“Captain Marvel” Is More Kickass Than Our Wildest Dreams

Mild spoilers below for Captain Marvel! 

If I were a man invested, even subconsciously, in propping up a patriarchal society where women, even subconsciously, Know Their Place, Captain Marvel would terrify the pants off of me. Which is why MRA Reddit started review bombing it weeks before it was released. And why half the reviews from professional male critics — who take up 100% of the top spots on Rotten Tomatoes’ Captain Marvel landing page — basically say, “I don’t get it.” And why the dude sitting beside me in the theater at the opening show in New York City got up and moved, with a loud huff, to the other side of his girlfriend when I cackled first and loudest during a scene where the robot voice of a threat-scanning device ranked Carol’s cat, Goose, as “high” and “human male” as “low to none.”

There’s an interview with Brie Larson during the Captain Marvel press tour where a male reporter from Yahoo! asks her if the scene where a man tells Carol to smile was added after the first promo photos were released and men on the internet complained that she wasn’t smiling enough. With a clenched jaw, Larson says, “That was already in the movie. We’d already shot that… That’s just a depiction of the female experience.”

The female experience, in fact, is woven inextricably into the fabric of Captain Marvel. From childhood to high school to boot camp to flight school to outer space, Carol Danvers was knocked down, physically and metaphorically, by the men surrounding her — and she got up and she got up and she got up. And she became the most powerful superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the one upon whom the fate of all the other superheroes, and humanity itself, rests. That’s how she came to us: When Iron Man and Hulk and Captain America and Thor and Dr. Strange and Spider-Man failed, in the closing tag of Avengers: Infinity War, Nick Fury called for the most capable hero he knew: Carol Danvers.

Like all origin stories, Captain Marvel is about how Carol got her powers and how she learned to use them. Also like all origin stories, Captain Marvel is about how the love of a good woman empowered our hero to overcome her fears and her trauma and save the world. Marvel’s first solo film about a female superhero boasts some of the best action sequences I’ve ever seen; it is also straight-up written, directed, acted, filmed, and edited like an epic love story between Carol Danvers and Maria Rambeau. They keep saying “best friends,” but the score and the lighting and the dialogue and the camera angles and the fact that they are essentially raising a child and a cat together says something different.

Maria trained alongside Carol, flew alongside Carol. She saved all of Carol’s things after she disappeared; and her daughter, Monica, knows, by heart, the story behind every single one of the childhood photos Carol left behind. Maria doesn’t hang out on earth, fretting for Carol’s safety when she jets off to space to fight the bad guys; she’s her kickass co-pilot (and we haven’t seen the last of her daughter either). The mightiest superhero in the galaxy is a woman who doesn’t need a man because she already has a woman (and, in fact, a black woman who can fly fighter jets and spaceships)? Yeah, that might also be why straight white men “don’t get” this movie.

The other essential feminist component of Captain Marvel is also a theme in Wonder Woman, in large part because it was baked into the original comics by William Moulton Marston, a man who sincerely believed matriarchal rule was the only way to save humanity from itself. Carol’s mentor (also a woman, but no spoilers) tells her she’s not working to figure out how to win wars; she’s working to figure out how to end them.

In addition to the action stuff and the True Love stuff, Captain Marvel is a buddy comedy between Carol and Nick Fury, and it’s his origin story a little bit too. There’s a lot of ground to cover. Decades, really. Captain Marvel has to introduce Carol, infuse her with powers, teach her distinguish the good guys from the bad guys, anchor her humanity in love for another human, showcase her saving the world for the first time, and connect her with the genesis of the Avengers and their current battle. All of those factors combine for a slow start, but once the movie got going, it left me breathless.

During the first end-credit scene (there are two; stay for both), the man who moved to the other side of his girlfriend because the feminist energy coming off me in waves was freaking him out, yelped in delight. Carol Danvers had won him over. But she wouldn’t care. Carol Danvers has nothing to prove to any man. Captain Marvel wasn’t made for him; it was made for me and you and every little Monica Rambeau who’s dreamed of the power to punch a nuclear missile out of the sky, or to wipe the smirk off the face of a man who told us to smile.

