Captain Marvel and the “Power Problem” – A Marvel Cinematic Universe Reflection

Whenever anyone asked me what I thought of Avengers: Endgame my answer was generally some form of, “I loved it!  While I thought there were a few serious problems, by and large I thought it was a damn near perfect movie, delivering just about everything I could have wanted from it.”  One of the things that bothered me was Marvel’s sidelining several of their prominent female characters (again).  Now, I grant we had that kickass scene on the battlefield in the final showdown with Thanos.  And I grant Nebula’s story arc was brilliant (but that’s the story for another post).  However, the way they left some of their major players off the board – most notably Okoye and Carol Danvers – bothered me.  Here I want to consider why Captain Marvel should have had a far larger role in Endgame and wade through one of the most commonly cited (and paper thin) arguments about why she’s such a “difficult” character to handle.

Oh, obviously, this will have allllllllllllllllllll sorts of spoilers for Avengers: Endgame so, if you still haven’t seen it (and have avoided spoilers thus far) good for you (and I’m totally impressed with your spoiler avoidance).  If you’d like to continue avoiding spoilers, well then you should probably stop reading this now.  Coolio?  Coolio.

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Captain Marvel scours the universe for Thanos. / Photo Credit – Avengers: Endgame

Carol Danvers was teased in the post-credits scene of Avengers: Infinity War and introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe just a month before Endgame was released in Captain Marvel, a story set in the 1990s.  As Endgame opens, Carol appears as a sort of beatific vision, lighting up the vast darkness as she saves Tony and Nebula from death in the cold emptiness of space.  She then joins the remaining Avengers as they try to track down Thanos and undo what he’s done.  They find him.  They fight.  And they learn he’s destroyed the Infinity Stones.  As their hope for undoing his life-halving snap fades, Thor cuts the head off the Mad Titan.  Then the story jumps ahead five years.

We see an emotionally and physically exhausted Natasha still going forward, doing her best to coordinate the Avengers’ forces across both the Earth and the cosmos to deal with all the chaos still unfolding in the wake of the snap.  As she eats a peanut butter sandwich, she discusses the troubles Rocket and Nebula, Okoye, Rhodey, and Carol are facing in their respective corners of the universe.  As they share their updates, Nat asks:

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Photo Credit – Avengers: Endgame

Natasha – “Carol, are we seeing you hear next month?”

Carol – “Not likely.”

Rocket – “What?  Are you gonna get another haircut?”

Carol – “Listen fur face…I’m covering a lot of territory.  The things that are happening on Earth are happening everywhere, on thousands of planets.”

Rocket – “Uh, alright, yeah alright.  That’s a good point.  That’s a good point.”

Carol – [to Natasha again] “So you might not see me for a long time.”

Natasha – “Alright uh, well, this channel’s always active.  So if anything goes sideways, if anyone’s making trouble where they shouldn’t, it comes through me.”

And that is the last we see or hear of Captain Marvel until Friday tells Tony, “Something just entered the upper atmosphere” during their climactic battle with Thanos and his forces.  She single-handedly destroys Thanos’ ship and Steve Rogers asks her to assist in getting the Infinity Gauntlet to the quantum tunnel in the back of Scott Lang’s van.  Obviously it doesn’t work and she…uh, waits a bit for Cap and Thor to fight Thanos on their own…and then she has a pretty badass one-on-one fight with Thanos until he punches her away and the whole film moves towards its emotional climax.

My question is, why didn’t they call Captain Marvel in earlier?  It wasn’t like they just wanted to focus on the original six Avengers for the entire film, although they were clearly given the spotlight.  But we also had Nebula, Rocket, and Ant-Man involved in the entire Time Heist to undo Thanos’ wave of death through the universe.  So where was Carol?

