Captain Marvel, or A Pilot Earns Her Wings (Twice).
Here be spoilers.
I had a flying lesson once. It was a spur of the moment event, after my mum spotted the hand-lettered cardboard sign along the highway. It was a birthday present, the year I turned 18. I was struggling in school due to bullying, (and a previous year of failing), and this was a distraction for both of us. For me, as much as for mum who was dealing with a work place injury that never healed. Anyway, it was the early 1990s, mid autumn, and I was sat in the two-seater Cessna next to the pilot, carefully noting the lack of parachutes. And we took off! This slight metal machine, which rocked on the tarmac under a light breeze took us up and up. And then we were floating, watching the sky, and the patchwork paddocks pass below. Geographical features resolved as we flew, and suddenly maps made sense. It was exhilarating, and calming, and focusing, as the controls were handed over to me. The pilot chatted away in my hear through the headset about how pilots made bad drivers. As he pulled the choke out I nearly choked, as the engine stuttered and slowed as we turned and headed back to the airport to land that old bird together.
Back to earth.
Suffice it to say, me flying a plane, even for a half hour, was a long time ago, but I’ll never forget it. At least I don’t want to forget that freedom and precariousness of flight. Big planes aren’t the same, by the way. All this brings me to Captain Marvel.
What I wanted from this film about an air force pilot and tester of experimental planes, as well as Kree Starforce warrior, was something of the exhilaration of flight. The moment when Carol Danvers realises her abilities should have catapulted me through the atmosphere with her, like that Cessna did so long ago. But Brie Larson is too steely and on mission to convey her need for speed and the feeling of flight. Meanwhile, the special effects but couldn’t quite offer the audience a dose of adrenalin via a sense of what Danvers felt. A few shots from the perspective of our superhero mid-flight would’ve added it. In lieu of this, we get top gun moves via Maria Rambeau going full Maverick, but again, it is spectacle, not being-in-the-plane-ness.
Having said all this, Captain Marvel captures much of the mid 90s aesthetic, as well as something of the zeitgeist* regarding refugees as well as gas lighting. This adds to the feel too, as almost everyone Vers/Danvers is surrounded by lies and manipulates her for their own ends. We see that our main character is constantly having to reassert and rebuild who she is from childhood onwards as she defies expectations. Then again, Danvers’ arc goes from strong, talented jet pilot to headstrong warrior, to super being bent on stopping war, so her apparent ’emotional’ fatal flaw doesn’t manifest as a giant green rage monster at the barriers she overcomes. No, her flaw is meant to be those moments of glee she delivers at demonstrating her strength, and even then, she could’ve gone further here. She could’ve gloated about her abilities like Stark does about his suits. There was scope for her to be something more than determined. Perhaps a littler angrier at being betrayed?
The flaw of the film, for me, isn’t that Danvers’ patchwork recollections don’t add up to a whole, because her wholeness is continuously reflected by those around her as well as her flashbacks. The flaw is, despite a fragmentary memory, the main character is always herself no matter her assumed identity. Thus, my issue is that the transformation from Danvers to Vers to Captain Marvel is a story just one of a change in scope. A strong and determined kid becomes an elite pilot, and then warrior hero, but her greatness becomes greater without much reflection on what super being status means for Danvers’ humanity, or her ‘Kree-ness’. Basically, she is a jet fighter pilot who becomes the jet fighter plane, but my internal 90s teen self wanted to feel the this more. Who doesn’t dream of that kind of flight? Of freedom? Here we have a person attain it and where’s the exhilaration, the joy, the confusion, and the questioning etc?
I’m happy with this super hero film centering women and their friendships, and ambitions, especially one which notes women’s methods of and abilities to overcome all kinds of barriers and odds. However, I didn’t leave identifying with Danvers. For one, she is too cool and capable. Yes, young me was, for a briefest moment in the 90s, a kind of pilot, but I no more identify with Danvers than I do Tony Stark as a play boy billionaire genius scientist. But there’s empathy. I remember navigating the 1990s, and, regardless of the soundtrack, it was difficult and confusing for unassuming so and sos like me who lived in regional Australia at the time, let alone for an alien-trained, traumatised super-being, discovering history, identity and purpose amid chases, fights, investigations and evolving quests.
Oh, and I bloody loved Mendo. But Mendo can do anything. Love the twist too.
It was solid. I don’t get the vitriol. That’s all I got.
*10 point penalty for using zeitgeist. Damn, that’s another penalty.