Captain Marvel vs Wonder Woman

March 13, 2019 at 12:24 pm (Reviews)

See? I can do blindingly obvious clickbait too!

But I do legitimately want to explore my feelings about these two beautiful films, so here we are.

OBVIOUSLY team Wonder Woman and team Captain Marvel are all just one big ball of love and congratulations. And the fan art of the two superheroines is glorious. Do yourself a favour and let me google that for you.

Now, let’s talk. . .








In a romantic comedy, you expect to feel a certain gooshiness as the couple gets together at the end. You can experience that feeling a hundred times and it’s still worth seeing another romantic movie. So there’s PLENTY of room for two films that both make women (and humans in general) feel empowered, particularly since there are roughly a zillion movies that create a similar feeling in men.

Yes, that feeling of mighty feminine power is very similar in the two films. If one got you in the feels, the other one probably will too. I’ll talk about the precise flavour of those wonderful feelings a bit later, because these films are certainly not the same story.

Opening Scene:

WONDER WOMAN has a brilliant opening. The sheer shock of seeing COLOUR in a DC film was a revelation, and a revelation that paved the way for genuine sincerity and love throughout the movie. Kid Diana was instantly engaging and interesting, and showed us plenty about the core of who Diana is, and why (as well as very clearly showing both the world she lives in, and the characters of her mother and aunt—so the painful death and departure of Act 1 actually hurt—which is excellent writing).

And that fight on the beach, when a bunch of women with bows and arrows and spears face men with guns… and win? It’s unique, exciting, important to the overall plot (including the “shield” maneuver that Steve Trevor uses later) and it once again shows that our expectations about this movie are wrong.

The opening scene of CAPTAIN MARVEL is… dull. The character wakes up after a bad dream/memory. “Character wakes up” is probably the single most cliched opening of any story ever. It’s so very, very ordinary. Of course, the dream/memory she has is a crucial (arguably the crucial) moment in her entire mixed-up timeline, so that was definitely worth putting right up the front.

And when Captain Marvel realised her full powers and casts off ALL the gaslighting throughout the entire film, it was probably all the more powerful because of the ordinariness of the opening. I think it was a deliberate choice, designed to make the full film experience more satisfying. But it still made me want to rewrite things.

Title Character:

Interestingly, neither movie actually mentions the main character’s title. After seeing a billion origin stories in the last three weeks or so, we really don’t need to get into how they get their names.

Both have important figures in their life gaslighting them, as well as a group of strong, supportive women. Both actors/characters have spent significant time in physical training and can fight very well without their powers. Both are aware of some of their powers, but become aware (and briefly startled) of much more during their film. Both are far more interested in ending wars than starting them—Wonder Woman’s most iconic weapon is not a sword but a shield. Both are stunningly beautiful. (It has been pointed out elsewhere that, now we seem to have got the hang of female-led superhero movies, can we have some women of colour? Gay women? Trans women? Fat women? Disabled women?)

Diana is ignorant about the real world, and Carol has amnesia. That could be interpreted as lessening their power (gently accustoming viewers to the idea of super-powered women), but it’s also a very handy narrative device for letting the hero and the viewer discover things at the same time, so I’m okay with it in their opening films.

Both women are seen as girls fighting against the limitations placed on them by others. Difficult, determined women. I think it’s significant those both flashbacks focus on the girls before they hit puberty. It’s an unfortunate fact that girls are encouraged to follow their dreams before puberty and then get psychologically beaten up during and after puberty. Teenage girls inspire two reactions: lust and hate. No one wants to hear or indulge the desires or opinions of teenage girls. Statistically, both girls and boys experience a sudden sharp dip in self-esteem around puberty. Boys get it back; girls never recover.

I find myself making them sound like clones of one another, but I swear they’re not. Yes, they have a LOT in common, from a desire to be a hero to a compassion for refugees. But in my opinion there’s a deep and archetypal power to each of them that is precisely what each film needs to give viewers that amazing feeling of empowerment and hope.

Gaslighting (for definition of ‘gaslighting’, see tvtropes here):

Both women are told over and over and over, “No. Don’t do that. You can’t do that. Stop.” There is one crucial difference: Wonder Woman is told these things by two good characters—her mother, and Steve Trevor. Captain Marvel is told these things by people who are trying to trick her.

