As Vers, the Air Force pilot turned super-powered Kree warrior, makes her way through the Blockbuster that she crash landed into seconds before, she picks up one movie off the shelves: “The Right Stuff.” Based on the book written in 1979 by acclaimed journalist Tom Wolfe, “The Right Stuff” follows the seven military pilots who became the Mercury Seven, the astronauts who conducted NASA’s first manned space flight. Before their careers as astronauts, the Mercury Seven were military pilots who continued their career in space exactly as Vers does.
Released March 8, Captain Marvel brought in $153,433,423 during its opening weekend.
Wolfe’s book gets its title from an unexplainable character trait that each of the Mercury astronauts possessed, “the right stuff.” Merely being a highly-skilled and courageous pilot is not enough to have the “right stuff”: something more is required. Some of the best pilots in the world were passed over for the Mercury mission because of their lack of this undefinable and incomprehensible quality. With its various references to Wolfe’s book and focus on Vers’ character, Marvel spends the whole of its newest installment, “Captain Marvel,” attempting to prove that Vers herself has the “right stuff.”
“Captain Marvel” follows Vers journey of self-discovery. Suffering from amnesia, the young Kree warrior finds herself alone on Earth. Verse soon discovers she has some connection to planet C-53, the Kree call sign for Earth. Vers’ teams up with S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Nick Fury, and the two galavant across the country seeking to save Earth from the Skrull warriors who seek to subvert Kree rule.
Like Wolfe’s astronauts Vers (Brie Larson), known as Carol Danvers on Earth, is undeniably a highly-skilled and courageous pilot. Unlike, Wolfe’s astronauts, however, Vers possesses no unique quality that separates her from other characters. While she does have an incredible amount of superhuman powers, skills do not the “right stuff” make. Brie Larson’s skill as an actress shines in the few moments that require a dramatic and emotional response. The few attempts at comic relief, however, feel flat and forced.
The film spends a fair amount of time on female empowerment. The audience is first introduced to Vers in a training session with her mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). It’s early in the morning, and Yon-Rogg and Vers are sparring in a training room. While Yon-Rogg clearly has the upper hand, he spews motivational sayings at Vers, including telling her to “keep her emotions in check,” alluding to the obvious gender stereotype.
Throughout the film, male figures in Vers life belittle her: her father, her superiors in the Air Force, her fellow airmen. But each moment, though intended to be inspiring, focuses on cliche female empowerment tropes. The moments are unoriginal and tired: towards the end of the movie, when Vers is knocked down in battle, a montage of men belittling her plays. Every woman has experienced what Vers goes through. Every woman understands it. Every woman also overcomes it, without the help of superpowers.
While its main character is flat and uninteresting, and its attempt at social-justice commentary fails, “Captain Marvel” is not a terrible movie. The flick serves as a prequel to the entire Marvel universe and fans will appreciate the groundwork it lays for later Marvel installments such as the “Avengers” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.” “Captain Marvel” is the first introduction of S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) to alien life and superheroes. Jackson and Gregg were digitally altered in post production to appear younger to fit the film’s 1990s setting, and it’s endearing to watch Fury and Coulson grow into the characters Marvel fans know and love. For that reason, Marvel fans should see it. So many pieces of the intricate Marvel puzzle start to fit together through the background established by “Captain Marvel.”
“The Right Stuff” follows seven men with a special characteristic that allows them to overcome all odds and become the first Americans in space. Marvel intended for “Captain Marvel” to be the females’ “The Right Stuff.” But with its main character lacking that special characteristic and its feminist tropes falling flat, the movie instead makes females look weak. By focusing only on male ridicule of women, it suggests that women should pay mind to the opinions of men who see them as little more than a pretty face. Some women do, but strong women don’t.
That is the female’s “Right Stuff,” and Carol Danvers doesn’t have it.