Note: This look at an interesting Captain Marvel allegory contains spoilers.
Captain Marvel, the latest chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), is all anyone seems to be talking about today, and with good reason. Not only is the film the very first superhero flick from Marvel Studios to place a female lead front-and-center, but the Anna Boden- and Ryan Fleck-directed film is also estimated to rack up more than $150 million during its opening weekend.
And while at its heart the film is a story of female power and the realization of that power ‘being within’ the whole time — not all that unusual for a hero’s tale — there’s also another powerful Captain Marvel allegory at play here.
In the same vein as allegorical classics like Animal Farm, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and (some like to say) The Wizard of Oz, Captain Marvel‘s ’90s-set storyline belies a glimpse into modern-day race relations and the political posturing of America’s opposing parties.
The film’s plot centers around a (years-long? age-old?) war between the races. On one side, the Kree and its “Starforce,” which bills its officers as “noble warrior heroes” tasked with policing the kingdom’s multiple planets. And on the other, the less-humanoid Skrulls, a shape-shifter race who are considered devious, pestilent vermin to the Starforce seeking to eliminate them.
As those familiar with the film’s mid-way twist are aware, Captain Marvel finds herself ‘flipping sides’ in the film, ultimately turning against her Kree brethren (of which she’s biologically only half-invested) after becoming enlightened on the war’s reality: maybe the Skrulls aren’t the aggressors here. Far from it, we discover, they’re a persecuted race seeking simply to make a home where they can.
In fact, what ultimately sparks the events of Captain Marvel — an ambush followed by our hero’s kidnapping at the hands of the Skrulls, in order to locate an energy core-slash-hyperdrive — is all for the purpose of once and for all escaping the clutches of the Kree Starforce.
The Skrulls are quite literal refugees in this film, though they’re treated — and referred to at least once — as terrorists. Sound familiar?
Before Carol Danvers’ moment of enlightenment, she’s a victim of gaslighting — though maybe “brainwashing” is the better word — at the hands of Jude Law’s Yon-Rogg, who instills in her a sense of duty for the cause at the quite-literal expense of her humanity (we’ll make him the smarmy Rep. Paul Ryan of our Captain Marvel allegory), and also at the hands of Annette Bening’s Supreme Intelligence (we’ll make her Sen. Mitch McConnell), who has fabricated a “greater good” and demands unflinching allegiance from her citizens.
And what better way to instill the Kree as a stand-in for GOP policymakers than to have the Starforce’s Minerva refer to Earth (excuse me, “planet C-53”) as a “shithole”? That sounds pretty familiar too, no?
I imagine that if Donald Trump were to watch Captain Marvel, he couldn’t help but say about Ronan the Accuser and his psychopathic desire to commit genocide on the Skrull race, “Well, there were good people on both sides ….” (Yep, in this allegory, Ronan and his Accusers fit the far-right, neo-Nazi fringe to a T.)
In this Captain Marvel allegory, before her relationship with Skrull commander Talos, Carol Danvers is the cornfed young adult denied a liberal arts education. After, she’s the eyes-wide-open Art History major fighting for gender equality and refugee rights. Oh, what a difference an education makes.
What’s most brilliant about Captain Marvel — a stellar (ahem) entry in the MCU annals — is that its tale of refugees and race relations doesn’t clobber the viewer over the head, nor is it treacly or heavy-handed. The allegory also takes a backseat to what this well-crafted story — and its kick-ass ‘girl power’ soundtrack — have really managed to prove, in its own universe as well as to the film-going public: you can’t keep a good woman down.