Captain Marvel is a wildly overpowered superhero, and that’s just fine with me.
In the persona of Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers is what’s known in the parlance of the internet as “way OP.”
Carol is overpowered — ridiculously, deliriously so. By the end of Captain Marvel (it bears repeating, the first Marvel film to bother focusing on a the story of a female hero) her strengths vastly exceed any physical or emotional challenge in her way.
Punch a nuke? Not a problem. Survive a fall from space to Earth? Easy. Confront a dear mentor with confidence and ease? Done. Destroy any obstacle in her path? Don’t even need to think about it.
Captain Marvel is powerful far beyond what we have seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She is such an indomitable force that she inspires the entire Avengers Initiative. She is regarded as a “weapon” by no less a power than Ronan the Accuser. She is such a scale-tilting presence that (within Marvel’s conceit) Fury considers Carol to be too strong to recruit against any of the “lesser” catastrophes faced by the Avengers thus far.
Hydra? Ultron? Civil War? Don’t bother Captain Marvel, that’s small potatoes for the likes of her.
Carol’s power is extreme and overwhelming. It is definition-ally excessive. And in that excess, it is absolutely delightful.
Overpowered characters, especially those of the female variety, are often dinged for “unrealistic” abilities and diffusing the stakes of the story with their strength. The first charge is hardly worth addressing — if a stringy teenager from Queens can get ripped like Thor the morning after a spider bite, protestations of realism are irrelevant to this genre.
But the second point is fair enough; balancing a protagonist’s strength with the strength of their antagonists is a real concern in storytelling, especially of the speculative sort.
But I have to be honest: I don’t really care.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has treated us to female superheroes before, though far too few of them. Black Widow, that artist of espionage; Scarlet Witch, she of the eerie magic and uncertain control. Both are haunted by tragedies and horrors in their pasts, often fighting through what seems like an endless plain of shadows. Both are powerful, and both have limits to that power. Even heroines like Black Panther‘s Nakia and Okoye are weighted with responsibilities of the future, with no extra-natural abilities to bolster them in battle — they are what they have made themselves.
In that context, it is uniquely glorious to watch a female superhero luxuriate, utterly limitless, in the fantasies of her genre.
Carol Danvers is light as air and swift as light, strong as the galaxy and precise as an atom. She literally glows, effervescent with unlimited potential. Hers is the power of the very gods that comics have created — science and pure human grit combined to create something unbounded, golden, and free. She is overpowered, and glorious for it.
For Carol, far less than the past or the future, there is the present. The punch. The swoop. The shine. The being as a being of power, without guilt or shame.
Captain Marvel is not terribly worried about realism, concerned instead with delivering a giddy and glorious fantasy — which is, after all, where the superhero genre began. By any standard it is a decadent exercise, but when did sparseness and restraint ever leave an audience whooping with delight?
In its excess, Captain Marvel invites us to embrace the unlikely. Yes, Carol’s delirious power is unrealistic, almost unfair. And still, it is necessary.
Because every so often, we must all (and women especially) reject realism. We must erase moderate expectations. We must imagine ourselves with shining fists and a jaw of steel, a heart of gold and an open sky waiting.
Let’s be unrealistic. Let’s be too good to be true. Let’s be overpowered.
Let’s be Captain Marvel.