The Marvel Cinematic Universe can’t escape the quippy protagonist. Throw a stone at any of the series’ 33 movies and you’re bound to hit a sarcastic hero with a tough(ish) exterior but a heart of gold underneath. It’s a good archetype, but fill a universe (and a superhero team) with just one type of person and it’s bound to get a little stale. One disappointment of the franchise’s latest entry, The Marvels, is that it comes so close to giving us a totally new kind of hero. But in the end, Carol Danvers never quite becomes the well-meaning but slightly dense super-jock that we deserve.
Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel has never really gotten to show off her personality on screen. In 2019’s Captain Marvel, she’s not herself for most of the movie, with her head full of Kree brainwashing, and her true power and personality only assert themselves late in the movie. But even though the glimpses we see of her in Captain Marvel are reminiscent of the Avengers’ other cocky-but-lovable assholes, we didn’t spend enough time with her to cement her in the mode. There was still time for The Marvels to make her something a little different.
And The Marvels has all the right building blocks. Carol can’t quite realize on her own that she was so busy saving the galaxy that she neglected the people who loved her. She convinces herself that failure in a mission exempted her from the love of her family. She’s had her powers for three decades and never figured out that she can restart a sun. These are all perfect traits for a lovable meathead who’s never lost a fight.
The most interesting version of Carol would have been the Air Force pilot that she’s suggested to be in Captain Marvel: talented, powerful, competent, and confident, but not particularly funny or smart. She could have been an emotionally unintelligent but well-meaning jock. But The Marvels never quite commits to that personality, always reverting back to the quips, sarcasm, and soft underbelly that every Marvel hero ends up with eventually. In the end, Carol’s character comes out as a strange mix; her realizations come too quickly and easily, often relegated to singular moments that are far overshadowed by the version of the character that has a smartass line for every situation.
The closest the MCU has ever come to giving us a truly lovable meathead was Thor, particularly in his first outing. But since then he’s gotten progressively more clever or just more angry. And once Taika Waititi’s voice took over the character, he just grew into a similar brand of sarcasm as the rest of the universe’s heroes. There’s also Drax, but he’s too silly and far too sweet. Drax’s inability to understand sarcasm doesn’t make him a jock, it just makes him too direct — two very different things. Plus, he mostly stays cordoned off with the rest of the Guardians of the Galaxy, so he doesn’t quite count either.
But for all the ways that The Marvels fails to make Captain Marvel a unique hero in the MCU, it still manages to add a new personality to the universe in the form of Ms. Marvel. Kamala Khan, the excitable, chill-less fangirl played perfectly by Iman Vellani (herself a lovably unchill fan of the MCU) is bursting with exactly the kind of energy Marvel’s been missing. She’s genuine, uncynical, wide-eyed, and too young to be jaded. The fabulousness of alien planets and the size of the universe outside of Jersey City aren’t lost on her. She’s a breath of fresh air that the superhero franchise has needed for years, and it’s wonderful to see her be the emotional focal point of so much of The Marvels.
Even if Kamala is the heart of The Marvels, though, that still doesn’t excuse the movie skimping out on what could have been prime jock representation in the MCU. Marvel movies are full of geniuses already (with more on the way), so why can’t Carol Danvers be a little less clever? She’s far and away the strongest superhero in the universe (no, we will not count the Eternals, do not ask), so why would she need charm or ingenious solutions that don’t involve punching? The Marvels should have just let Carol be the flyboy she was always destined to be. But if we couldn’t get jock Carol, at least we got fangirl Kamala instead.