Female-led superhero films are important, and they have a very mixed history. From Supergirl (1984), to Tank Girl (1995), and Elektra (2005), the earlier films in this specific part of the superhero movie genre were received poorly, and for the following decade female superheroes were given a secondary role. Marvel Studios were especially guilty of this, with characters like Black Widow, Wanda Maximoff, and Valkyrie, only one of whom would be given a solo story worth following. As I publish this, we are 2 months away from the release of Black Widow following a year-long postponement and the death of her character in Avengers: Endgame. She made her first MCU appearance in 2010’s Iron Man 2 before making 7 appearances over the next 10 years and being killed off to further a man’s trauma, in a scene that, I feel, was not earned. This would be bad enough on its own, but the decade-long demand by fans for a solo Black Widow movie, and Black Widow actress Scarlett Johanssen’s controversial career, have only escalated the problem. Meanwhile, Wanda Maximoff made her first MCU appearance in 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron before building her character over 3 films, culminating in her own series: Wandavision, in 2021, which is a monumental piece of acting from Wanda’s actress Elizabeth Olsen. Finally, we have Valkyrie, who is a great character with a compelling personality who made her first MCU appearance in Thor: Ragnarok (2017) as the titular character’s sidekick. In comparison, the DC Extended Universe had introduced Wonder Woman in Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) before starring in her own movie the following year, whilst introducing Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad (2016) before giving her a film in 2020.
By the time Captain Marvel was released in 2019, there had been 6 Black Widow appearances, 3 Wanda Maximoff appearances and 2 Valkyrie appearances in the MCU. The DCEU had Wonder Woman appear twice (once in her own film) and introduced Harley Quinn. This—on top of the less than stellar opinions of Supergirl, Tank Girl, Catwoman, and Elektra—is where the state of female superheroes in films were at the time, so Captain Marvel is an important snapshot of the world. It represents a moment in history, and a predominately male-led society, that led to a need for female-led films like this one. The marketing for Captain Marvel wasn’t shy about this, and unapologetically centred around woman and girls standing up for themselves, which is a hell of a marketing gimmick. It worked, by the way, and if you ever want a reminder of what the film is about, look no further than the images of girls at screenings of the film dressed as Captain Marvel. The film represents a major shift in the court of public opinion that perhaps women should be treated better, although sadly there was (and still is) a very vocal minority who disagree and think that “woke SJW politics” are ruining their movies. If you are one of those people, I don’t know how you came to be reading an article that I wrote, but you should stop gatekeeping media that is for everyone. I would love to tell you that this issue has gotten better since 2019, but while we’ve had some cracking female led content like Birds of Prey, it feels like that vocal minority are pushing back harder than ever. Captain Marvel isn’t at fault here, but I think it certainly acted as a catalyst in propelling this discussion about Women’s Rights into the stratosphere and frankly it’s a discussion that should have been over a long time ago. I’m not going to pretend that I’m not immensely heated about this, because I am, but at this juncture I’m going to finish with the important advocacy of my fellow women and movie on to the less important subject of reviewing the movie.
Captain Marvel follows a Kree Soldier named Veers, really a human named Carol Danvers, as she attempts to put a stop to The Skrulls – a race of shapeshifters who take over planets. Her fight takes her to 1990s Earth where she is introduced to the organisation known as SHIELD, uncovers secrets from her past, and realises that she might be fighting on the wrong side of an unjust war. In terms of storytelling, the war between the Kree and Skrulls is brilliantly told as it demonstrates each side feeling like they have a just cause for fighting… although only one of those sides is correct. However, I have very strong negative opinions on war and militia so I’m really not the biggest fan of seeing it here. There’s been a discussion within the fanbase about how the MCU is military propaganda, and whilst that isn’t true on the whole, it is true of some instalments. Captain Marvel in particular was sponsored by the US Military and used elsewhere as advertisements for the US Army. The film was not allowed to portray them in a negative light, more in a “just a few people are bad, not the entire system” kind of way. It’s slightly present in Captain America: The First Avenger but it is downright unavoidable here. I’m choosing not to discuss this any further, because I want this review to be primarily about lifting up woman and not beating down the military, but I would like you to at least be aware that Military Propagandas is present in Hollywood and I do not care for it.
This film is 2nd chronologically despite being the 23rd instalment to be released, and is set in the 1990s. This provides us with the largest gap between release and chronology that we are going to see in the MCU, as well as the largest timeline jump between films of 50 years, so there’s a real dissonance between this and Captain America: The First Avenger. That dissonance is amplified by Captain Marvel starting off in space, although we will be returning there 4 films from now. It almost feels like these are two completely unrelated films, were it not for the threads that tie them together. The biggest factor here is The Tesseract, which having been scooped from the ocean by Howard Stark 50-ish years ago, has fallen into the hands of the US Military and a scientist named Dr Lawson. Once again this cosmic cube is being used to power technology, but this time it’s lightspeed travel as opposed to tanks. It also provides Carol Danvers with her superpowers which makes her incredibly powerful, but the movie is careful to demonstrate that just because she has this power, doesn’t mean she knows how to use it. Watching the MCU in chronological order, you get a clear view of The Tessearact’s journey, which isn’t something I can say of the release order. We also get some major character introductions here, like Nick Fury, Agent Phil Coulson, The Skrulls and The Kree, including a particular Kree known as Ronan who will later re-appear to face the Guardians of the Galaxy. There is more immediate payoff within the MCU for some of these characters than others, but that’s the beauty of building a universe.
Captain Marvel absolutely works when watching the films in chronological order, but you cannot shake the feeling that this was a later release. There are small jokes about Fury losing his eye, a Marvel logo dedicated to the legendary Stan Lee, and the inevitably frustrating mid-credits scene. It’s my belief that as I watch through the entire MCU, there will be very few continuity issues, but the biggest issues will come from mid/post credits scenes and this is a perfect example. It picks up during the opening to Avengers: Endgame, which while the next to be released, is still 20 films and 2 decades after the events taking place here. As for the dedication to Stan Lee, I can’t fault it. His passing has continued to leave a vast hole in the MCU, comic book industry, and hearts of people who loved his work. This film featured one of his finest cameos, as well as his blessing and, frankly, that’s enough for me.