At its core, Captain Marvel is a story of empowerment. The film’s protagonist, Carol Danvers, is both a strong yet nuanced woman, capable of tearing apart entire spacecrafts, yet she is also capable of showing a personal side when interacting with her best friend. It helps that the star of the movie, Brie Larson, is an incredibly outspoken feminist herself. This combination of factors led to Captain Marvel being the highest-grossing movie with a female lead of all time.
Captain Marvel chronicles the journey of a tenacious Air Force pilot who battles sexist expectations as she demolishes her (both human and alien) enemies. The film’s themes go further than feminist empowerment with it’s second act twist, which reveals that the Skrull aliens, that Captain Marvel had been hunting down the entire movie, are actually victims of the very Kree soldiers that she had been working with. The Skrull leader tells Danvers that they are forced to live in ruins of their former communities because of frequent bombings by the Kree, contrary to what the Kree had told her. In the climax of the film, the super heroine changes sides and helps the refugee Skrulls escape the oppressive Kree forces and quite literally catches bombs out of the sky in order to protect the innocent civilians below. Captain Marvel’s final lesson is that we should be empathetic of people, even if they look different than us.
However, the film’s final message of peace strikes as inconsistent with its enthusiastic promotion of the Air Force.
The military has a long record of collaboration with Hollywood, working to maintain a positive image of its various branches by requesting changes to scripts, while in exchange letting movies use logos, props, and locations. From 1911 to 2017, more than 800 feature films received quid-pro-quo support from the Department of Defense.
One of the main reasons for collaboration is that movies can be a powerful recruiting tool for the military. The Air Force noted an uptick in sign-ups after the release of Top Gun and even set up recruiting tables inside theaters to catch people exiting the film. They now seem intent to recreate that success with the release of Captain Marvel, running ads for the Air Force before showings of the film in which a group of female fighter pilots narrate, “Every superhero has an origin story. We all got our start somewhere. For us: it was the U.S. Air Force.”
Todd Flemming, chief of the Community and Public Outreach Division at Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs, told military issues website Task & Purpose that, “Our partnership with ‘Capt Marvel’ helped ensure that the character’s time in the Air Force and backstory was presented accurately. It also highlighted the importance of the Air Force to our national defense.”
The Air Force provided advisement, training, shooting locations, and even promotions for the film. In exchange, Marvel had Brie Larson star in promotional material for the branch aimed at recruiting more young women, and let Air Force pilots give testimonials during the film’s red carpet premiere.
Unmentioned during these mutual promotions was the Air Force’s grim record of civilian causalities. A 2018 report by the United Nations found that there had been 8,050 civilian causalities in Afghanistan as a result of U.S. Air Force led bombings of the region in nine months alone. From 2004, up to 3,224 people have been killed by U.S. Air Force drones in Pakistan. Just earlier this month, President Trump signed an executive order revoking the requirement that U.S. intelligence officials publicly report the number of civilians killed in drone strikes.
Today, drone operators outnumber any other type of pilot in the Air Force. Which means that young women recruited into the Air Force by Captain Marvel promotional material will most likely end up in a drone program which unaccountably racks up a completely unknown civilian causality rate.
Young women will have been encouraged to enter this program by a movie that told them that indiscriminately bombing people is bad, while simultaneously encouraging them to join an institution that seems almost dedicated to indiscriminately bombing people. They will be put into a job that requires them to feel no empathy for different-looking people because of a movie that asked them to feel empathy for different-looking people. They will help drop bombs on innocent civilians because of a role model who stopped bombs from dropping on innocent civilians. That is the contradiction at the core of Captain Marvel.
Only Robert Mueller can deliver the fatal blow to Trump, and everyone else is just there to support him as he collects all the evidence. While it’s important to hold powerful people accountable, the hinging of all hope on a prosecutor to possibly catch the President violating a law is an ineffective and unsustainable way to lead a resistance against someone in power. Even if Mueller does catch Trump, and Republicans in the Senate somehow decide to impeach, that is simply a return to the status quo. Without significant societal changes, we return to an America that has simply just reset the ticking time-bomb of another person like Trump rising to power.
True resistance is more than just finding a way to go back to the status quo when conditions get bad. It’s about examining and fixing the inherent problems and assumptions in the status quo that allowed conditions to get bad in the first place. Harry Potter may have been unable to, but reality is often stranger than fiction.