WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Captain Marvel, in theaters now.
Captain Marvel arrived in theaters last Friday to an unrealistic set of expectations. The movie had to introduce a new character, Carol Danvers, and establish her as a superhero. It had to stoke anticipation for the upcoming Avengers: Endgame. It had to set up the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s next phase. On top of all that, it’s the first MCU movie to feature a solo female superhero, a fact that has generated a great deal of debate and publicity.
After star Brie Larson made comments about making the movie’s press rooms more inclusive, the backlash against the movie by a small but loud minority was swift and histrionic. This demonstrated the additional minefields Captain Marvel must navigate as the first solo female-led MCU movie.
However, outside of a couple nods to sexism and one music cue, Captain Marvel is far less interested in Carol Danvers’ status as a woman than it is with her status as a human being. This is a point emphasized from the very start of the film.
When the movie begins, Carol, who’s going by the name Vers, believes she’s Kree. While Vers has absolutely no idea she’s human, the audience does. So when her mentor, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), tells her she needs to control her emotions to be a good warrior, the audience knows that part of the reason Vers is having trouble doing things the Kree way is because of her latent humanity.
Later, the Supreme Intelligence is more blunt. It points out that Vers’ struggle with her emotions comes from her past. Of course, in that past, Vers was human. So once again, her supposed weaknesses are tied to her humanity, even if Vers herself doesn’t realize it.
Then there’s the climactic scene in which Vers is sent to commune with the Supreme Intelligence again after she sides with the Skrulls over the Kree and is captured. The Supreme Intelligence is trying to set her straight, to make her recommit to the Kree and their war against the Skrulls. It tells Vers that before the Kree found her, she was nothing. The Kree made her strong. Without them, she wouldn’t have any power at all. Without the Kree, Vers is “only human.”
Then Vers sees memories of the many times she was knocked down, starting from when she was a little girl. Evidence that the human Carol was weak and helpless.
After spending six years being gaslighted about who she is and what she’s capable of, though, Vers isn’t buying it anymore. Now, she can remember that each time she got knocked down, she got up again and kept going. So, instead of falling for the Supreme Intelligence’s manipulations, she reclaims her humanity.
She tells the Supreme Intelligence that her name is Carol, and fights against it, breaking out of the restraints the Kree have placed her in since they took her from Earth.
It’s only at this point that Carol is able to embrace and use her powers to their full extent. And it’s not something that happens after she becomes empowered as a female, it’s something that happens after she becomes empowered as a human being.