It is clear in WONDER WOMAN that Diana’s mother is making bad choices where her daughter is concerned; lying to her to try to protect her, and keeping her from training as a strategy to keep her power under wraps. It’s understandable, a plausible weakness, and she gets over it (mostly) when she switches strategy to tell Aunt Antiope to “train her harder than anyone else”. She’s still moderately horrid when Diana wants to leave the island, but (again) it’s plausible in an overprotective mother (so, good writing—when two characters both have noble goals that happen to clash).

But, even on my first viewing, I was annoyed by Steve Trevor. Sure, Diana has no concept of the scope of World War 1 or how war works. But he’s seen the Amazons fight and win on the beach, and he knows some of their magic (eg the lasso of truth) before he and Diana get to London. He shouldn’t be as patronising as he is. Especially AFTER they’ve saved a small town thanks entirely to her. Before that he is annoying, after that he’s a jerk. This is narratively necessary, but it badly impairs the character, which in turn makes me think less of Diana for loving him so much. He’s a decent man, but not THAT great. (Yep, that’s right—sacrificial death ain’t enough to impress me if the guy isn’t as hot as Chris Pine AND smart enough to let Diana call ALL the shots a lot sooner.)

So that’s a significant flaw, in my opinion.

The gaslighting is 100% deliberate throughout Captain Marvel. Given her amnesia, it’s a sound strategy to keep her close and trusting (and makes narrative sense without making her stupid). It also works perfectly thematically and emotionally. When she throws off everything she’s been taught and comes into her full power, it is truly glorious.

Menfolk and Womenfolk and otherfolk:

It’s a little bit of a shame that we see so little of Diana interacting with other women. When Etta Candy is present, it is utterly glorious (and extra points for her using Diana’s sword to stop a baddie escaping from the alleyway, especially after neatly foreshadowing it with her saying that women fight with their principles, but she’s “not opposed to a little fisticuffs, should the occasion arise”). Oh, and Doctor Poison is rather excellent (although I find it a teensy bit patronising that Diana lets her live, when she executed at least one male character). I love all the minor characters in this film (especially Charlie, whose character—singing, angry, and afraid—is devastating and beautiful), and World War 1 is a somewhat masculine affair, but still…

It’s a delight to have several important female characters in CAPTAIN MARVEL, from the Supreme Intelligence to Mar-Vell to the two Rambeaus. It’s not insignificant that (with the exception of the Supreme Intelligence, who isn’t technically female, and the minor villain whatserface played by Gemma Chan) none of the female characters take part in the planet-wide gaslighting of “Vers”.

It’s a simple fact that women are gaslit every day, usually unintentionally, and usually by men.

For example, my husband leaves dirty socks on the floor. To me, this is a feminist issue. When it comes to cleaning our house, the buck always stops with me. This is so, so obvious. I pointed out to him the other day that I find it sexist that he leaves his stinky socks for me to pick up. He said it’s not sexist, because he’s not leaving them for me to pick up—he’ll pick them up himself. Later. But I spend 20 of every 24 hours in this house, while he spends less than half of his waking hours here. He also has ADD, which means he notices much less about his environment already, and is far more likely to forget something anyway. So he’s not deliberately leaving his socks on the floor (and his breakfast bowl on the table, and his empty milk containers on the bench, and his cleaned-and-sorted-by-me washing on the bed, and his jackets on the couch, etc) because he is thinking, “Ha-HA! I shall trick my helpless woman into cleaning up after me” but because he’s not thinking at all. Because he has the privilege of not having to think about such things, because they magically get done when he’s not looking (about 80% of the time). After ten years of marriage, how could this blindingly obvious fact have not occurred to him? (Believe me, we have had many conversations about chores. Most of which he has forgotten. Most of which I remember vividly.)

So I’m left angry and sore (yes it literally hurts me to clean up) while he floats along in life thinking he’s the perfect husband, because he’s not thinking at all. (Disclaimer: obviously he’s a pretty good husband all things considered.)

All of which is to say that women are less likely to gaslight other women (although unfortunately it absolutely does happen, eg this article that I can’t bear to read), and CAPTAIN MARVEL reflects that. Without saying a word in the script, it conveys that she’s getting psychological strength from her female friends. And that is something that is deeply satisfying (and healing) for female viewers, and almost entirely absent from WONDER WOMAN.

WONDER WOMAN has Etta Candy (1000 points) and Charlie, who are perfect.

CAPTAIN MARVEL has Goose (1,000,000 points, sorry Etta) and young Nick Fury, who are also perfect. And so are the Rambeaus.

The YEAHHHHHH!!!!! moment:

Both films have a scene that makes every living human in the audience want to jump on their seat and cheer, then go and find a Nazi to punch in the face.