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Yes, this scene was A-MA-ZING.  But Captain Marvel should’ve been called off the bench waaay before this. / Photo Credit – Avengers: Endgame

If, as Natasha said, “this channel’s always active,” why wouldn’t they call in their heaviest hitter for the most important mission they’ve ever undertaken?  It makes no sense.  And sure, the writers have Carol tell Nat, “I’m covering a lot of territory.  The things that are happening on Earth are happening everywhere, on thousands of planets….So you might not see me for a long time.”  Even the always cranky Rocket agrees with her logic there and the need for her absence.  But no matter what she’s facing on all those other planets, how can it be more important than setting right what Thanos did and, at least in theory, setting right many of the issues she’s dealing with across those thousands of planets?  Logically, it can’t.  Because, once they undo the snap, we see Earth is significantly better than the dark, hopeless planet struggling to figure out how to move forward we find at the beginning of the film.  There’s no reason to suppose, nor does the film say anything to imply, this isn’t true on all the planets affected by Thanos.  AND Carol leaves whatever she’s doing behind to come battle Thanos and his forces on Earth anyway.  Her doing so a few hours (remember, it’s all time travel) earlier couldn’t have made a difference.

Well, it couldn’t have made much of a difference on the worlds she was fighting for but it could have made all the difference in the world in their struggle against Thanos.

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Note how alllllllll the pictures in this post come from the same two scenes because use she’s only in those TWO SCENES. / Photo Credit – Avengers: Endgame

Now, when fans and critics talk about Captain Marvel – in the comics, at times, but so often in regard to the MCU – they regularly bring up the problem of her power level.  There are sooooooo many different articles that address this but I’m quoting Chris Evangelista from /Film because I think he sums it up perfectly:

It genuinely seems like Marvel doesn’t know what to do with Carol.  Much like Superman, Carol is superpowered to the extreme.  Writers and filmmakers have been struggling with this in regard to Superman for years.  How do you make someone so invincible, so unstoppable, engaging?  What’s the point in putting a character like that in danger, when we always know they’ll come out ahead?  More often than not, storytellers introduce some sort of weakness to exploit in order to bring Superman down a few notches.[1]

The thing is, I think this is kind of bullshit.  I grant it is harder to write compelling danger for a character like Carol Danvers than someone of a far lower power level like Spider-Man or Daredevil.  But authors in the comics have done it for years.  And the writers of Avengers: Endgame had a perfect chance to do so in the movie they wrote…they either didn’t see it or chose to leave her out of the action anyway.

To look at a few examples from the comics first, it is in her very real humanity – not her incredible powers – that authors have found ways to make Carol engaging for years.  I mean, there’s a reason Captain Marvel has become something of Marvel’s answer to Wonder Woman over the last twenty years.  She is a legitimately compelling character.  For starters, Carol wrestles with a guilt/responsibility complex even higher than her power level.  She can do almost anything…but she can’t do everything.  And that haunts her because she feels like she should be able to save everyone.  Then there was a remarkably poignant storyline where Carol admits she’s an alcoholic and goes into recovery.  Tony even becomes her sponsor.  The disease of addiction is not something washed away in energy blasts or punched into submission.  It takes a far more superhuman level of strength than anything we saw demonstrated in the Avengers’ battle with Thanos, not to mention the grace of God and a strong community around you, to work a good program and stay strong in your sobriety.  Also pushing herself beyond her limits – even when they are so high – is another perpetual struggle for Carol as is acknowledging her own limitations.

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Carol Danvers is always a captivating character in her comics! / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

These are just a handful of important facets to Carol’s character that authors have used to make her as compelling and relatable as any character for years in the comics.  They are also story beats which could be utilized for a dozen interesting films where she doesn’t have to be sidelined or unable to use her powers for the bulk of the movie.

As to Avengers: Endgame itself, the entire second act of the film hinges on the Time Heist.  Scott’s idea, which Tony figures out how to pull off, is to go back in time and grab all the Infinity Stones so they can then undo the snap and bring everyone back (getting the Stones to bring everyone back, incidentally, was Captain Marvel’s idea at the very beginning of the movie).  Steve, Tony, and Bruce go back to New York in 2012 to try and get the Mind, Time, and Space Stones.  Thor and Rocket go to Asgard to get the Reality Stone in 2013.  Nebula and Rhodey go to Morag in 2014 to retrieve the Power Stone.  And lastly, Natasha and Clint go to Vormir in 2014 for the Soul Stone.

