SPOILERS for Captain Marvel. ALL OF THE SPOILERS.
My brother told me recently that some people on the internet believe that Carol Danvers should fight Yon-Rogg at the end of Captain Marvel. When he told me that, my immediate reaction was “NOPE. NOPENOPENOPE.”
Why did I react so negatively to that idea? Because Carol fighting Yon-Rogg (the man who manipulated and gaslit her for six years) one-on-one would completely defeat one of the movie’s major points.
And what is that point? That Carol doesn’t have to conform to Yon-Rogg’s rules or standards. She makes her rules and her own decisions. She will no longer deal with his or anyone else’s gaslighting.
Resolving Carol’s story with a one-on-one fight with her supposed mentor would only conform to straight white fanboys’ expectations for how heroes’ origin stories must resolve. But Captain Marvel is a movie that actively defies their expectations, which part of the reason that those members of the MCU fandom don’t like this movie very much. Let’s break down why Carol’s refusal to fight Yon-Rogg one-on-one is the right decision for this narrative’s conclusion.
Part of the reason that Carol needs to refuse to fight Yon-Rogg is because this is a movie that turns a few of the standard tropes of superhero origin stories. For example, the story starts in medias res*, when Carol already has her powers. In a more normally structured origin story, we would meet Carol right before she gets her powers and follow her as she learns to control them. But the story doesn’t follow that structure because it’s not about Carol learning to control her powers. It’s about Carol rediscovering and reclaiming her identity and throwing off the control that the Kree have over her. The Kree’s power over Carol manifests mainly in her relationship with Yon-Rogg and the talks she has with the Kree Empire’s governing A.I., the Supreme Intelligence.
*In media res means “in the midst of things,” and it’s when a story starts in the middle of the action, not at the beginning. The Odyssey starts in medias res, with a twentysomething Telemachus standing on a beach wondering where his father is, while Odysseus is trapped on the nymph Calypso’s island as her love-slave. Batman Begins also starts in medias res, with Bruce Wayne in a foreign prison, already on his journey to becoming Batman.
The film’s narrative starts not on Hala, the Kree capital planet where Carol lives, or on Earth, but in Carol’s mind. She’s dreaming of what she thinks is the day she got her powers. Then she wakes up and goes to see Yon-Rogg and spar with him. This sequence sets up the main conflict of the film: the difference between what the Kree have conditioned Carol to believe about herself and the reality of her true identity and what really happened to her when she got her powers.
In fact, Yon-Rogg starts manipulating Carol the moment they start sparring in some sort of Kree gym. He asks her if she saw anything new in her dream, and then he tells her she needs to let go of the past (which she points out that she can’t remember). Then he goes on this whole tangent about how emotion is dangerous and bad, and how she can’t afford to lose control. Yon-Rogg defines “losing control” as Carol using her arm blasts to fight him.
Then, when they’re on the train to see the Supreme Intelligence after their sparring session, they talk about how no one has ever seen the Supreme Intelligence’s true form. It always appears as someone that a person knows and/or admires. Why does it do that? Because then the Supreme Intelligence can manipulate the person into serving its ends. And the Kree never talk about who the Supreme Intelligence appears to be when they meet with it. Keeping the Supreme Intelligence’s appearance a secret allows those meetings to feel more personal, but that also makes it’s manipulation feel more real, like its wishes are a sacred destiny someone has to fulfill.
You see, manipulation permeates the bits of Kree society that we seem, and it starts at the top with the Supreme Intelligence. For example, the Supreme Intelligence tells Carol she is a victim of the Skrull expansion, which we later learn isn’t true. The Supreme Intelligence also claims that Carol must “do what all Kree must and put your people’s needs before your own.” Yon-Rogg claims the Supreme Intelligence wants him to help Carol control her emotions. That’s probably true. He seems to genuinely believe what he’s saying when he says he wants to help Carol. However, he comes from a culture that’s all about manipulating people to do what the Supreme Intelligence wants and expand the Kree empire.
