This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Sally Jane Black’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
There are three major themes to explore here, or at least, three that interest me.
The first, and most offensive, is the role of the United States in films like these. It doesn't take much more than a cursory Google search to see the Defense Department bragging about their role in funding and "consulting on" Hollywood films, and it's no coincidence that the biggest franchises default to portraying the military in a mostly positive light. There's a nod toward their secrecy, and sometimes, there's complicated relationships between characters and the military. But. But when it comes down to it, they center the USAF and show them as heroic, literally having Captain Marvel take her colors from them.
This film, and every other Marvel film, is propaganda. And because it's glorifying a state, a military, a government, a society that is responsible for genocide, imperialist exploitation, and pretty much exactly everything the villains in these films get up to, it's white supremacist, patriarchal, capitalist propaganda. The only depiction of the United States military/state that would be acceptable in a film would be one that shows them as the cartoonish supervillains they are. (20 million dead from the work of the military alone over the last 60 years, to say nothing of the death by sanction, assassination, terrorism, and other horrors that the U.S. capitalist class subjects the rest of the world to.)
So no matter what, this film is lost. It's actively, openly, brazenly offensive. Irredeemable.
The second narrative is the feminist one. This film, if you stripped out the propaganda, would be a heavy-handed but enjoyable portrayal of a woman who gets up every time she's knocked down. They get the beats of Danvers' story right, when it just comes to her. She doesn't need to prove herself; she keeps fighting back; she's not held back by her own faults but by the machinations of her enemies. One flaw is, of course, that her narrative sidelines the black woman in her life, makes her a small role, a side character. It makes her a prop in a white woman's story. Maria deserved better than that. Another flaw is that it queer codes this instead of making it explicit (honestly, one way or another would have been fine--make them explicitly straight, but acknowledge queerness even exists in this fucking universe).
It's white feminism. Bourgeois feminism, too, when you connect it to the propaganda themes.
Before I get into the third theme, let me say a few things about some of the finer details. The part I liked most in this film is how it let Captain Marvel be absurdly powerful. She destroys an entire ship by just flying through it. One thing that always irritated me about the Guardians of the Galaxy movies is that they downplayed the powers of the characters compared with the comic books. I haven't read many comics, but a friend had me read the Annihilation series, and the worldbuilding and scope of those was impressive. What we get from the films is so much smaller. It seems stripped of wonder. What this film showed was only a fraction of that, but it had just enough of a taste of it to hint at something more.
I also appreciated the return of Ronan, who was criminally underused (and underpowered) in the films previously, and who of course probably won't be brought back (?). I found myself wishing Super Skrull might show up, but that's probably not in the cards, either.
Anyway, the third, and most important, theme in the film is that kitties are all powerful and you should fear them.
P.S. The soundtrack was amazing.