Captain Marvel is no Wonder Woman; Brie Larson's superhero draws strength from her humanity
Unlike Wonder Woman, who is aware of her immortality and godly powers since birth, Captain Marvel has been conditioned to control her borderline divine powers.
Captain Marvel is no Wonder Woman.
The Brie Larson-starrer is Marvel Cinematic Universe's first-ever female-led superhero film in its decade-long history. It is bound to invite organic comparisons to Wonder Woman, Patty Jenkins' 2017 DC Extended Universe film, starring Gal Gadot as the Princess of Themyscira. Wonder Woman was a trailblazer in its attempt to introduce a female superhero. Also, Captain Marvel doesn't do a bad job at combating the online armies who tried to pull the female-led film down through orchestrated low Rotten Tomatoes ratings.
Both Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel are coming-of-age films that smartly deal with the evil of social conditioning. While Diana aka Wonder Woman was conferred upon a godly status and trained to protect the world from Ares, the God of War; Carlos Danvers aka Captain Marvel was fed lies about her past that allowed Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) to use her as a weapon of mass destruction.
Towards the end of the Wonder Woman, Diana grapples with the temptation of erasing humanity to make the world a better place, before she is reminded of the fact that not all humans are morally corrupt. The lines between divinity and humanity blur when she sees herself as 'one of those'. She is aware that she is a god but does not fall prey to the manufactured perception that she has to 'save the world' by punishing humans.
The primary idea behind Wonder Woman was to acknowledge the human in every god. Irrespective of how powerful one might be physically, economically or politically, one must not impose one's perfection or dominance on those who do not belong to the same breed. The perspective in Wonder Woman was to look down at humans through an empathetic lens. While that served as a poignant critique on colonialism, Captain Marvel engages with its audience on another level, though it deals with the same idea of 'discovering the human within'.
Unlike Wonder Woman, Carol Danvers is unaware of her origins. She struggles with her identity because of her weak memory, which is an outcome of her overbearing superpowers. Throughout the first half of the film, Yon-Rogg's echoes sound very similar to Charles Xavier's familiar instructions to Jean Grey and other X-Men, pushing them to control their superpowers. Since self-control is the goal in the X-Men franchise, one is led to believe that the primary struggle of Captain Marvel is also to control her indomitable superpowers. The course of the film proves, however, that the audience, like Danvers, could not have been fooled better.
Danvers' battle in Captain Marvel, as she realises eventually, is not to control her superpowers but to embrace them. She has been led to believe that she must control her superpowers in order to not let them get the better of her. Here, a strong force has been made to believe that she is inherently weak.
Danvers coming to terms with her optimum capacity also presents itself as a strong feminist statement. Women have been conditioned to be subservient for centuries, and the organised low fan ratings and financial roadblocks in green-lighting female-led superhero projects stem from a similar conditioning. Captain Marvel, by depicting its protagonist as a (wo)man-made superhero, as opposed to a naturally born crusader, breaks free of these various limiting factors.
Also, by painting Danvers as an ordinary human with extraordinary powers, Marvel gives Larson's character a sense of relatibility. She does have unusual vigour inherently but taps into her full potential only when she embraces her humble roots. She comes across as a true-blue underdog because her existential crisis is resolved through discovering her survival instinct and indefatigable streak, which are byproducts of her humanity.
Captain Marvel is not the princess of a divine land, who is aware of her immortality. She is a human who discovers her might with time.
While Yon-Rogg regards her humanity as a disadvantage in her quest for power, she proves him wrong by assuming a divine identity by channeling the human within. She is "just a human" and by that virtue, the god of her own planet. In other words, as the background score suggests when Captain Marvel comes into her own in the climax, "I'm just a girl in the world. That's all that you'll let me be."
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