With the opening of Captain Marvel, the MCU's first female-led standalone movie, comes a lot of expectations and pressure. Because it's the first of its kind, is it letting us down if it isn't the very best of the franchise? But Captain Marvel, both the film and the character, are all about smashing the expectations that are unfairly placed on women in everything they do. The movie focuses on key moments examining how women handle emotions, or more specifically, how they're expected to handle emotions, particularly when faced with things like discrimination and sexism. And ultimately, Captain Marvel blows the roof off the idea that women need to be stoic or unfeeling in order to be effective. Major spoilers ahead.
When the film opens, Brie Larson's character, at that point named Vers, is a budding Starforce soldier living on the planet Hala as a part of the Kree Empire. The Kree are a militaristic society, known for order and tight rules. One of the things her mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) is constantly telling Vers to do is control her emotions in order to become a better soldier. She's constantly in danger of letting her feelings, her anger, get the better of her, which, in turn, will make her vulnerable to defeat.
Sounds familiar, right? How often have women been told, throughout our lives, to get a grip on our emotions? How many women have been told to not act so upset when they're wronged, that they shouldn't cry at work, or to stop being "hysterical"? How many women have been called "crazy" or irrational for simply having feelings? For centuries, the perceived unreliability of women's emotions kept us from owning property, voting, or controlling our own lives. And we've ingrained these expectations into our own subconsciousness to the point that we then feel like we're being irrational for having any kind of emotional reaction — a result of gaslighting.
Like many women of the world, or in this case, the universe, Vers had been taught to bottle up her urges, repress her psyche, and control herself for years, with of course, a little help from a Kree neck implant. Thankfully, women today are beginning to realize that those labels of "crazy" and "hysterical" are always bullsh*t. And Captain Marvel, a.k.a. Carol Danvers, eventually realizes that the emotions she's been trying to control throughout her time with the Kree are actually what make her powerful. In a climactic moment, she removes the block Yon-Rogg embedded in her body and lets the fire inside her burn to the point where her powers are allowed to grow, instead of stay repressed.
But here's the ironic thing: Throughout the movie, despite being told to tackle her outbursts, Carol is calm. She's a zen master. She handles the casual sexism thrown at her throughout the movie with the greatest of ease. She ignores the biker dude telling her to smile and, instead of exploding at him, steals his motorcycle. She laughs off the Air Force bro explaining to her why its called a "cockpit" with a confident smirk.
During a final showdown with Yon-Rogg, during which he screams at her to fight him, to really show him what she can do, in what can only be described as the equivalent of an MRA Internet troll demanding a debate, she calmly tells him, "I have nothing to prove to you," and drags him away. She makes no grand speeches or huge statements. She simply gets up every time she's knocked down, and tries again.
So, using a common Earth technique, Yon-Rogg was gaslighting Carol, trying to convince her that she was acting irrationally when she wasn't, to the point where Carol truly believed him. And he was purposely repressing her power because he knew that she was stronger than him. Thankfully, Carol breaks free from that brainwashing, and it's so satisfying. In the real world, women are calling out men who tell us to "calm down," we're proving that emotions aren't a weakness in the workforce, and we're even helping men realize that they need to express their emotions too, because forcing men to repress their feelings contributes to toxic masculinity and harms them personally.
Carol doesn't come into her power until she lets go of the idea that she has to keep herself in check just because a man says so. By crushing the idea that women need to control their emotions to accomplish things, Captain Marvel is allowed to soar.