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SYFY WIRE Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel was a bittersweet watch

By Stephanie Williams
Lashana Lynch and Brie Larson in Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel is doing well at the box office, and deservedly so. It’s the first female-led Marvel movie some two decades after the very first Iron Man film premiered. It's been long overdue and it’s a shame it took so long for it to happen.

However, while I did like Captain Marvel, for the most part, I was equally frustrated with it as well — mainly because of how both Maria and Monica Rambeau were used in the film.

Akira Akbar plays Monica Rambeau in Captain Marvel
The moment Captain Marvel was announced and it was confirmed Carol Danvers would be the focus of the film, I was both excited and bummed at the same time. I’ve always liked Carol Danvers, and I'm usually drawn to characters with both lengthy and messy histories. But I was disappointed because, as much as I like Carol, I love Monica Rambeau even more. While her comic history isn’t anywhere as messy as Carol’s, her history is just as rich. She's the first female Captain Marvel, a former leader of the Avengers, and a woman who embodies heroic characteristics with or without her powers.

When it was later announced that Monica's mother, Maria Rambeau, would be in the film my ears perked up, especially when it was revealed she would be a fighter pilot. That change in occupation is a welcomed departure from her character in the comics, in which she is a supportive mother and homemaker. In the movie, her character definitely maintains her supportive behavior and extends it to her best friend Carol. While their friendship was great to see on screen because outside of Black Panther, female characters don’t get a ton of screen time together, let alone friendships. (It also would have been great if the film had said it with its chest that the two were more than just friends instead of the heavy implications.)

Captain Marvel with Maria Rambeaux
My frustration with their relationship, however, was in regards to it being depicted as more one-sided than it should have been. The meaningful collage of photos scattered about the table that Carol works through to show how close the two were before her assumed death wasn’t enough to keep me from cringing at the pep talk Monica gives Carol in the latter half of the film. All I could think of was the scene from The Help when Viola Davis’s character tells the little girl how smart, kind, and important she is. Those feelings may have not been so strong if Maria’s character had had a little more to do than reminding Carol of her humanity. It was dope to see Maria in action fighting Kree and also flying the ship like the amazing pilot she is, but that was still not enough to take away the sting of yet another Black character getting the sidekick role in yet another MCU film — especially in a film in which girl power was so heavily the focus.

As for Maria's young daughter Monica, her presence felt much the same, only more bittersweet. She's introduced to the masses in Captain Marvel as this little Black girl who adores her Auntie Carol. She even says she wants to be like her when she grows up. Who could blame her? Carol comes back into life after being gone for six years and returns with really cool powers. 

The problem in introducing Monica in this fashion is that it robs her of some of her own agency, to an extent. In the Marvel comics, Monica’s character has very similar story beats to Carol’s in Captain Marvel, with one of the better superhero origin stories, period. After being informed that she was passed over for a promotion to Captain, again, and told she was being overly emotional in her response to finding out, Monica tells her boss where to go. She then gains power by heroically destroying an advanced energy source, which results in her getting her powers of energy absorption, generation, and manipulation, thus becoming Captain Marvel and not requiring any male approval in the process.

With Monica’s introduction into Captain Marvel as this little Black girl who looks up to and wants to be like Carol, we no longer get the full experience of this Black woman stepping into her own destiny as a hero just based on her own heroism.

For a prolific comic character such as Monica Rambeau, who was just as amazing as Carol in her own right, to now have her origin rooted in Carol's influence, is an absolute slap in the face. It’s also more of the same, the constant dilution of Black characters for the benefit of their white counterparts. At least Monica has somewhat of a chance in future MCU films to hopefully be fleshed in a way that does her character some justice. At no point has Monica been a sidekick-caliber character, something that isn’t so abundant in Marvel comics when it comes to Black characters and other characters of color, to begin with. For this to happen after what Black Panther did for the women of Wakanda and the Dora Milaje feels like a step in the opposite direction. 

Monica Rambeau deserves her own movie just as much as Carol deserved hers and I’m remaining hopeful that she finally gets her chance to shine on her own. Since Captain Marvel is leading the charge of Phase Four for the MCU, the hope is that going forward, it's higher, further, faster for other characters of color, characters with disabilities, characters who fall within the LGBTIA+ community, and so on. I want them to ascend well past being reduced to props for their white, abled counterparts. They deserve to fly just as high and go just as far.