It took 10 years and 20 films, but the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) finally has a solo female lead. Captain Marvel, which is about the titular hero also known as Carol Danvers, hit theatres all around the world this weekend, earning a successful box office debut but a somewhat muted critical response.
Amid talk of the importance of Carol in the MCU, what the mid-credits scene means for Avengers: Endgame, and other important questions, we have just one to ask: how queer is Captain Marvel?
What is Captain Marvel?
It’s the origin story of Carol Danvers (Brie Larson), a human/Kree hybrid who may just be the most powerful character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (don’t worry if you don’t know what Kree is; the movie aptly explains its different alien races). Delightfully set in the ’90s, with a set of perfect music cues to match, Captain Marvel explores what happens when the amnesiac Carol — known only as Vers on her Kree home planet — finds her way to Earth. Shenanigans ensue, both of the winkingly funny and deadly serious varieties.
I know Marvel movies can be somewhat daunting for folks who don’t know the lore, but take it from someone who’s seen just over half of the MCU’s 21 films: you’re fine walking into this one without previous knowledge. Since it’s set in the timeline before most other MCU movies (Captain America: The First Avenger being the exception), future knowledge of the franchise doesn’t mean much.
What is the queerest thing about it?
I’d say the friendship between Carol and her earthbound best friend, Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch). Captain Marvel has no romantic subplot — a breath of fresh air — so Carol and Maria’s bond stands in as the most significant relationship in Carol’s life. Their reunion is played with the same beats as a romantic subplot: Seeing her friend, who she thought dead for six years, inspires waves of emotion in Maria akin to being reunited with a former flame. Carol puts implicit trust in Maria, even having her come along for an important mission.
I saw captain marvel. It was great. I would rate it: gay undertones for sure. pic.twitter.com/L4W2M4lwmp
— Ashly Perez (@itsashlyperez) March 11, 2019
Carol and Maria’s is a beautiful and legitimately affecting relationship; I’d lie if I said it didn’t make me tear up. It’s also had a profound impact on fans, who are already calling for Captain Marvel to be made canonically queer. So there’s clearly something special about this relationship that goes beyond other friendships we’ve seen in the MCU.
How does it compare in queerness to all the other Marvel movies?
Despite arguments for shirtless men, Marvel movies are enormously heterosexual. It’s why the news that Marvel is ready for a gay superhero made such a big splash last week. By virtue of having this close relationship between two female characters, trumping any kind of romantic bond, Captain Marvel is a bit queerer. Don’t go nuts, though, it’s not exactly waving a rainbow flag.
How does gay icon Annette Bening do in her role?
She’s very good! A much better fit than other great actresses in Marvel movies — think Glenn Close’s thankless work in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, for instance. It’s a bit of a spoiler to talk about her roles, but suffice it to say Bening does have two, and she brings fascinating texture to both.
What about Captain Marvel herself, Brie Larson?
I was a little worried when watching the first part of the movie, because Larson seemed somewhat uncomfortable in the role. She read almost as a cipher to me. Luckily, as Carol learns more about herself, Larson’s performance only grows more confident. By the end, she’s having a fucking blast, and the audience is, too.
What could have made Captain Marvel queerer?
It seems lazy to just say “make Carol a lesbian,” especially considering we already have a very famous lesbian Carol in the cinematic canon. But honestly, it wouldn’t have taken much. Carol and Maria’s relationship is already right there; adding romantic texture to it would have been an interesting wrinkle.
It would have been compelling to see the movie address Carol’s sexuality at all. Some are accusing the movie of queerbaiting because it keeps her sexuality a mystery — I wouldn’t go that far, but again, it would have been nice if we could have heard something. It could have been as simple as explaining that sexuality isn’t so binary for Kree peoples.
So: How queer is Captain Marvel?
Being a major blockbuster, Captain Marvel isn’t particularly queer in aesthetic or filmmaking. And while it’s refreshing to see one of Marvel’s few female heroes defined primarily by her relationships to women, not men, those relationships don’t quite cross the line to queer, either. I’d say Captain Marvel is straight, but an ally.