Captain Marvel ★★★½

If there's one thing Captain Marvel does remarkably right, it's how it plays off of expectations. This whole week leading up to its release has been a nightmare in discourse, and looking back, there was just no possible way to sit down and watch this movie in the average, casual way you would any other male-led Marvel film. Messages, expectations, judgments of all flavors on my social media feed about what this movie is and what I should feel penetrated my mind in a way I couldn't shake off.

In the opening frames of the film alone, I thought of Brie Larson, her genuine enthusiasm to be a role model for young girls becoming a subject of attack lately, her face made into a target for the obvious crowd of people who are looking for such a thing. I thought of that obnoxious The Mary Sue review roundup tweet that reeked of performativity, those annoying military recruitment ads that bounce off of Marvel’s aesthetics (and greatly misinterpret what this movie is about), and I thought of all of the MCU takes I’m frankly quite exhausted of hearing as they’re pretty repetitive in themselves. (Yes, I know Marvel has dull color grading and simple plots, I can only read that take so many times.)

Projections, which are just unfortunate reality in the way we consume and analyze media— but amplified to eleven because now, all these different narratives are stacking on one film driven by women once more, and our culture has an unfortunate pattern of letting this happen. It’s only fitting that Carol Danvers, Captain Marvel herself, knows where I’m coming from here, as all her life, from childhood to fighting aliens in space, has been a constant battle with projections.

And when your entire identity, your purpose in life are all merely projections, when your sense of self is taken away from you, how are you supposed to come back from that? This movie has a brilliant answer. You take that pain, you take all those presumptions about who you are and what you’re supposed to be, you look towards those important people and moments of connection that have left a mark on you and you forge your own narrative. You’re a human, not an object of discourse, not a tool to be molded, and your choices are your own to make. Yeah, maybe it’s the abuse survivor who used superheroes to cope in me but I know exactly how that feels. And yeah, I just had a visceral, emotional reaction to how a Marvel movie explored autonomy. It’s been a weird week.

Captain Marvel doesn’t reinvent the wheel the same way a genre landmark like Into the Spider-Verse does, but I think to write it off as formulaic without further inspection is dismissive of a lot of new ideas this brings to the hero origin story. I wish the direction was just as confident as the screenplay and Brie Larson’s superb performance, especially in the strangely constructed first act, but it’s a cut above the rest in character writing. Carol Danvers gets to truly be a wisecracking, funny, stoic, and angsty Marvel protagonist in a way many female heroes haven’t been allowed to be, but is still vulnerable, her most heartwarming moments shared with the supporting cast. The creation of her final suit is a special scene I’m going to remember as Carol’s involvement in the MCU builds, and it highlights how much Carol’s connection with Maria and Monica is the real star of the show. Boden and Fleck handle these dramatic beats with an amazing amount of empathy for an action movie, and in turn, the lead up to the final act is just fucking electric.

There’s one particular moment in Carol’s subconscious that is going down as one of my favorite “hero transformation” scenes ever. It instantly evoked the power of seeing Peter Parker escape the rubble in Spider-Man: Homecoming, and made me feel so empowered the way MCU stories should but mostly haven’t. A moment that I think a lot of people are being neglected to feel the full weight of. It’s a real shame a lot is standing in the way of letting this be enjoyed just as much as other films of the genre. I hope one day there’s a way to watch it removed from all the discourse, the long and tiresome wait for Marvel to finally let a movie like this happen, and the heavily gendered contexts to see there’s a lot here to love and write about. Goose the Cat is pretty cool too.

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