We don’t get a clear speech about why the Kree want to control Carol and her powers so badly, but it’s not hard to puzzle out: she was helping Dr. Lawson help the Skrulls (even if she wasn’t fully aware of it) and gave herself superpowers in the process. If the Kree control Carol and psychologically condition her to believe that the Supreme Intelligence gave her her powers, then they can use her powers to expand their empire and wipe out the Skrulls. The Supreme Intelligence tells Carol at the beginning of the film, “What’s given can be taken away,” but Carol learns by the end of the film that she gave herself her powers.
At the end of the film, when Carol refuses to fight Yon-Rogg one-on-one, she’s rejecting his Kree ideals and her own brainwashing. She’s saying that she knows who she is and what she’s capable of, and she doesn’t need to fit his standards for what a good soldier/warrior should be. Carol is great when she uses her emotions to help save the day. The Kree standards she’s fed at the beginning of the film are completely arbitrary and hold no real meaning once Carol gets to Earth and discovers her old life. The way Carol rejects the Kree standards at the end of the film is definitely very relatable to me as a woman.
Oh, and Carol doesn’t need to fight Yon-Rogg because she already beat him and the other Kree soldiers back on Mar-Vell’s ship. Why does she have to fight a guy twice in order to win in her own movie? That concept makes me think of this quote: “Remember, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did backward in high heels.”
Captain Marvel is a story about a white woman discovering her own identity and realizing the depth and breadth of her own powers. Then she uses those powers to help save the marginalized, rather than helping expand a supremacist empire. It’s also a story that reflects the gaslighting women face in their lives, especially when they’re in male-dominated spaces. Carol faces gaslighting not just among the Kree, but in her old memories of training with the Air Force. As she regains her memories, we hear male voices say, “You know why they call it a cockpit?” and “They’ll never let you fly!” Those words are a lot, and they are unfortunately very true.
I’ve been in a couple of male-dominated spaces in my life, and the worst one was when I played trombone in my high school’s marching band. I loved my instrument and I loved marching, but YIKES, the guys in the low brass* could be crazy. In my WandaVision post, I mentioned the two trombone players who would periodically call me “baboon.” There were other bizarre things, too. When I was a sophomore, there were three girls in the trombone section. We went to one sectional (a meeting where a given section of band members practice together), and one of our two section leaders (both senior boys) called a boy who missed the sectional a pap smear. Uh, a pap smear is a medical procedure that OB-GYNs perform to ensure women’s nether regions are healthy. To this day, I still don’t know why that section leader thought a medical procedure was a usable insult. You wouldn’t call someone a prostate exam, would you?
*The low brass consists of trombones, baritones, and tubas.
What I like about Captain Marvel is the way it shows the crap that women regularly deal with. It shows that sexism and psychological abuse appear in platonic relationships, such as professional relationships, not just familial or romantic ones. It also shows that random men can participate in misogyny, like the men in Carol’s memories and the guy on the motorcycle who tells her to smile. I don’t get told to smile much, but I occasionally get honked at. I can attest that Carol stealing that guy’s motorcycle is a bit of wish fulfillment for women who wish they could respond to those bad behaviors, but can’t due to societal repercussions.
Overall, Captain Marvel is a story by, for, and about women. (This movie had two directors: one woman and one man. The majority of the screenwriters were also women, except for the male co-director, who gets a screenwriting credit.) I have a feeling that’s why many MCU fanboys don’t like this movie: it’s not reinforcing their view of the world. Instead, it challenges them to see the universe through women’s eyes and learn to root for a hero who isn’t exactly like them. It’s not hard to root for a hero who’s not like you. The rest of us have been doing it for decades.
No matter what everyone else thinks about this movie, it’s one of my favorite MCU films. And the way Carol refuses to fight Yon-Rogg is part of that. I’m realizing as I receive comments from people who don’t like my blogs that I have nothing to prove to them. If someone demands that you prove yourself to them, that’s their problem, not yours.
Bonus: While I was searching for images of Yon-Rogg for this blog, I found this deleted scene, where he meets with the Supreme Intelligence. I won’t say what it looks like for him, but when I saw it, I thought, “Of course!” and giggled about it.