Our Comics Studies Reading Group had a few more thoughts to share about Captain Marvel…
[Warning Spoilers for Captain Marvel and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Season Five)]
“I admit it—Captain Marvel got me. I was genuinely surprised when it was revealed that the Kree, not the Skrulls, were the film’s true villains! I should have known better. Prior to the movie, I had watched enough of the fifth season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., though I didn’t quite complete it, that I ought to have remembered that the Kree have a morally compromised civilization. In the Marvel television show, they are depicted as brutal slave holders who use violence to keep the remnants of humanity in a state of submission. After viewing Captain Marvel, I wondered why I was so easily tricked into seeing the Skrulls as the enemy. Ultimately, I think it was because the narrative conventions the film mobilizes in its first half are intended to lull the viewer into certain, familiar assumptions about who is good and who is bad. And inasmuch as the Skrulls, with their ability to infiltrate human society without assimilating to it, seem to figure our own anxieties about a dangerous racial or ethnic other, Captain Marvel suggests that these anxieties themselves are organized by narrative conventions that extend beyond the film’s frame. Captain Marvel thus highlights the way our prejudices, about racial and ethnic groups and, of course, women, are organized through the kinds of stories we tell. The film obviously does more than diagnose this problem; it stages an intervention in this field, above all, by offering us the first story in the MCU fully centered on a woman hero. One might speak here about the way the film eschews the conventions of, what film scholars call, the male gaze (Carol Danvers, a.k.a. Captain Marvel, isn’t sexualized the way that, for example, Wonder Woman and Black Widow are) or, as other commentators have noted, the surprising lesbian subtext involving Carol and a fellow fighter pilot, her best friend, Maria Rambeau, but I want to briefly index a scene involving Maria as an example of the kind of intervention the film makes. When Carol asks Maria to join her team to help save the Skrulls, Maria at first refuses on the grounds that as a single mother it would be irresponsible to risk her life in this way. However, her daughter Monica* implores her to reconsider, arguing not that she would be a better mother by protecting the entire planet or by setting a positive example for Monica herself to follow but rather that the mission provides the opportunity for Maria’s own self-actualization (something ultimately denied to her in her career as a pilot). By moving the grounds of Maria’s story from motherhood to her personal ambitions, Monica convinces her mother to join Carol, Nick Fury, and Talos, the Skrull leader, in their quest to save additional Skrull refugees. Moreover, this rhetorical move exemplifies the power of narrative to shape our conceptions of ourselves and others.
*To those familiar with Marvel comics, this character was an Easter egg. Monica Rambeau was technically the first woman Captain Marvel, Carol initially using the moniker “Ms. Marvel.” One can only hope that her appearance hints at a future twist to the M.C.U.’s overarching story—the introduction of the first African-American woman superhero.”
–Dr. Bryan Conn
“There’s so much I want to say about this movie! If forced to focus on just one thing, what’s stuck with me most is the relationship between Carol Danvers and Nick Fury. It’s a warm, respectful, and joyful relationship, and completely devoid of sexual tension. I can imagine that not too long ago the filmmakers would’ve felt compelled to insert some awkward romantic moments between the two characters, but thank goodness this story has matured beyond that cringey point. In its respect, playful one-upmanship, and clear boundaries, Carol and Fury’s bond stands in stark counterpoint to Vers’s creepy I-put-my-alien-blood-in-you-while-you-were-unconscious relationship with her Kree mentor Yon-Rogg (the comics have other not-so-feminist origin stories for the character that make Yon-Rogg’s treatment of Carol seem downright consensual).
I’ve seen Danvers’s relationship with Fury described as akin to a buddy cop comedy – which is both a bit reductive and spot on. Carol and Fury are cheerful warriors together, which leaves space for Carol’s primary domestic relationship – with the lovely Rambeau family. Fury is her colleague, and for this little feminist masterpiece that’s enough.”
Dr. Spencer D.C. Keralis
“Now that I’ve had some time to process and read lots of other people’s takes on the film, I think the only thing left for me to add is just a sense of satisfaction that this film has survived the often-lethal combination of hype, criticism, trolling, and expectation to provide what is, in the end, a fun, uplifting, and culturally important experience for comic and movie fans alike. Whether you think of it as a masterpiece, another link the MCU armor, or just a solid piece of entertainment, I think it would be virtually impossible to consider it a failure. Not only is it smashing box-office expectations, but also a lot of cultural assumptions and biases, just as Black Panther did before it. Certainly, for the crowds of little girls and boys, not to mention grownups, decked out in Captain Marvel costumes and “Higher, Further, Faster” t-shirts, it represents something more than just another chapter in the Avengers franchise—it represents a cosmic shift, so to speak, in how we think of heroes and heroism in the MCU. Not only is Carol Danvers the first truly cosmic-powered hero in the franchise, she’s also one of the few with all of the qualifications of a leader and symbolic representative, not just of women or superheroes, but of humanity itself. She’s kind of a synthesis of Peggy Carter, Captain America, and Superman in her ability to be both ‘down-to-earth’ and ‘larger-than-life’, a believable woman, warrior, and a symbol—a rare combination, even in a genre full of extraordinary beings. Regardless of the strengths or weaknesses of this particular film, I think that’s the important takeaway for many viewers, who found in Carol Danvers something to look forward to.”
–Dr. John Edward Martin
For more on Captain Marvel, be sure to also check out Dr. Samantha Langsdale’s awesome piece elsewhere on this blog,, “I Got 99 Problems But a Skrull Ain’t One: The Many Faces of Misogyny in Captain Marvel”, and Dr. Shaun Treat’s post, “Is Captain Marvel Political Enough?” on the Superhero Rhetoric Fortress of Blogitude.