3:00 pm EDT, March 6, 2019

Higher, faster, finally: The bittersweet beginning of ‘Captain Marvel’

Captain Marvel is finally here. So why does the film’s arrival feel bittersweet?

At long last, 11 years after the inception of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain Marvel is here. For the first time in Marvel movie history, a female hero stands at the center of her own story, gleaming from posters and popcorn buckets and soda cans. Carol Danvers, armed with uncontested power and a cat, will define her own adventure — and then join up to play with the big boys in Avengers: Endgame.

And yet, this milestone feels bittersweet. As exciting as it is to finally see the end of Marvel’s deserted plane of movies led by women (and it is extremely exciting) there’s one word that keeps creeping back into the conversation.

Finally.

It’s a word we should never have had to say. Amidst the flowers of Captain Marvel’s debut, this unavoidable fact sprouts like a prominent weed: Fans of the MCU should not have had to wait 11 years for a woman to carry her own film. We should not have to have been satisfied with Black Widow and Scarlet Witch as perpetual team players. We should not have had to settle for Wasp sharing her billing with Ant-Man.

Captain Marvel, or someone like her, should have been leading the charge on Marvel’s adventures for years. Instead, we had to wait for “Finally,” a word that fundamentally changes the experience that follows it.

“Finally” means the highest of expectations for Captain Marvel, an unforgiving standard of excellence that no other hero (except, notably, Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther) had to meet. “Finally” means that Captain Marvel can’t just be a movie, it can’t just be the next installment in the MCU; it must be defining of this unusual subgenre of Superhero Movies About A Woman.

It must validate any future films with this quirk of casting. And it must compete with the only car in this uncharted lane, DC’s acclaimed Wonder Woman — despite few points of comparison beyond the hero’s gender.

“Finally” is a fraught state. Thanks to Marvel Studios’ decade-plus of reticence, Captain Marvel’s slogan of “Higher, Farther, Faster” is more than aspirational. It is a condition of the film’s very validity as it stands in the annals of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s lengthy cannon.

So it is with mixed emotions that I approach Captain Marvel. I’m excited to follow Carol Danvers’ first adventure, eager to watch female friendships unfold in a comic book context. Though I love the male Avengers, I’m thrilled that I won’t have to peer around them to catch glimpses of powerful ladies in action. It will be a joy, as well as a relief.

But the debut of Captain Marvel is also difficult. I’m frustrated that we haven’t passed this milestone a decade ago. I’m sorry for the girls who grew up in a cultural sphere that worships superheroes, but only those who are men. I am flat-out angry at the attempted hijacking of the discussion by angry men who seek to dive-bomb the film over Brie Larson’s opinions.

And I am exhausted by what it will mean when Captain Marvel inevitably falls short for some viewers. Disliking the film is entirely valid (not having seen it yet, I don’t even know if I’ll like it!) but tepid or negative reviews are barbed harpoons against the skin of art that caters to women and minorities. For nerds who hope to see more superhero films starring women, the stakes are agonizingly high; it’s hard not to feel that a less-than-positive reception dooms not only Captain Marvel, but the female-centric stories that we hoped would come after.

So as we bear up under the weight of “Finally” and all its consequences, there is one thing I’ve been trying to keep in mind.

Related: Captain Marvel team discuss female friendships, Nick Fury’s alien naïveté

It is impossible to ignore the pressure exerted by this long-delayed first. But we can’t let “Finally” define our experience with Captain Marvel. It is not my job as a fan to defend or justify the film’s existence, nor is it my responsibility to soothe the souls of those who hated it before it even came to be. In the real world, it is not even Carol Danvers’ job to be higher, faster, or farther; that is Marvel and Disney’s job.

All I can do is experience, appreciate, and hopefully enjoy. Apply positive pressure through the power of attention. It’s not fair that there should be more out there that demands to be ignored, but there is no way to change that past.

It took forever, but Captain Marvel’s “Finally” is finally over. Let’s make sure that in the future, we never have to say that word again.

Captain Marvel hits theaters on March 8, 2019.

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