic Marvel Cinematic Universe is quick to take a hard jump into the MCU past. The trouble when making a trip to the past is that you become engaged in either tweaking or establishing the status quo. For as brave as some want to make out Black Panther or Captain Marvel, the point of the film remains the same. It needs to push the Marvel Cinematic Universe forward.
1992 feeds that Marvel nostalgia
One of the things that entertained me about Captain Marvel was the effort spent to make sense of the MCU’s recent past. It is established that Howard Stark died around Christmas 1991, so how much had he been collecting from World War II to the early 90s? This is fun trivia for someone that has been following the last decade of Marvel movies, but what does it mean for launching a new series? Captain Marvel is a loaded character with a deep history and we’re making the same mistakes as the comics. Cap can’t debut on her own merits.
Anymore, modern Hollywood uses time travel and past trips to help suspend disbelief. By throwing Captain Marvel into the past, it’s a cheap way to get around shape shifting aliens and a Winter Soldier retread about government infiltration. The mouth breathers will chuckle at seeing an actual Blockbuster Video, while the nerds will marvel at the CG used to make Samuel L. Jackson look like he just stepped off the Deep Cover set. Yet, it’s just aesthetic. The same goes for the detail with the Kree Empire and the lack of detail with the Supreme Intelligence. So much effort was spent on post that I wonder if anyone wondered how to make the visual trappings work for the main feature.
Prequelitis gets everybody…even Captain Marvel
When discussing this film with some readers, I wondered if the film could’ve been saved by releasing it in 2021 or 2022. Time could end up being Captain Marvel’s ally, as she will have time to grow within the Avengers and the larger MCU. However, most of the film is an exposition dump about tangents and supporting characters as told to the slight monotone of a confused Carol Danvers. Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel is a character fighting to break off the established track of this kind of movie.
Carol Danvers has to work as an alien, then a human and finally as a realized person. But, all of that is conditional on how it impacts weaving the Skrulls into the MCU or what it means for Fury and Phil. Even when learning about her true origin, Carol feels like a bystander waiting for some to tell her when to blink and close her mouth. The amount of people giving such false praise for the performance feels like misguided sympathy for the actress.
Brie Larson can do far better work than this, but it seems like a dramatic actress unsure of where to take a character in such a tentpole movie. Not necessarily her fault, but the inability to make a decision showed up on film.
The Skrulls are amazing and I never thought I would see them executed so well onscreen. They even made use of Project Pegasus! Yet, that’s the damn problem again. I’m an hour into a prequel origin movie that’s more about setting up pieces for later films rather than telling a story. It’s comic book decompression the movie, as what could’ve been a TV pilot in the 1970s now cracks slightly over 2 hours feature length. Nothing exists for Carol Danvers, as the entire film is desperately taking a hammer to smash Captain Marvel into place for what is to come.
How I Met Your Captain Marvel
If you were an X-Men fan in the 80s and read reprints in the 90s, there is a strong chance that you know Carol Danvers as the team’s traumatized friend. From Rogue’s first appearance in Avengers Annual 10 to eventually becoming Captain Marvel, Carol was defined by loss. She begins her Marvel comic life losing the safety of a cushy USAF security job, then she loses her place in the Avengers and finally she loses her powers. Don’t worry, they’ll keep returning to the power loss.
A few years after Carol was depowered by Rogue, the effort was made to transform her into a new heroine. This involved crass experimentation during The Brood Saga that turned her into Binary. This wasn’t a bold moment of self discovery. Basically, she gets a forced sets of powers that make her look inhuman when powered up. Eventually, the X-Men take in Rogue and alienate Carol to the cold depths of outer space. Danvers got to be too obtuse for 1980s Marvel, but this sad chain of events began with something that has aged horribly.
Comic scholar Carol Strickland wrote a piece in 1980 titled The Rape of Ms. Marvel. Originally beginning as an angry response to Avengers #200, the piece was the first female fan response to Marvel editorial mishandling of Carol Danvers. Like most bad editorial decisions of the period, it never came from malice. The push came from convenience. Captain Marvel had fallen out of favor and his girl version (Ms. Marvel/Carol Danvers) felt redundant. In the last 20 years, there would have been a push to give her a different identity and have her breakout as an independent character or even become a legacy figure. That didn’t happen.
