Or, How Captain Marvel‘s Writing Team Showed They Really Don’t Know Their Craft.
There wasn’t supposed to be a post today. In fact, I am slamming this out in-between a work shift, a very important errand, work on book projects (my email box is FULL of comments, fixes, and changes from the awesome Alpha and Beta Readers I have), and then a big social event tonight. But this warranted a post.
Okay, backstory: This last weekend, with Marvel’s Captain Marvel about to come out on Blu-Ray, the marketing team released an extended version of a scene from the film.
Okay, fine, not worth commenting on so far, right? Well, this came with an additional caveat. It was marketed as “see a hero taking on toxic masculinity.”
Oh. Oh no.
As I pointed out in my thoughts on Captain Marvel, the largest weakness of the film by far was the writing. And … that’s come back to bite folks again. Badly.
As you can imagine, the internet exploded.
Hang on though. We’re still in backstory. The scene in question is an extended version of the scene in the film where—minor spoilers—Vers steals a guy’s bike and some clothes. In this new version, rather than her simply eyeing the bike and stealing it (which is justifiable in character at the moment), we instead get a scene where the biker hits on Vers in a pretty sleazy manner, only to get his conceptions crushed by Vers. She shakes his hand, then crushes it (you can hear bones crack and pop) and tells him to give her his bike and jacket or she’ll remove the hand.
Again … a bit more sinister, sure. Except … then the writers had to step in and explain that this was Captain Marvel being a hero and striking a blow against toxic masculinity. And … well, you can imagine how the internet has taken it. Both sides have, as you can predictably guessed, gone up in arms. Both make some good points, and both make some bad points.
However, the reason I chose to take some time out of my crunched day to post about this was because at its core, the argument Disney’s marketing team and the writers of Captain Marvel have claimed is … well, wrong.
Vers isn’t a hero in that scene. Not by any definition of the term. And to see people so aggressively defending Vers actions as “heroic,” even the writing team? Well … I think that’s in part why the Captain Marvel had the problems it had.
See, the problem isn’t that the scene exists, but that people, creators included, are insisting that it is “heroic.” And it isn’t. It’s far from it, in fact, unless you’re aiming to redefine “heroism” as something completely different. Which I don’t think the writers are trying to do … They just genuinely don’t seem to know what heroism is.
Already there are people defending the “heroism” of the scene online by saying that naysayers are only unhappy because it’s “a woman,” declaring that no one had issues with a male character doing similar in Terminator 2.
No. Because in Terminator 2 the T-800 is not a hero. He’s an anti-hero. If someone declares that heroic, than they’re wrong. Flat out. He threatens physical harm to innocents because he doesn’t care, and has no morals. Classic anti-hero trait.
Vers threatening a slimy guy past simply shutting him down isn’t heroism with the goal of stealing his possessions isn’t heroism. It’s the mark of an anti-hero, just as it was with the T-800.
Now, all of this would be fine except that the writers of Captain Marvel have doubled down in the opposite direction: That this behavior is heroism. And that raises some frankly disturbing questions about the rest of the film. Or … more accurately just shows that they themselves are lacking some serious writing chops.
See, if they’d said that this scene was a step along the way to Carol Danvers becoming a hero, that’d be one thing. She’d be far from the first hero to use their power to subdue others for their own benefit while struggling to figure themselves out. So if, say, there was a later scene where we saw her display second thoughts about straight up threatening to remove a bystanders arm in order to steal their stuff, where she thought about it and decided to exercise restraint, that would be a moment of character growth.
But there is no such scene. In fact, extending this scene with the message of the writers that this is supposed to be how a hero acts puts the entire rest of the film in a much darker light.
Why? Because of what Captain Marvel stands for. This scene is, at it’s core, a character with vast power using that power to threaten others that have no means of standing up to that. Because … she’s strong, therefore she can do what she wants?
In thinking over some of the arguments I’ve seen over this weekend about how this scene makes Vers a “hero,” I’ve been reminded of one of the old King Arthur films, in which Arthur declares, when setting up the round table, that the rule shouldn’t be ‘might makes right, but rather might for right.’ To subscribe to might makes right, Arthur argues, is barbarism.
By declaring this scene as the expression of Captain Marvel’s “heroism,” the writers of the film have thrown a very different message over the whole movie: Captain Marvel is a “hero” because she can do what she wants and make everyone else do what she wants by active physical violence.
Look at the scene with another Marvel hero, Captain America, and try to imagine Cap threatening to pull someone’s hand off after breaking the bones in their hand for saying something he didn’t like. And then stealing all their stuff with a smirk.
You can’t. Well, you can, but it wouldn’t be Captain America. He’s more than capable of doing it; we’ve seen him lay down the smack time and time again. But at the same time, Captain America understands that true power lies in restraint and control rather than simply lashing out and battering everyone around you into submission.
Vers’ reaction, meanwhile, is to use her power to grind anyone she who crosses her into the dirt apparently, and then say ‘I’m right because I beat you.” Or rather, the writers seem to believe that.
That’s not heroism. Again, that’s the mark of an anti-hero or even a villain. Look at Thanos in Infinity War: He’s a villain who believes that he’s right because he can. Because no one can stop him, he declares several times through the film that this makes him right. By virtue of power.
Might makes right, then? With the declaration that this extended scene is Vers being a hero, the entire rest of the film following takes on, in memory, a much darker tone. All of Marvel’s actions feel a lot more like “Because I want to and I’m the toughest” rather than “Because this is the right thing to do.” It doesn’t help that we’re never given a moment with Captain Marvel where she expresses any sentiment for anyone other than herself. Again, a weak point of the film with writing, but with this new scene and its “purpose” as declared by the writers, kind of disturbing.
And again, this didn’t have to come off like this. Again we go back to the film not giving us a solid arc with emotion to build on. Weak writing. Were there moments of Vers figuring out who she was with thought and clarity on who she was and how she was using her power, that’d be different. Even if the film gave us an anti-hero but admitted it and pushed her on the path to becoming a hero, that would have been a sign that this is a character thinking through the responsibility of their abilities.
Instead … we got a lot of “because I can” which has now been taken up a notch with this new scene.
You know, when the Captain Marvel movie was announced, I really wanted the most recent one from the comics. Why? She’s a young girl who’s desperately trying to balance her new powers with her hero worship of existing Marvel superheroes, her religion, and her own understanding of what a hero really is.
We didn’t get that. At all. Instead, and with this new declaration of heroism, it looks more and more like we have a character who just believes they can do whatever they want because they’re the biggest and the strongest.
And look, it’s okay to have characters like that. We like anti-heroes and even villains for a reason! They can be fun.
But one thing they are not is heroes. And trying to paint a character as one when they behave like the other … Well … that won’t win you any favors. Worse, it makes you look foolish. If the writing team for Captain Marvel truly believes that Vers’ behavior in this scene is “heroic,” then they need to study again what makes a hero, an anti-hero, and a villain.
Because while I enjoy anti-heroes, I don’t want them to be heroes unless they actually change and do something heroic. Until they drop the “might makes right” mindset of, as King Arthur put it, barbarism, and aspire to something greater.
I’m fine with Captain Marvel being an anti-hero. Disappointed a little, sure, because I hoped for a hero, but anti-heroes are fine.
Just don’t try to call them heroes.