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle managing editor who lives in New York City with her partner, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Heather has written 789 articles for us.

40 Comments

  1. Heather, you captured everything I loved about this movie, and more. My theater was, I kid you not, about 80% women. I also had a dudebro sitting next to me that at the end proclaimed he liked Wonder Woman better, and another woman in the theater gave him a verbal smackdown to end all- about how we can like BOTH movies for different reasons.

    I also cheered at that first end-credit scene- I CANNOT WAIT.

  2. loved this review, loved this movie. i am thankful that my movie theater experience was energetic and positive, the men in my row were definitely here for carol as much as i was. overall, i appreciated the storytelling style and i loved seeing young monica rambeau. i’m super ready for the sequel and a hopeful kamala khan appearance.

    • i’m not sure if we’ll ever see jessica drew aka spider-woman in the mcu anytime soon, but wow would it be nice to her and carol interact aka my favorite ship after kate bishop/america chavez.

  3. i’m seeing it tonight with my girlfriend! this is only my second time seeing a movie during its opening weekend (the first one was Black Panther). it’s good to know going into it that I can ignore those lukewarm reviews that I saw coming out

  4. Awesome review! Watching this film I genuinely felt refuelled, I came out of the showing feeling so powerful? It was one of those moments where I was like, wait… is this what straight white dudes feel when they watch every other superhero flick?
    ALSO no queer woman can look at Carol’s fashion in this and tell me she’s straight. I’ve been a Carol Danvers fan for years, I’m so very glad they did her justice!

  5. I usually watch Marvel films with my sister but I may have to ditch her for this one because I don’t want to wait weeks til next time I see her. But she saw Black Panther without me so maybe that makes us even?

  6. I made the mistake of youtubing the ( excellent) soundtrack songs I haven’t heard for ages.. the comments under ”just a girl” are full of knuckle-dragging dudebros who haven’t even seen the film, and made it clear they won’t see it. If people can’t deal with more macho bullshit steer clear for your own health!

  7. Went with my straight white male friend and we both loved it. I agree that it started out a little slow, but it got so good once Carol landed on Earth. Brie Larson was dynamic and fun and not at all stilted in the role (basically, nothing like in the trailers), and I loved Carol’s sense of humor. Goose was amazing. Young Fury was fun and I enjoyed his friendship with Carol. The ladies absolutely sold the relationship between Carol and Maria in relatively little screentime. The soundtrack kicked ass. There were some great surprises for people who are familiar with the comics. I don’t think it was the best MCU movie (I’d still go with Winter Soldier, Black Panther, and Ragnarok as my top three), but it’s in my top five for sure, and Carol just might be my new favorite Avenger. Can’t wait to see a sequel, because if they can do what they did with Captain America and follow a solid origin story with an amazing, out-of-the-box sequel, it’ll take my top spot for sure.

  8. Thank god someone said it. I thought i was my typical dirty homo self reaching thinking I definitely get a gay couple vibe from Carol and Maria. I loved this movie and I hope they don’t get afraid to tell the story they clearly hinted at.

  9. Yes, yes, yes, and yes! I just got home from seeing it and it’s got me so hyped. Carol and Maria and Monica and [redacted] and Goose and Fury were all fantastic, and that soundtrack took me back to the best parts of high school when Buffy was on my TV every week and GIRL POWER felt like a mantra.

  10. I saw it last night and loved it. My theater was a mix of men and women– adults, teens, and kids. Everyone laughed at the right moments, cheered, and sang along to the songs (hello No Doubt); it was a fun time

  11. I really enjoyed the film, especially the soundtrack (I like the whole thing of TV/films/books set in the 90s, even though I didn’t really enjoy that much I’d the actual 90s)

    Also, re the men telling women to smile thing, back in December I glared at a Santa in the high street (and wanted to punch him) because he said “that’s better” when I politely smiled as passing (NB I want to make it clear that he did not tell me to smile before I smiled, because I would not have done so if he did)

  12. I took my 9-year-old to see it this afternoon and we both loved it! She was also rocking out to all the ‘90s songs, which made this ‘90s-kid mom happy. Now she wants to watch all the Avengers movies (most of which I haven’t seen either) so we’ve got our work cut out for us.