In effort to give Carol something to do in the Avengers book, Marvel Editor-in-Chief/writer/some say meddler decided to have Carol become pregnant rapidly and not know how it happened. Your various Marvel favorites would fawn over Carol Danvers and help give her a baby shower while traveling to solve the mystery. When it turned out to be a Time Lord trying to guarantee his existence, the Avengers let the baby father take Carol to Limbo and out of Marvel editorial’s hair. Captain Marvel II (Monica Rambeau) would debut two years after this issue under the editorial aegis of Jim Shooter. What happened?
The Problem with Carol
Depending on where you fall ideologically, you will have already drawn your line about Captain Marvel. Much like you did with Ghostbusters (2016), Kevin Hart hosting the Oscars or Jossie Smollet’s Fight Club LARPing in Downtown Chicago. The modern audience has a hard time conceptualizing what constitutes victimhood. Some ideologies view the victim as weak or fake. Other ideologies praise and lift up the people that life dealt an unfair deal. Naturally, the people in the middle watch as both sides battle it out.
The problem with Carol Danvers is that she’s a void. Everyone projects what they want on her and given the source material, there has been little successful work to rectify this. Even the best recent female led comic runs have produced a Carol that is defined by her alien cat and the company she keeps. So, it doesn’t surprise when only niche audiences took issue to the problems with Carol Danvers back in the early 1980s. Hell, it would be 20 years until comic scholars began to reappraise comic legend Chris Claremont’s efforts to make Carol Danvers into the personality that we all know today.
Hell, even that was stilted. For early Marvel audiences, Carol’s childhood and back story was experienced via Rogue. After stealing Carol’s powers and memories by accidental overexposure, Claremont would use Rogue’s breakdowns to show the audience what Carol lost. Why did Chris Claremont keep using Rogue as a stand-in when Carol Danvers was still available to use? The answers reveal the sad nature of the character.
Learn to Captain…Marvel.
Marvel Films has achieved the near impossible with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, there comes a point where planning such a tome becomes a bit much. Captain Marvel has never made sense in the proper universe regardless of the person that held the role. Monica Rambeau came the closest to working, as she was purposefully given a few years to become her own hero and eventual Avengers chairperson. Even then, she fell to the wayside of ubiquity as the 80s writers gave way to the 90s writers who then helped to introduce Genis-Vell and eventually Noh-Varr.
In fact, most people don’t realize that Carol Danvers didn’t officially become Captain Marvel until 2012. She had been Ms. Marvel, Binary and Warbird for the vast majority of her existence. I’ll sum up the Warbird years for the non-readers. Drunk Carol is sad because her past sucked and Captain America has to scold her from the late 90s to about 2000/2001. This is the point where the knee-jerk reactors will say that I’m making their point for them.
That’s when I have to offer a harsh NO. The film, the ongoing comic series and Marvel’s treatment of Carol Danvers reveal the problem with the character and her stories. Nobody gave the character that much of an identity from the start, so it’s no wonder that she can’t find an identity in other media. Even at the end of the film, the brief identity she has goes away when the Kree/Skrull War is rendered moot.
You’ve Never Seen Anyone Like Her, but You Have
Novelty has nothing to do with Captain Marvel. The idea of things having to be new to have value is quickly falling by the wayside and it’s about time. Call me Uatu, but I’ve been watching how certain audiences respond to Captain Marvel and I think I have a handle on why she’s connecting. The vapid nature of her purpose and general history allows for any amount of disaffected people to project upon her. #AuntCarol loves cats, she’s good with little girls and she knows Kamala Khan.
What about her origins or the fact that her entire existence is due to genetic tampering? Crickets. If that wasn’t enough, what about her professional identity being tied to a ubiquitous role that can easily be filled by anyone with a certain degree of skill? Again, it’s those crickets.
I’ll admit that I hate giving any socio-political persuasion fuel for their rhetoric fire. Yet, I fully expect both sides to misinterpret Captain Marvel. The movie doesn’t fail because she’s a super powered woman and it doesn’t succeed because of it. The film works where it does because it’s the next step in successfully mining the deep Marvel cosmic lore.
What ends up hurting the film is that they already hit creative bedrock with a character that isn’t strong enough to carry a solo adventure yet. There is a reason why some of Cap’s best scenes are with Starforce or teaming up with Nick Fury. Larson and the character work better when paired with a partner that ups the ante. Honestly, there is not a doubt in my mind that her strengths will multiply in Avengers: Endgame.
There’s just nothing here to muster anything more than an afternoon screening.
The cat vomits up the Tesseract. It’ll work for your mother and your neckbeard nephew.