Arts and Entertainment

Her, a Hero: How Captain Marvel Tackles the Struggles of Being a Woman

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Issue 16, Volume 109

By Caroline Pickering 

***WARNING: SPOILERS FOR “Captain Marvel”***

“There’s a reason it’s called a cockpit.”

Days after watching Marvel’s “Captain Marvel” (2019), the condescending line still bounces around in my mind. A man jeers at the titular character of the movie, Carol Danvers (Brie Larson), an aspiring air force pilot. This scene takes place as Danvers’s memories are sorted through with alien technology as she is held captive by the Skrulls, a race of goblin-like aliens with shapeshifting abilities. As we watch a jumbled montage of our hero’s mysterious past, we notice that the memory isn’t an isolated incident. Despite having proven herself as an exceptional warrior and person, Danvers is constantly told that she isn’t good enough because she is a woman and that she is nothing without her powers. We watch as Danvers is knocked out of a go-kart race by another driver, and instead of calling out the unfair and dangerous play, her father yells at her (then a child) for being in a “boys only” race. Something similar happens when she was screamed at to get off the field in a little league baseball game by all the other players and when she was ridiculed and mocked by her army compatriots while trying to complete a training exercise. Each time, she is put down by men in a jarring dose of reality in an unabashed portrayal of the female experience, which adds to the film’s character and provides a meaningful sense of relatability.

The film also gracefully deals with issues such as harassment, and it isn’t afraid to dance around the day-to-day struggles of our hero, or women in general. “Captain Marvel” is able to respectfully portray a horrible normalcy in the lives of most women, while also keeping the upbeat nature of the movie. This is shown when Danvers is looking for directions on her journey to learn more about her past when stranded on Earth. She is approached by a man on a motorcycle who unpromptedly shouts at her, makes creepy comments about her appearance, and tells her to smile. When she ignores him, he deems her a “freak.” In a parallel to reality, her actress Larson was told by male internet trolls that she should have been smiling in the posters for the movie. It successfully furthers the idea that even in 2019, women are still viewed by many as nothing more than a pretty face.

“Captain Marvel” is a huge step forwards for Marvel, a franchise that claims to work toward creating a more inclusive environment. However, previous films have not always lived up to the expectations of fans. Notably, in “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014), the character Drax (Dave Bautista) refers to fellow hero Gamora (Zoe Saldana) as a “green whore,” a term that uncomfortably degrades the sole female protagonist of the film. It was written in a way where the insult feels like it was completely unnecessary. The director of the film, James Gunn, has grown infamous for making a series of disgusting “edgy” comments he called jokes on his Twitter account recently, having been temporarily fired from Marvel because of it.

However, it's not to say Marvel is completely sexist. “Black Panther” (2018) actually did a splendid job of creating several strong female characters that were more than just love interests or damsels in distress, with just as much depth and personality as their male counterparts. A fan-favorite moment in the film came when Okoye (Danai Gurira), the leader of the Wakandan army and its elite female warrior team, had to face down her husband (Daniel Kaluuya) in battle. When he asks her if she would really hurt him because of their marriage, she responds with the following: “For Wakanda? Without question.” This is, first of all, is a mood. And second, this caused his surrender, showing his respect for his wife’s expertise in combat.

Marvel does have room for improvement, though. In both “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018) and “Avengers: Endgame” (2019), directors Joe and Anthony Russo include a five-second moment with all the female characters fighting as a team. Though it's nice to see female representation, it's not supposed to feel forced—that is, it shouldn’t feel like a mandatory bit just meant to check their box on their diversity list.

“Captain Marvel” has been in the works at Marvel Studios for almost as long as the Avengers have been on screen—now seven years. Between finding the right actors, writing the best script, and running across a few corporate setbacks, the movie has gone through a lot of changes to reach perfection. Most executives had been hoping to make Danvers the first solo female character, probably the reason why other, already-established female Avengers like Black Widow and Scarlet Witch didn’t get solo films sooner. And looking at what we have now, it’s safe to say that it was worth the wait.

There’s a lot of bad out there in the world. It's not particularly great for most women, no matter their status. “Captain Marvel” depicts this bluntly, pointing out that men will always think that they are superior, and that nothing you do will change that.

At the climax of the film, Captain Marvel, with her full powers revealed to an entire alien army, faces down her former mentor, Yon-Rogg. He’s weak, helpless, and stranded, and yet he doesn’t believe he’s lost. He urges Danvers to take him on without her powers, still refusing to believe that she is a capable warrior without them. It is a classic example of everyday misogyny. No matter what a woman’s skill or talent is, she will always be seen as less than a man and be forced to play by his rules.

Danvers looks him over, and for a moment, you think she’s going to do it. You think she’s going to give in to his demands, beat him at his own game just like another petty Captain we know. And then, she holds her head up high and walks away.

Not without hitting him with a photon blast, of course. Because as Danvers says, she doesn’t have to prove anything to him. She only has to prove her worth to herself.

In that moment, “Captain Marvel” eloquently weaves issues such as sexism into its storyline, showing that even action movies can tackle more serious issues without ruining them. Danvers shows us that you don’t have to play by a man’s rules if they aren’t fair and shoot down your potential. This offers an important message for girls everywhere, teaching them that there’s a reason you can’t spell “hero” without “her.”