WONDER WOMAN: The moment she chucks off her boring London clothes and runs across no man’s land.

CAPTAIN MARVEL: The fight scene set to “Just a Girl” by No Doubt.

Both scenes are in their own way, perfect. WONDER WOMAN is tinged with sadness on a second viewing, because the town she saves is soon to be murdered. You definitely feel her pain and disillusionment as a result, which makes sense thematically.

CAPTAIN MARVEL: Something about that iconic song—so familiar to me as a 90s teen, although back then I didn’t know enough to feel that righteous anger myself—makes CAPTAIN MARVEL’s power explosion feel 100% REAL. Sure, it’s magic and fiction and there are aliens and blue blood and so on. But with that song right there, CAPTAIN MARVEL cuts into our Trump-poisoned reality with pinpoint accuracy. I never would have thought I’d see a more potent female empowerment scene than in WONDER WOMAN, but CAPTAIN MARVEL did it. For that reason, I will love CAPTAIN MARVEL forever. Plus she’s fighting the very people who gaslit her so bad for so long, which gives it extra zing.

Historical Setting:

(A zillion bonus points to WONDER WOMAN for giving us Themyscira. A bold, beautiful place that now exists forever in the collective imagination.)

It’s been established elsewhere that the World War 1 historical accuracy of WONDER WOMAN is top-notch. Kudos to every single person involved.

From the moment the trailer showed Captain Marvel crash-landing through the roof of a Blockbuster Video store, everyone in the world who is around my age (37, by the way—old enough to have been avidly following the MCU since it began, with our own money) emitted a “squee” of delight (followed by a gasp of horror that a film set in the 90s is now officially a period piece). It was beautifully done throughout (without, I think, banging on about it), and I enjoyed it very much. Also the de-aging on Nick Fury and Agent Coulson was fun and looked great.

The Twists:

Both movies feature betrayal by the big bad. Wonder Woman is betrayed by the man who funds their mission to the Front, and Captain Marvel is betrayed by her mentor (who was only her mentor in order to keep her close).

Neither of these land properly. In Wonder Woman, David Thewlis just doesn’t work as the big bad. Even the betrayal doesn’t feel quite right, because why did he bother funding their mission in the first place? I guess to keep tabs on Diana, but meh.

In Captain Marvel, even those who don’t know Yon-Rogg is evil from the comics know he’s evil as soon as he and Captain Marvel (“Vers” at the time) do a training fight in the opening scene. It is a law universally acknowledged that a mentor and mentee fighting in Act 1 must fight as enemies in Act 3.

Wonder Woman also has the betrayal of her Mum never telling her that SHE is the God-killer, not the sword.  And Captain Marvel has the larger betrayal of her entire (she thinks) home world being the villains. (Sidebar: I felt that the switch from “Skrulls are evil” to “Kree are evil and skrulls are good” happens a little too quickly, without sufficient proof. And now I need to go back and wince every time a skrull is punched/killed in Act 1…)

The Villains:

Yes, Yon-Rogg fundamentally worked, especially when he tried—and failed so badly—to gaslight her one last time. (Note to self: When theme and action fit together perfectly, it’s a beautiful thing.) Some of the second-tier villains were underdeveloped. Hopefully there’s a longer cut of the movie somewhere.

I’m glad the Captain Marvel movie didn’t waste the opportunity to have shape-shifting enemies, even if it was only in Act 1. Hurrah for punching sweet old ladies!

Wonder Woman’s Dr Poison would have been a better big bad, I think. She was more interesting than General Ludendorff and scarier than Sir Patrick (if she ignored the general and decided to do her own thing). The idea of Ares as a whisperer/evil muse rather than the controlling force behind World War 1 was sort of cool, but then undercut by the fact that people DID immediately lay down their arms once Ares was killed.

The Third Act:

Wonder Woman wanted to be epic, but we’ve seen so many epic fights (and we were so unimpressed by Sir Patrick) that it was the weakest part of the film.

Saving Captain Marvel’s greatest scene for the third act REALLY worked. The only flaw is the second-tier villains not feeling like real three-dimensional people.


It was really excellent that Captain Marvel didn’t have any romantic interest in anyone. Her (platonic) chemistry with other actors was an absolute delight, and it’s just SO nice to not have a romance subplot just because it’s a female main character. Sure, I like Steve Trevor (with the exceptions outlined above), but I think Captain Marvel gets extra points on this one.


Now I want to see both films again.





1 Comment

  1. Summary of a Saga | crazy talk said,

    […] Captain Marvel VS Wonder Woman […]

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