I think when I’m done writing this, I will never refer to the gender or race of the central superhero again. I think with the release of Captain Marvel that has ended. The old myths about what a superhero had to look like to inspire audiences to share their journey have been shattered. When someone writes a grand dissertation of all the things Marvel Studios did correctly in their first ten years a key piece will be the inclusion of the last year or so. Captain Marvel beings the first cycle to its penultimate entry by shifting the paradigm to where being heroic is the important trait over anything else.
Brie Larson as Captain Marvel
Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck have made a movie where their hero stands for something by simply standing up. I don’t know who it is who finds the actors to fill these roles for Marvel Studios, but Brie Larson is an ideal choice to play Carol Danvers who over the course of the movie we learn how she became Captain Marvel. The story is told in a non-linear narrative. Starting with Captain Marvel already an intergalactic force to be reckoned with as part of the Kree Starforce. Through various plot machinations she crashes to Earth in 1995. She meets Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) when he still had both eyes and was just an agent of SHIELD and not its head.
Like Black Panther did a year ago the genders are inverted as Captain Marvel and Fury spend the movie together. The woman hero knows what is happening and spends lots of time explaining it to limited understanding human Fury. What ever the opposite of mansplaining is that is the dynamic of Marvel to Fury. Fury is the one who does reckless things which she has to rescue him from. At the end Fury holds the cat while she takes down the villains.
As she spends more time back on Earth she comes to realize this is where she was born and had a life before becoming Captain Marvel. When she regains enough memory to re-connect with her old wingwoman that is when Captain Marvel finds the heart underneath the power. Towards the end as Carol begins to understand she hasn’t claimed all the power she has access to there is a montage of her being knocked down throughout her life. Internally she tells herself to, “Stand up!”. As a man I am never going to realize what that means to women who get knocked down regularly. In the full theatre where Mrs. C and I saw the movie I got a hint. When she seizes her power with one final “Stand up!” there was an audible set of women in the auditorium who shouted “Yes!”
This is the part of why this kind of film matters. It doesn’t spend time battering you with a message. It allows you to engage with a hero who is taking a journey many can empathize with.
I don’t know what will happen after next month’s Avengers: Endgame finishes this first 22-film story. I do know that if the decision is to build the next 22-films on the cornerstones of Captain Marvel, Black Panther, and Doctor Strange; I’m all in for that.