Captain Marvel: The Significance of a Female Superhero on the Big Screen

By Sadiyah Tariq

SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t seen the movie, and plan on watching it, I suggest doing so before reading this article. If you have watched the movie, or don’t plan to, then by all means, read on. Just know that you’ve been warned.

In an industry dominated by male superheroes, it’s a breath of fresh air to finally have a strong female lead up on the big screen, rounding up to $455 million in its first weekend out. This is a successful step towards empowering little girls and women globally, especially by a renowned company like MARVEL. Out of the 21 movies it has released up to date, only one of them stars a woman as its protagonist, and who isn’t simply there for support or as the male protagonist’s love interest. Even Black Widow, who plays a significant role in the Avengers, hasn’t had her own movie come out yet, but instead we get three Iron Man movies, three Thor movies, and three Captain America movies — I love all MARVEL movies, but it’s important  to note where the producers interests lay. But hopefully this movie will be able to do what Black Panther was able to achieve, and we will hopefully one day be able to consume content that is not only specifically targeting one type of audience member, with a sprinkle of diversity to placate the rest.

From the beginning of the movie, her character has a blank slate, having no memories of who she was before she became a warrior for the Kree on the planet Hala. Throughout the movie, she starts uncovering her past, figuring out who she was as compared to who she is, and who she wants to become from that point on. She overcomes what everyone considered her weakness, which was her emotions, which she later finds out was what made her human and empathetic — because being emotional does not directly relate to being a woman, but being a person in general. While the Kree looked to logic to dictate their actions, her bonds and feelings with other people and beings are what made her strong, and gave her the power and resolve to figure out what she was fighting for. Because she knew she was resilient, even from her memories as a regular human, that whenever she failed, or got hurt, or fell down — she would always get back up. She was always determined to be strong and independent, and not let anything or anyone get in the way of what she wanted to believed in. This could be seen at the start and towards the end of the film, and both times Captain Marvel is seen fighting Yon-Rogg, a Kree general, when we see the comparative aspect of how her emotions impact her as a warrior. She couldn’t defeat him in the beginning, but at the end, he tries to use a last ditch effort by telling her to prove herself to him by fighting her without weapons or powers, and her iconic response to that was to blast him, telling him she didn’t have anything to prove to him, and helped him up so he could go back and send a message to the other Kree that she meant business.

Captain Marvel does have significant male characters, but they aren’t there to show up or undermine Carol Danvers’s power. They’re all on equal grounds, and the movie does an excellent job in showing the different sides of both men and women, and how everyone has their own personalities and motivations for fighting for what they believe in. MARVEL fans get to see a young Nick Fury and Agent Coulson, hitting right in the nostalgia feels, and give some backstory on how Fury actually loses his eye, how he got into the business of running S.H.I.E.L.D., how they got the Tesseract in the first place, and how the idea of the Avengers initiative project came to be. The amount of diversity was also a exceptional touch, from an African American single mother (trying to go for her dreams of being a female pilot while also inspiring her daughter to follow her own dreams), to an older female scientist, to the diverse alien cast. The daughter of Carol’s best friend was a prime example of how Captain Marvel is a role model for young women of all ethnicities to gather strength and inspiration from her and what she stands for.

Another important detail to note was the tactic the Kree used to manipulate Carol — Vers, as was her name throughout most of the first part of the movie. The Kree took advantage of her lost members in order to reteach her that her value and strength was granted to her by the Kree, all her powers and worth deriving from them, and so they expect her loyalty and fealty to them in return. However, what they were really doing was limiting her strength and her worth as an individual, trying to crop her into the perfect warrior for them by brainwashing her, and her actual strength was inside her all along. Once she was able to regain her memories, and understand herself and find her own identity, that was when she could unleash her real inner strength.

There has been a variety of controversies about Captain Marvel before the release of the movie, about her outfit not being skimpy enough, and that she didn’t smile enough, and other misogynistic nonsense — using the justification of comic accuracy as an excuse to bring this movie down. But how many stories of older men using women as objects for a traumatic backstory or romantic interest do we need that all follow the same storyline? Even looking at DC, who came out with Wonder Woman not too long ago, undermined Princess Diana’s powers by having a male love interest who had to help her every step of the way, and become a martyr in the end to hold him at a heroic status to stroke the male ego. And don’t even get me started on the Justice League, and how the director completely butchered her character after the large step forward her character made for women — from the male gaze on her too skimpy outfits, to Superman’s role in swooping in to save the day at the end, making her and the rest of the team’s roles insignificant compared to his power.

This movie was not meant for the narrow-minded men who have nothing better to do then to drag down something that is trying to spark change in the entertainment industry, and change societal gender roles, because it does not fit their stereotypical ideals of male generated dominancy. This movie was meant for all the little girls growing up, watching Captain Marvel on the big screen, and identifying and relating with her in order to find their inner strength — and to think that, in our world, they can grow up to be something important that inspires change. This movie is meant for all the women who grew up with male centric influenced media to see that they can work hard for the change everyone wants and needs in our society. This movie is meant for the real MARVEL fans, and women, and everyone who believes in a better future — because we can attain it.

I highly recommend going to watch Captain Marvel, if not for the empowerment of women, then at least for a good storyline filled with action, hope, humor, tears, friendships, old references, and appreciation for cinematographic virtuosity.


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