  13. Yesyesyes Captain Marvel!! I also went to see it on Saturday night, and I don’t usually see movies the weekend they come out. But I wanted to support a female superhero movie and add myself to the stats about opening weekend box office sales!

    My theater was a mix of genders, but it was mainly families with kids or groups of guys. Some of the teenage boys went “OoOoO” when the mannequin was shirtless in that scene?! *shakes head* But then, when Carol was getting back up, there were a number of claps from the audience *CLAP!*

    I was also worried about the lukewarm reviews online- there was even a New York Times article that I read that wasn’t favorable (I have since gone back and checked, and yep it was written by a man). But I went to see CM anyway, and I really enjoyed it! I agree it was a little slow at the beginning, but that didn’t take away from the movie for me. I can’t wait until more of my friends see it and we can chat about it 😀

    • I enjoyed it, but it felt kinda bland. I wish that it had been a bit more quirky and a bit more focussed on Carol’s life rather than just a few snippets here and there (even more detail about her life with the Kree would have been nice). It made it feel more plot driven rather than character driven at times, and I was left wanting to know more about her.

      It felt more like a weaker stage 1 MCU origin film rather than a stage 3, which hopefully will be worked out in the sequel (and hopefully the sequel will be more Cap America and GotG 2 rather than Thor, Avengers or Iron Man 2). Also, I loved the soundtrack (yes Garbage!), but the song for the major fight scene in the end was a massive needle scratch. Like, I understood why they picked it, but I really wish they hadn’t. I would have preferred Veruca Salt’s Volcano Girls or Bikini Kill’s Rebel Girl, which are both way more fight-song appropriate.

      So yeah, thought it was overall a good ensemble piece, but totally look forward to sequels that delve more into who Carol is beyond a superpowered badass.

  14. Definitely top 3 “most fun” MCU movie for me (along with Ragnarok and GOTG 1.) Loved Carol’s humor and how it seemed more good natured than the usual Iron Man snark. Her buddy-cop dynamic with Fury was excellent, and I adored when she finally leveled up her powers at the end and just wrecked everything.

    Now I want a buddy movie with her and Thor looking for a home for the Asgardians. Carol already has experience looking for a home planet, and Thor’s just a total bro who would work well with her.

    From an out of universe perspective, it was awesome that pretty much the entire movie was about a woman and a black man and that the main supporting character was a black woman. Also, ZERO forced romance. I was expecting there to be some between Carol and Jude Law’s character, but nope! pleasant surprise.

    One small note, isn’t Wanda the most powerful character in the MCU? She and Carol both got their powers from infinity stones and Wanda’s reality warping powers would trump Carol’s plasma shooting or whatever.

    • Along those lines, I don’t know why so many fanboys are worried Captain Marvel is going to literally fly in and kick Thanos’s ass like some kind of Super Mary Sue. She got her powers from one Infinity Stone. He has all six! He can warp time! He can kill half of all life with a snap of his fingers! Captain Marvel may be more powerful head-to-head than any of the other Avengers (although one could argue that, as you did with your Scarlet Witch example), but this is going to be a team effort.

  15. i loved this movie so much! i’m not entirely sure if it was carol danvers’ or brie larson’s gay energy i was seeing but regardless they definitely fried green tomatoesed carol and maria. they were 100% raising (future superhero) monica together and seemed to be living together as well. i just loved this movie a lot. the soundtrack was perfect, the 90’s vibe was perfect, brie larson was perfect.

  16. Maria and Carol are 100% together! Maria even says at one point “Mom said your family kicked you out so we’re your family now” which is BASICALLY Lesbian Origin Story 101!!

    I wish Kevin Feige and Marvel weren’t such COWARDS and actually made Carol gay.

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