***There are spoilers for both movies ahead***
Check out Nancy’s take on Captain Marvel, which she wrote shortly after it came out in theaters.
On our quarantine weekends, Fiancé and I have been marathoning movies. We pull out the couch (it doubles as a futon), sprawl out with pillows and snacks, and go to town. So far we’ve marathoned Lord of the Rings (extended editions, obvs), Batman (pre-Nolan and Nolan directed), Christopher Reeves’ Superman saga, the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, bounced around between some DC animated movies we haven’t seen yet, and now we’re working on the DC Cinematic Universe that started with Man of Steel.
I’m sure this has been done, because how could it not have been, but I couldn’t help thinking while watching Captain Marvel of the comparisons it drew to Wonder Woman. Watching Wonder Woman again only threw the differences into greater relief.
Wonder Woman is the DCU’s take on Diana’s origins. Set during World War I, Diana leaves her home, Themyscira, when she rescues a pilot named Steve Trevor. He carries important information that could end the course of the war. Believing that Ares, the god of war, is behind the rampant destruction, Diana spirits Steve off the island and pursues Ares to fulfill the Amazon’s sacred duty of protecting the world from the vengeful god.
Captain Marvel follows the story of Vers/Carol Danvers, a Kree Starforce member/human fighter pilot. After absorbing a vast amount of energy from an experimental engine, she gains incredible powers but loses the memory of her life on Earth. What she does remember comes back to her in dreams and short flashes. In 1995 she winds up back on Earth, escaping from the Skrull (with whom the Kree are at war), and instead of trying to get back to Kree, decides to team up with a man named Nick Fury to find out more about her past.
The simplest way to explain the plots of both movies is perhaps: flagship female superhero finds herself out of her element, and must find a way to save the world while simultaneously working within the confines of a setting she’s unfamiliar with.
Wonder Woman did this SO much better than Captain Marvel did, and here’s why.
The first reason is in the portrayal of the heroines by their actresses, and how they interact with their mentor of the world they are unaccustomed to. Gal Gadot’s performance of Diana suggested naive innocence and idealism. Diana is doggedly determined to rid Man’s World of Aries’ influence and stop the war, but she has very different ideas of how to do it than everyone else. She doesn’t understand all the hoops and red tape Steve knows they need to navigate, and gets frustrated with the inconveniences. Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor is cynical, world-weary, yet focused and determined to do something too – and he’s willing to indulge Diana’s seemingly crazy ideas if she’ll help.
Watching these two – it’s magical. There’s real chemistry between these characters. Half the fun of watching this movie is watching Steve’s exaggerated, exasperated patience with Diana asking a million questions a minute, like a petulant child. Yet, you can’t help but love them each for it. Their relationship progressed organically from mentor/student to friends to lovers, all while remaining mostly equals, making it seem more real and believable.
Brie Larson’s portrayal of Carol was, to put it nicely, unemotional to the point of being flat. I suppose it was to show how the Kree are generally in strict control of their emotions… but Carol is human and not Kree, right? So despite her thinking she was Kree for most of the movie, it would stand to reason that we would see some excess of emotion from her at some point, right? Even if it was on accident?? Even in moments where it’s completely warranted and expected, such as her reuniting with her best friend, Maria – right???
The vibe I got from Carol and Nick Fury’s interactions were more of almost a buddy cop dynamic. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There’s just less of that mentor-ship that we see going on with Diana and Steve. It’s clear both Carol and Nick have been around the block, albeit in different ways and in different galaxies. However, their connection seemed a bit forced to me; yes, they teamed up out of necessity, but if I felt Carol was feeling anything at all, it was smug arrogance, solely through her interactions with Fury. More on this in a moment.
Though both Diana and Carol are superhuman beings, and warriors to boot, Diana is shown to be more well-rounded in the emotions department. There was never any point in Captain Marvel where I felt emotionally connected to Carol. I think this is more the fault of the writing more than it is Larson’s portrayal, which leads me to my second point:
The way misogyny is handled in both movies is VASTLY different, and makes a HUGE impact on the way the titular characters interact with their environments, and the emotional weight of each story.
You ever wonder why the No Man’s Land scene in Wonder Woman is so powerful? Why you cry like a baby every time you watch it? Admit it, you know it’s not just me 😉
It’s because, for the entire movie up until that point, we see Diana being told “no.”
- No, you can’t be a warrior
- No, you can’t leave home
- No, you can’t dress that way
- No, you can’t come into this war council
- No, you can’t go to the front
Now, no one says these things in so many words, and it’s not always that obvious. It may be only on your second or third viewing that you REALLY pick up on all the subtle ways that Diana is being restricted – which mirrors what happens in real-life with instances of misogyny. It’s not always being told “no” exactly, more often it’s being dismissed or sidebarred – which we see Diana go through. When we get to the No Man’s Land scene, and Steve tells Diana they are not going to help the village of Veld, Diana has heard her last “no.”
It’s so powerful because Diana is FINALLY standing up for herself, what she believes in, her mission, and she is going to do it no matter what anyone says. It’s so powerful because she has tried to assimilate into Man’s World and to their ways, but she finally realizes that their ways don’t work, and she carves herself a new path, her own way. It’s so powerful because she is embracing her feminine power to save the world, and her ultimate superpower: not her brute strength, but her ability to provide hope in a completely hopeless situation.
The brilliancy and beauty of this scene is in the movie’s moves up until this point to try and hem Diana in, so subtle that it’s nearly subconscious. When you see her finally break free in this scene, the movie has earned all the ugly tears you shed over it, and then some.
