As the first female-led superhero film from Marvel Studios, Captain Marvel has not had it easy. There has been plenty of support, as well as some fair criticism, but otherwise there’s mostly just complaint after complaint from the same people; the group of white men that set out to condemn the film after Brie Larson’s comments on press diversity. Whether it is genuine critique or targeted hate, a lot of it seems to be focused on Larson and her portrayal of Carol Danvers. Is Carol really emotionless and lacking in personality with no real character growth? Look, I’m not mad. I just want to talk.
It’s important to understand that Carol has been told to regulate her emotions throughout her entire life. In flashbacks, we see her during various stages of her life. She was bullied as a child, told she wasn’t strong enough for go-kart racing or baseball. She also faced the same thing whilst training to be an Air Force pilot when a man told her she was too emotional to succeed: “It’s called a cockpit for a reason,” he teased.
Emotion is something that has always been used against women, especially to prevent us from gaining positions of power. However, throughout her life, this never deterred Carol from achieving her goals: she is stubborn and never backs down from a challenge, always getting up whenever she is knocked down.
When captured by Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) after the explosion that gave Carol her powers, she doesn’t remember her past or who she is. Infused with Kree blood, she becomes Vers and spends six years training to be a member of the Kree StarForce. Continuing the pattern, she is constantly reminded by Yon-Rogg that her emotions make her vulnerable and affect her ability to use her powers (she’s lead to believe the Photon inhibitor on her neck gives her these powers when they’re actually suppressing them). Whilst emotion regulation is still inherently part of being a woman, here it’s also part of being a soldier. Carol is part of a military task-force of soldiers with Kree abilities and the soldiers, regardless of gender, are typically trained to remain emotionless.
Carol does keep her emotions in check for most of the film. She’s guarded, willful and in control. On a surface level, it’s easy to think that her personality doesn’t shine through, but it absolutely does. Mixed in with her somewhat regulated emotions, Carol is constantly making jokes and nuanced remarks throughout the entire film.
She and Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) especially hit it off, bonding over breaking the rules as she further shows off her dry sense of humor and wit. An example of this is when she tests to see if Fury is a Skrull (a race of shape-shifters) by asking him personal questions about his history. After some basics, Carol asks him to tell her something so ridiculous that no Skrull could ever make up. Fury states that if toast is cut diagonally, he can’t eat it. Then he says, “You didn’t need that, did you?” and with a wry smile, she responds: “No, no I didn’t. But I enjoyed it.”
During the film, you kind of get the impression that Carol doesn’t like being told what to do. This adds to her stubbornness but also shows that she’s a risk-taker, willing to prove those who doubt her wrong. This is shown through her eagerness to join Yon-Rogg’s team on a mission, even though he isn’t sure if she’s ready. After the Kree’s AI leader – the Supreme Intelligence – grants her permission to go, she further displays her reckless side by volunteering to go alone into whatever danger may lay ahead. Although she doesn’t remember her past, she still shows that same desire to prove she can do anything.
Carol can remain stoic, but inside she’s dealing with a lot of conflict due to not knowing who she is or where she came from. She stays guarded even though she’s haunted by memories that she feels aren’t hers. At the beginning of the film, she challenges Yon-Rogg to fight just so she can avoid seeing more in her sleep. She keeps everything bottled up. Carol’s somewhat “emotionless” isn’t an acting flaw or a script error, it’s who she is: a woman dealing with a lot of internalized loss, whose personality still shines out in the most beautiful ways thanks to the subtle talent of Larson.
Larson has the ability to convey so much emotion in very little dialogue. When she and Fury are reading the files on Dr. Lawson and the Light-Speed Engine, she’s rather quiet, but you can see the troubled and sad expression on her face and in her eyes. Another key example is when she’s fighting her Kree team and one of the guys says, “Don’t make me do this.” All she says back is “okay,“, but in that one word she conveys nonchalance, humor and power. It’s extremely effective and shows Larson’s strengths as an actress. She does not over-act, nor does she under-act.
Throughout the film, it can be difficult to spot Carol’s character growth, but it’s there. It could definitely be better, but this is because her growth is mostly shown through her finally being able to use her powers at full capacity with her emotions aiding her. She kicks ass whilst still making fun quips, to which Yon-Rogg responds that he used to find her “amusing” when they were on the same side.
During the final battle, Carol utilizes her anger from Yon-Rogg’s betrayal, Lawson’s death and the politics of the Kree-Skrull war. She also shows a lot of emotion when she tells the Supreme Intelligence that they “stole” her from her home, family and friends.
Make no mistake: Carol Danvers knows who she is. She will likely remain stubborn, sarcastic and shielded in Avengers: Endgame, but she’s here to get the job done and she certainly does not lack personality.