Earlier this month, nearly two full years after DC Entertainment released Wonder Woman, Marvel Studios finally debuted its own female-led superhero blockbuster, Captain Marvel. Even though DC brought a woman to the forefront of its cinematic universe first, it was Marvel that delivered a female hero who stands on her own two feet.
In 2017, Wonder Woman was touted as a major step for female representation in movies. That assertion is absolutely correct. Gal Gadot owned the screen and played Wonder Woman as well as she could, given the story. It’s not Gal Gadot’s performance, but Diana’s journey in Wonder Woman that causes concern.
Let’s start with Diana’s birthplace, the Amazonian island of Themyscira, a bastion of philosophy and knowledge. Yet, Diana’s unique upbringing is glanced over in the film and depicted as nothing more than battle training with pretty women fighting on the beach. Nothing about her advanced intelligence or education are demonstrated in any meaningful way until she needs to call on them in the story. The result comes off less as a singular woman with a singular skill set and more like shoddy writing with an, “oh on Themyscira, we can do that” solution.
When she’s not actively whipping ass, Diana is drawn as a starry-eyed virgin tagging along after Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). Diana is also frustratingly naive about humanity. Just consider that her first foray into the world beyond Themyscira is motivated by her puppy love for a man she knows nothing about. What’s more, she’s willing to leave her enlightened homeland knowing that it means walking into a veritable Hell on Earth (France during World War I).
Additionally, Diana’s lineage as the daughter of the king of all Greek gods, Zeus, is barely mentioned. All of these facts are so fascinating but director Patty Jenkins rushed through this integral part of Wonder Woman’s journey in favor of taking the demigod shopping at a department store in London. As though viewers needed to be reminded that Gal Gadot can literally wear anything and look stunning.
After seeing Wonder Woman in theaters, I walked out of the movie feeling serious disappointment. I was shocked that this movie, which was supposed to be such a coup for women in the cinematic superhero space, was about a wide-eyed girl chasing after the first man she’d ever met. Her journey was motivated more by a man than by Diana’s own sense of right and wrong.
On the other hand, Captain Marvel is about a woman empowered by herself. Carol Danvers is a strong, intelligent person who gets the job done because she believes in her own abilities and follows her own sense of duty. And that’s the case before Danvers gets her powers. In 1989, Danvers is trying with all her might to achieve something worthwhile despite the fact that female fighter pilots are not allowed to fly combat missions. Her own drive to go higher, further, faster compels her to work with Dr. Wendy Lawson (Annette Benning), a pairing that ultimately results in the origin of Danver’s powers. She’s not being lead around by a dashing hero; she is the dashing hero. From the start, Carol Danvers is at the center of her own journey.
Yes, Carol’s journey is just as impacted by men as Diana’s. However, the difference lays in the roles men play. Yon-Rogg’s (Jude Law) masquerade as a mentor serves as the main hurdle Carol must conquer. To find the power she needs to help the Skrull, she must overcome the control a man has asserted over her for six years. Yes, along the way Carol has the help of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), but their agency never usurps Carol’s. Fury is a gateway into the world, at best, and a sidekick, at worst. It’s Carol’s own determination that inspires her journey to heroism.
Are Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel both admirable, strong, empowered female characters? There’s no question. However, each hero’s tale distinguishes them and make Captain Marvel the more interesting, relatable, and inspiring hero. Every person, superpowered or otherwise, is defined by their journey. Unfortunately, Wonder Woman fails to deliver the engrossing saga emboldened with strong themes of female empowerment that Captain Marvel gifted to audiences.