This piece originally appeared as part of my weekly newsletter, The Full Lid on 8th February 2019. If you liked it, and want a weekly down of pop culture enthusiasm, occasional ketchup recipes and me enjoying things, then check out the archive and sign up here.
It’s always nice when something you really want to be good is in fact good. It’s even better when that inherent goodness rubs the noses of people who want to keep pop culture male, white and conservative right in the sparkly rainbow poop. Captain Marvel absolutely does that. In fact, it does about six different things, not all of which are immediately apparent.
First off, it’s the most vehemently anti-military military movie since Starship Troopers and doesn’t hide any of its venom behind satire (Remember when that word didn’t make you throw up in your mouth a little bit? Good times). Maria Rambeau and Carol Danvers are two of the best pilots in their class. They aren’t allowed to fly combat missions because of their gender and, in what I suspect is the trail head of a raft of cut footage, a colleague sneers at Carol about why it’s really called the ‘cockpit’. The Air Force comes out of this looking terrible and it’s interesting to compare that with the lionization of the army in Captain America. In fact there’s a whole other piece in Carol and Steve Rogers and their vastly different relationships with their chosen services.
Further to that, the entire movie is cheerfully anti-war. There’s a moment about halfway in where it turns and suddenly what you think is happening is in fact happening backwards and in heels. It becomes a story about personal responsibility, PTSD, the complex and untidy process of peace and a pretty powerful indictment of the entire Western world’s assumptions about refugees. The 1990s may have had shitty internet but the compassion demonstrated here would shame a lot of ’00s culture. Instead of the crushingly lazy off the shelf villains of Bodyguard or Deep State, we have a nuanced conflict fought by people acutely aware of the blood on their hands and desperate to if not wash it off, then at least stem the flow.
It’s also a prequel to every previous MCU movie other than Captain America: The First Avenger and arguably sets up far more than that film does. This is the start of the MCU’s slow singularity and the way that his friendship with Carol changes Nick Fury is especially surprising. Fury is who we see in other movies because of what he goes through here, for better and worse. More interesting, arguably, is the effect the film’s events have on Phil Coulson. Perpetually just to the left of the action, Phil makes a single, vital choice which powers a good chunk of the final act and it tells you everything about him and who he’ll become . Fury prepares for the worst. Phil takes a good look at everything before making a call and, a lot of the time, that call is to help. A future spymaster and his one, good eye. Their relationship is pure Doggett and Reyesand honestly I’d love to see them get more to do in a sequel. The ground level MCU, especially now the Netflix shows are done, is driven by these two guys and their wildly different views of the unknown.
Most of all though, Captain Marvel is both a faithful adaptation of the comic character and a deeply nuanced examination of female strength. There’s this incredible moment towards the end where Carol finally figures out what’s holding her back. She breaks it, ‘Just A GIrl’ by No Doubt plays and Carol cuts all the way loose, simultaneously buying the others time and having FUN. She’s strong and clever and emotionally very aware. The third act here is where she learns she’s allowed, in fact she has, to be all three and it gives the film a catharsis and fizzing undercurrent of joy that origin movies haven’t had since ‘Yeah…I can FLY.’
It does all this while also plugging seamlessly into Endgame and Avengers Assemble and proving for at least the tenth time, that female led action movies are massive commercial successes waiting to happen. As important, it’s also a kind, funny, action packed superhero movie with a unique tone and aesthetic, an amazingly good cat and the long awaited big screen debut of Princess Sparklefists. If you like Marvel movies, you’ll love this. If you don’t, this one may be for you anyway.
Captain Marvel is on general release now. The epochal Kelly Sue DeConnick scripted run that shaped the movie is available from your local comic shop, my local comic shop and our local comixology.