Walking into Captain Marvel, I had mixed expectations. On the one hand, I had high hopes as a Marvel fan and was especially excited to see their first film with a female superhero as the lead. On the other hand, the reviews I had heard from YouTube critics (whose opinions I generally trust) were just average.
Leaving the theater, I was extremely pleased, and, even better, I felt empowered. Sure, it wasn’t the best film Marvel had to offer (my sister thought it was “just okay”), but it was still a fun, entertaining time for both of us.
When I went home and re-watched the reviews, I was confused about some of the criticism. I conceded that the directing was a bit generic, a few moments were cheesy, and a certain decision involving a cat and an eye was stupid, but the fact that both (male) critics felt Brie Larson, an Oscar-winning actress, wasn’t good in the film baffled me. Sure, the performance wouldn’t attract any high-brow awards, but that wasn’t the point. The point was to portray an amnesia-ridden, wise-cracking superhero, which I thought she succeeded at.
I hesitate to subscribe their dislike of the film to their gender, and yet, I can’t help but think that perhaps Captain Marvel didn’t work for them because it was so focused on the female perspective. Depictions of the lead being told to smile, to contain her emotions, and that she can’t do certain things because she is a woman are all aspects of the female experience that most women have had to deal with in their lives. These experiences won’t resonate with male viewers in the same way as female viewers. Captain Marvel is less feminist propaganda, more an honest depiction of what it means to be a woman (albeit on a larger, more fantastical scale than I will ever experience).
The main villain in the film, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), is potentially one of the most honest representations of the kinds of men women have to deal with throughout their lives: demanding that we tamp down our emotions and prove ourselves to them on their terms. The moment when Carol disregards his request to bring herself to his level by restricting her use of her powers ended in the most satisfying way possible: blasting him off his feet and declaring “I have nothing to prove to you.”
Women in most institutions are typically required to prove themselves in some way to their male counterparts, especially when it comes to male-dominated fields. We’re told that we have to prove why we deserve to participate in certain activities and careers, especially those that involve the STEM fields or politics. Captain Marvel depicted Carol’s experience in the military, where she was restricted in her career as a member of the Air Force. The catharsis that came from Carol silencing her antagonizer wouldn’t have resonated with male audience members in the same way that it did for female audience members, but I didn’t expect it to.
The hype that surrounded the film’s announcement and development was routinely met with reports from several media outlets that it could be Marvel’s first flop. Rumors like this had surrounded other Marvel films, most notably Guardians of the Galaxy, but much of the speculation came from the belief that Captain Marvel was too far from what the primarily male fanbase would be willing to watch.
This isn’t the first time a female-led superhero flick has had a lot riding on it. 2017’s Wonder Woman was expected to be an excellent film, one that would blow people away. If the film wasn’t good, the futures of other female-led DC films were at stake. Wonder Woman ended up being a critical and box office smash, silencing the naysayers and breaking records for superhero films and films directed by women. Based on the success of Wonder Woman, it would have been reasonable to assume that Captain Marvel would be a hit as well. It didn’t garner the same rave reviews as Wonder Woman, but they were still generally positive.
As in real life, movies about women, or made by women, seem to be held to a higher standard than movies about and made by men. Before either of the aforementioned films’ release, the internet was abuzz about how the films had to be good in order to get more female-led superhero flicks greenlit. Interestingly enough, I never see articles emphasizing how the next The Fast and The Furious film had better be of excellent quality, lest the studio stop financing the next films in the franchise.
Maybe, then, it’s okay if Captain Marvel isn’t the strongest entry in the MCU. It never had to be. Women have proven time and time again that they are capable of making successful films and that people want to see these films. It’s not that we don’t want high-quality, female-led movies, it’s just that it’s okay if a female-led film is a little dumb, generic or cheesy. Female films don’t need to prove themselves worthwhile or original. They don’t need to appeal to men for them to be considered good. All they need to do is exist.