As the first leading female hero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel embodies the humanization of inhuman creations.
In its opening minutes, Captain Marvel places its viewers in a compromising position.
Our hero, Vers as she is called by her Jude Law-acted sparring partner, is introduced as a tough-as-nails and stereotypically manic blonde bombshell. She is plagued with nightmares of moments buried in her unconscious, and all signs point to the film becoming a flashback akin to Hilary Clinton’s fall from grace following a moment of emotion on the 2012 presidential campaign trail.
Yon-Rogg (Law) is quick to urge Vers to tame her emotions. Warriors can’t be guided by their hearts he says, tapping her forehead as he would a diminutive child. No sooner than Rogg, Vers and their team are deployed on a recon and recovery mission, Vers is taken captive in what could continue the “helpless woman, must save” theme the film seemed intent on professing.
However, as Vers hangs upside-down and barefoot in essentially a 22nd Century torture trap, Captain Marvel quickly takes a turn for the better. She makes sense of the situation, fights her way through a horde of Skrulls, and escapes largely unscathed to planet C-53 (read: Earth) entirely on her own.
Within the first 25 minutes of the movie, Marvel stirs up its own controversy, destroys it, and subsequently creates one of the most relatable protagonists in its cinematic universe.
The success of Marvel’s characters lay in part in their relatability. Thor may be a God, but his sibling strife with Loki is reminiscent of any childhood quarrel. Shuri’s brother might be imbued with the powers of a bionic panther but flipping off T’Challa is immediately met with the familiarity of a mother’s omniscient eye. Even Bruce Banner’s ravenous alter-ego is kept in check by a timid, ever-cautious personality.
Captain Marvel, however, takes Marvel’s patented human elements and dials them up to 11. Despite the powers to which Vers/Carol Danvers fully awakens, they are never overshadowed by a pandarized feminist character or a typecast damsel in distress.
Of course, on a very basic level, Brie Larson’s portrayal of the first female lead in the MCU is a groundbreaking moment. Just as I and many others reveled in seeing a character of similar melanin levels and hair texture under the spotlight in Black Panther, movie goers should be pleased to see Captain Marvel as a bastion of powerful women in cinema.
But, as is the case with many of Marvel’s film offerings, inclusion is the name of the game. The spectacle of Danvers’ origin story stems from her innate relatability to all manner of fleshly creatures.
Danvers’ struggle with false memories helps viewers identify her. The supreme nostalgia of 1995 has no effect on Danvers, as it conjures up warm memories for the audience. Reminiscing on nights at Blockbuster or days spent plucking merchandise off the wall racks of Radio City goes unnoticed by Danvers, whose entire past is an endless game of chutes and ladders.
Her ever-present mental gymnastics play into her relatability. Danver’s hunt for the truth about her past is a humanizing experience . Where characters like Peter Parker fully succumbed to and embraced the realization their abilities, Danvers’ problems run deeper than owning up to her superhero status. She is looking for the truth about herself while organizing the realities of intergalactic terrorism. It’s a crisis people face daily—not the intergalactic warfare part—managing personal health and success amidst a myriad of semi-to-unrelated problems.
Similarly, Danvers’ history of unequal treatment and hazing, all of which are presented with a female-centric tint, are applicable to anyone who has been labeled the “other.” Seeing Danvers’ get scolded for racing go-karts or being chastised after falling during basic training can be extrapolated to any personal conflict. Marvel films are usually top-notch in this arena; how else do you create a compelling story around someone whose best friend is a red, latex clad android with a glowing forehead (see Scarlett Witch and Vision).
Though her blood runs blue and her fists can heat teapots, Captain Marvel is among the most human MCU characters to date. And while her film might not be infallible—despite its commercial success it’s unlikely to become the cultural phenomenon that Black Panther is—Captain Marvel is a testament to the MCU’s penchant for supreme character creation.