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The Avengers prepare to embark on the Time Heist…with a few notable exceptions missing…for inexplicable reasons. / Photo Credit – Avengers: Endgame

Why Carol (and Okoye for that matter) wasn’t included in this mission of ultimate importance is beyond me.  It’s especially vexing as her incredible power set wouldn’t be much of a help at all in any of these situations!  Each mission required quiet subtlety and subterfuge.  There was no blasting or punching, no fighting of any kind, involved in any of these situations.  So it didn’t matter how strong a character was – it was their wits and their ability to improvise and think quickly that determined if they were successful or not.  Including Captain Marvel in the Time Heist would’ve let viewers see an entirely different side of her.  It also would’ve put her in a situation where she’d be every bit as stoppable or vincible as Ant-Man.  This makes her a compelling story and offers a chance to show more sides to her character/character growth.

Every problem associated with her power level would have disappeared if she was included in the Time Heist.  The answer was right there the whole time.  I hope the writers just missed this glaringly obvious place to insert Carol into more of the story as opposed to intentionally excluding her…

On the other side of the power issue, why Carol wasn’t called after they assembled all the Infinity Stones and they prepare to try and bring back everyone who died is beyond me too.  Clearly this is a tricky operation (not to mention one of the utmost importance).  And clearly power is important here.  Plus, as we’ve already mentioned, Natasha made clear, “this channel is always open.”  Yet when Tony, Bruce, and Rocket construct their own gauntlet for the Infinity Stones and the Avengers have a serious discussion about who should be the one to try and undo what Thanos did, it goes like this:

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If only there was a clear choice to be the one to undo the snap… / Photo Credit – Avengers: Endgame

Rocket – “Alright, the glove’s ready.  The question is, who’s gonna snap their friggin’ fingers?”

Thor – “I’ll do it.  It’s okay.  ‘Scuse me.”

Steve – “Thor just…wait.  We haven’t decided who’s going to put that on yet.”

Thor – “Well I’m sorry.  Are we all just sitting around waiting for the right opportunity?”

Scott – “We should at least discuss it.”

Thor – “You all sitting here, staring at that thing, is not going to bring everybody back.  I’m the strongest Avenger, okay?  So this responsibility falls upon me.  It is my duty.  Just let me do it.  Let me do something good, something right.”

Tony – “Look, it’s not just the fact that that glove is channeling enough energy to light up a continent, I’m telling you you’re in no condition.”

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I wonder what sort of energy is coursing through her? / Photo Credit – Avengers: Endgame

Thor – “What do you think is coursing through my veins right now?  Lightning.”

Bruce – “Lightning won’t help you pal.  It’s gotta be me.  You saw what those Stones did to Thanos, they almost killed him.  None of you could survive.”

Steve – “How do we know you will?”

Bruce – “We don’t.  But the radiation’s mostly gamma.  It’s like, uh, I was made for this.”

 

Um, okay.  But do you know who was literally made for this?  CAPTAIN MARVEL.  Her power level far surpasses both the Hulk and Thor.  Also, as we see in Captain Marvel, Carol got her powers from the Space Stone.  And, as we learned with the discussion of Wanda being the one to destroy the Mind Stone in Avengers: Infinity War, those who have been touched by the Stones have a unique relationship with and control over them.  Carol has the strength to endure using them AND the same energy that courses through them courses through her.  If Bruce thinks he has the best chance at surviving because “the radiation’s mostly gamma,” logic clearly dictates Carol would have an even better chance of surviving because the exact same energy is inside her.

There’s no way to argue having Carol be at the Avengers’ headquarters to undo the snap instead of Bruce would have hurt the movie’s pacing or plot either.  Bruce did undo the snap but Thanos and his army still showed up.  The fact that his snap left Bruce with a smaller, burnt arm had no bearing on any of the events in the final battle either.  So having Carol there to snap would have been the completely logical thing to do and wouldn’t have hampered the story in any way either.  Heck, she would’ve been there to meet Thanos’ army as soon as it arrived too and THAT lets her cut loose again in a situation where it doesn’t hurt the plot either.

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The future of the MCU and the leadership of the Avengers should fall to Captain Marvel. / Photo Credit – Avengers: Endgame

So it would appear the MCU doesn’t know how to write Captain Marvel in situations where her powers wouldn’t come into play anymore than they know how to write her in situations where they should come into play.  They just know how to have her fly around and blow shit up.  Which, don’t get me wrong, is awesome to watch.

But I hope they figure out how to handle Carol correctly soon.  As a character, she deserves better.  And with all the leaders of the Avengers – Nat, Steve, and Tony – out of the MCU’s future, there is no one else more suited to come to the center and lead than Captain Marvel.  They just need writers who know how to let her shine as she has for decades in the comics.