Captain Marvel didn’t have an equivalent scene, though it tried to. Near the end of the movie, Carol confronts the Supreme Intelligence and breaks her inhibitor chip. It also gave us a slew of flashbacks to Carol’s childhood in which we are shown in quick succession how Carol has been told “no,” and that’s what’s allows her to break free and come into her full power, which we then see in the next scene: the “I’m Just a Girl” scene, where Carol fights her former Kree squadron for the Tesseract.
The problem with this scene – and with the movie in general – is Carol is explicitly told “no,” in so many words, in those flashbacks. We are beaten over the head with scenes like this:
- Carol and Maria getting hit on by a sleazy guy at a bar
- Carol and Maria can’t become fighter pilots
- Carol needs to control her emotions
- Carol can’t play baseball
- Carol can’t go that fast on a go-kart track
- … All because they are girls or women.
Carol, and the audience, are explicitly told these things, instead of being shown them. The subtlety that worked so well in Wonder Woman is missing altogether from Captain Marvel. The obviousness of the misogyny in this movie strip much of the meaning away from the instances in which they occur, or their motivation for Carol.
I mentioned above that I felt Carol to be a cold, arrogant presence throughout this movie – this is why. It felt as if she was so hell-bent on proving her worth, despite her being a woman, that that’s all her character became. This crippled her relationship with Fury. Instead of Fury becoming a guide to Carol when she returns to Earth, he became the receiving end of the superiority she picked up from her time as a Kree. It felt as if he was reduced to a comic relief sidekick alongside Carol, instead of the force of nature we had previously seen and known him to be. Though this is a prequel movie for Fury, and he arguably doesn’t quite have the experience to be a mentor yet as he’s early in his career, the fact remains that as far as she knows, he is still Carol’s bridge between Kree and Earth – and to me it felt like Carol knew better than he did.
Now, I know Carol was brainwashed to believe she was really a Kree. It seemed as if all the flashbacks from Carol’s former life on Earth shown in the movie were instances like these: blatant misogyny. What it really needed was more of Carol being a badass like Maria talked about during the kitchen scene. The Carol Maria talked about sounded awesome! She was a pain in her best friend’s butt! She was an amazing pilot! She loved to go out and dance and do kareoke! She was an aunt figure to Maria’s daughter, Monica! THAT’S the Carol we needed to see – the truly human Carol!!!
In fact, the one thing Captain Marvel did better than Wonder Woman was the inclusion of Maria’s character. What little we saw of Maria and Carol’s friendship was AMAZING!!! They had such a great friendship, of two women (one of them of color!!!) LOVING AND SUPPORTING EACH OTHER UNCONDITIONALLY!!! There wasn’t enough time spent on any female characters other than Diana in Wonder Woman for us to see any friendships form between her and another woman (though I am hopeful we see this between Diana and Barbara Ann Minerva in WW84, coming out in October at time of posting).
The movie needed more of this truly human Carol. The pre-brainwashed Carol as seen through Maria and Monica’s eyes, to make the audience care about her, and to make us believe that she is more than a single dimension: that of being a woman with something to prove. It’s otherwise difficult for the audience to remember that she IS supposed to be human, and therefore it’s difficult for the audience to emotionally connect with her.
The heavy-handed misogyny in Captain Marvel also strips away any and all emotional impact we are supposed to feel from anything – especially the final fight scenes, after Carol finally comes into her full power. The movie tried SO HARD to show us Carol’s girl power that that’s all her character was reduced to. When we finally get to the “I’m Just a Girl” fight scene, we just roll our eyes at yet ANOTHER in-your-face instance of Carol’s femininity. Captain Marvel hamstrung itself on its’ own feminism.
The dynamic of each movie within its’ respective universe is also interesting to think about. The DCEU was okay at best until Wonder Woman (the 4th installment) finally helped them to find their stride. While no DCEU movie they create afterward will come close to being on the same level, their subsequent movies have become overall lighter and more fun in tone than their predecessors – and more like the MCU.
The DCEU tried too hard in their beginnings to become what the MCU was in their middle that they rushed into a huge crossover with no other basis than Man of Steel, and failed at it.
The MCU is a carefully-crafted, decades-long cinematic event. I may be a die-hard DC fan, but even I can admit that Marvel’s movies FAR outstrip DC’s in scope, continuity, and storytelling. Captain Marvel was the third to last installment in the Phase 3 of the MCU saga – between Ant Man and the Wasp and Avengers: Endgame (technically, but I personally consider it the second to last because I don’t count Spiderman: Far from Home as being part of Phase 3, but that’s a post for another day). My point being, this movie is smack dab between a hilarious, high-stakes heist, and the epic ending to one of the greatest cinematic sagas in all of film history, and introduces a character VITAL to that ending, just one movie before. And it unfortunately feels like a slog to get through. It feels like forced required reading just before that cinematic climax that only serves two purposes: to explain the Carol-Ex-Machina moment in Endgame (disappointing), and how Fury lost his eye (even more disappointing).
The MCU tried to recreate with Captain Marvel what the DCEU did with Wonder Woman – a first movie for a female hero in their camp – and failed at it.
… Okay, now that I got my nice, objective views out of the way, I’m sorry I can’t hold it in anymore I need to say it the very biased way I said it to a friend: Captain Marvel??? More like Captain Knockoff: Superman Without Any of His Likeable Qualities Wearing a Chinese Bootleg Wonder Woman Costume
Y’all KNOW they PURPOSELY created CM’s costume to look TOO SIMILAR TO WW’S like JUST LOOK AT IT AND TRY TO TELL ME I’M WRONG
I think y’all knew which camp I was in to begin with, but I hope I explained the important differences between these two movies, and why those differences had a significant impact on each movie, sufficiently!