Captain Marvel treads ground untouched by previous entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). This could not have been more welcome, considering this is the 10th origin story under Marvel Studios’ belt. Through many twists and turns, it is settled that the real antagonists in this particular story are the Kree. The advanced space utopia that harbored Carol Danvers was the real imminent threat all along. However, unlike previous MCU films, the antagonistic force cannot be identified with a sole individual. Who can hold the title of being the main villain of Captain Marvel? Is it Starforce Leader Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) or the absolute ruling Supreme Intelligence (Annette Benning)? The answer is not so simple.
Choosing Yon-Rogg as the answer does not hold up because the film ends with Danvers sending him to alert the true threat in the end. Even though the Supreme Intelligence is this higher threat- it is not featured in the narrative as much as Yon-Rogg. This is slightly similar to Doctor Strange with there being a clear threat (Kaecilius) who serves a master (Dormammu). However, in this case, the servant carries the entire focus until the master briefly borrows it. Captain Marvel truly does not have a main villain. Instead, it opts for an alternative route that guides the audience deeper.
20th Century Fox’s Logan was the last comic book film to go down this route. It features multiple characters that ultimately represent the true antagonistic force- Logan’s personal demons. Besides the two already mentioned, Captain Marvel also features Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), members of Starforce (such as Gemma Chan’s Minn-Erva), and one could also count the Skrulls who Danvers fights early on. Now the question is: do they carry any representation at large?
Danvers finds herself at the center of the Kree/Skrull war. Aligned with the Kree (against her will), she is merely a cog in a what is clearly a patriarchal society. Even though the Supreme Intelligence is established to have no gender, more males are shown to have power in Kree society. Starforce is predominantly male and Ronan’s forces are also an example of this. Just like any other patriarchy, they are responsible for the colonial genocide of a marginalized and misrepresented race (the Skrulls). One cannot also help but notice that the leader of Starforce is the only to bear white skin. With a group that features black and blue individuals, maybe the decision to have Yon-Rogg be the only prominent white Kree was more deliberate?
Despite her successes, Danvers’ Kree superiors are quick to judge her. They constantly bring up her being too emotional and remind that her unique powers can be taken away without question. Even though they do a good job of selling some compassion, Danvers was always just their exploited vessel of power. After her accident with cosmic energy, the Kree took her unconscious only because her body harnessed abilities. Danvers did not deliberately choose to have these gifts; now she must act as a chess piece in a war without much choice.
This theme of her body being objectified becomes reinforced when the Skrulls’ early master plan was to probe her memories against her will, the scene playing out as if the Skrulls are going through footage. It is later revealed that Yon-Rogg underwent a blood transfusion with Danvers when she was first attained, without her explicit or informed consent. Those few moments of Yon-Rogg having the most faith and being protective in Danvers suddenly make sense considering he needs Carol because of what’s inside her. Also, he is her “saviour” and weaponizes that to subdue and control her – a tactic many women are all too familiar with. He and the Supreme Intelligence also tell Danvers that they made her the best version of herself. So, we have the patriarchy reinforcing a female that she is only successful because she learned how to fall in line.
Danvers’ origin very much encapsulates a female experience: objectified, underestimated, and overburdened. She cannot even catch a break on earth when Fury sells her out even after she clearly presents herself as a friend. The topic of choosing sides lingers over the entire narrative (Fury even tells Goose the cat for comedic purposes). Skull or Kree? War or peace? Danvers always has males trying to make decisions for her. With the Kree they make her choose war. Even when Skrull leader Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) reveals the Kree’s secrets- he tries to decide her fate. He says, “you aren’t like them.” Even when the truth seems to finally fall on her side she finds it within to respond with, “You don’t know who I am.”
She then looks at the many deeds of her Kree and human past to question herself. What makes Danvers’ arc so gratifying is following her decision to choose neither side. She may aid the Skrulls in the end, but this does not necessarily mean that she aligns with them. She helps them not only bearing new colors but also with a new state of mind. Instead of regaining her memories to go back to who she was- she uses them to move forward. She breaks free from male tethered chains (literally) to choose for herself. The film is not so subtle with these themes, but why should it be?
The last confrontation with Yon-Rogg is one of the most satisfying moments in the film. Even after Danvers’ display of cosmic power- he challenges her to fight at his level (typical for a male). The emotions that are teased as her greatest flaw become her saving grace when she calmly ends the standoff with a quick blast. Masculinity has finally reached its most fragile state. Yon-Rogg shamefully tells Danvers, “I can’t go back empty-handed” as if he fears failure more than death. Instead of further harming or sympathizing with him, she takes the high road by stating that she has nothing to prove and that she is just getting started.
Captain Marvel may not have one clear main villain, but it does have a clear antagonistic force at large. Represented by the actions of Kree, Skrull, and even some humans, it is clear that this force comes in the form of male dominance. Creating a unique identity on top of the ruins of subordination is a perfect narrative for Marvel’s first female-led film. Danvers proclaiming “My name is Carol” in the face of the patriarchy is unforgettable, but there is another final moment that should not be overlooked. A conversation between two young females, one human and one Skrull. The earthling reassures the Skrull that regardless of who she morphs into, she should never change her unique eyes. This is just one example of the heartfelt moments that result when female creatives both in front and behind the camera are hired to tell stories about women.
Captain Marvel is in theaters now!