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Until the MCU writers can figure out how to sort this on their own, it’s up to artisits like Jessica Perez, who created this gorgeous piece, to put Captain Marvel in her rightful place. / Photo Credit – JessicaPerez.ArtStation.com

 

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[1] Chris Evangelista, “‘Avengers: Endgame’ Suggests the MCU Has a Problem With Captain Marvel’s Power,” /Film, Published May 2, 2019.  Accessed February 15, 2020.  https://www.slashfilm.com/captain-marvel-in-endgame/

8 thoughts on “Captain Marvel and the “Power Problem” – A Marvel Cinematic Universe Reflection

  1. It is difficult to imagine why Carol thinks it’s more important to not be on Earth when Earth seems to be the center of all the action. Sure, other planets are dealing with the fallout of Thanos’ choices, too, but if she’s trying to undo that…shouldn’t she be on the planet where basically all the stones were conveniently located at one point or another? Shouldn’t she be with the people planning the Time Heist? What exactly is she doing out in space? People might be grieving and such, but are there actually terrible crimes happening that only a superhero can solve? It’s very unclear and not a very compelling reason to leave her out the action.

    I also find it unbelievable the writers can’t find a way to use Carol when, as you say, she does perfectly well in her own comics. Those writers managed to make Carol face believable struggles. How could the MCU writers not be able to do the same?

    I was really disappointed Captain Marvel barely appeared in Endgame and I really wanted her to do more than fly into spaceships, to be honest. She’s an amazing character and she deserves better.

    Same with Wanda. Shouldn’t her powers be more useful than they usually appear to be? She seems to…lift a lot of stuff? Isn’t she supposed to be able to bend reality or something? The writers seem confused about her, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep, in the comics Wanda is one of the most powerful members of the Avengers. Her powers do let her bend and shape reality itself. But, like you said, all we see her do is move things with her mind.

      It’s disconcerting too, and I hope it’s more coincidental than intentional, it’s the female characters who tend to become sidelined/powered down.
      There’s no issue with Hulk getting stronger the madder he gets. There’s no issue with Thor and Mjolnir. Heck, Captain America is MORE powerful in the MCU than he is in the comics. (In the comics he’s the most physically fit a human can be, but still human. That’s part of why he’s always the “inspirational” character – he’s what we can be at our best and still fights gods and monsters with the rest of them.) But we have a severally powered down Wanda and Carol’s been powered down in her solo film and brushed to the side in Endgame. It’s troubling.

      Carol should be THE leader of the Avengers moving forward. She has experience on Earth. She has experience in space. She’s the natural bridge between the Avengers and the Guardians. Plus, given the fact that her origin story was in the ’90s, she’s been doing this longer than any other MCU hero! Her character, her powers, her experience – she should be the heart of everything moving forward.

      And YES – a thousand times yes! What the heck could have been SO TERRIBLE in space that she would ignore the heart of the problem?? And, even with her powers, she’s still one person. So she’s criss-crossing space solving every single problem and the Avengers are all hanging out on Earth? It makes no sense and they didn’t even try to give us a realistic reason for her to be absent which makes it all the more annoying/insulting.

      I take some solace in the fact that ‘Captain Marvel 2’ will be written by Megan McDonnell (who’s writing the WandaVision show for Disney+). While I’m not familiar with her work, I like that it will have one vision/voice as opposed to a script by committee. I just hope she does more with Carol than just have her be lost in space/blow up ships.

      Like

      1. I just don’t buy that they can’t find writers good enough to give Carol a compelling storyline. If someone can’t write a script with her using her super powers, why did they introduce her into the MCU? Maybe they need to find other writers.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I think you’re right. They may need to find new writers. And how did their overall plan seem to fall apart with Carol? The MCU, by and large, plays like this brilliant, layered, exceedinly thought-out plan. It’s all so seamless, so smooth. How did they build up to Carol Danvers for years and then struggle with how to handle her?? Isn’t that something they should’ve had figured out in 2015?

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Oooo, that’s a really good point! I wasn’t even thinking of that! So clearly this is one more big issue they didn’t bother to think out in regard to Captain Marvel. I really did like a lot of ‘Endgame’ but Carol deserved so much better. Thank you for the comment too :).

      Liked by 1 person

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