Thor and Jane? Poor Natalie Portman does her best, but Jane’s defining personality trait is that she’s obsessed with her hunky boyfriend, which, while being an eternal mood, isn’t exactly the recipe for a complex character.
Captain America and Sharon Carter? A cold, chemistry-less kiss stuffed into Civil War does not a romantic storyline make.
And what about the most egregious of all: Christine, Doctor Strange’s girlfriend? Cumberbatch’s surgeon-cum-magician is so odious that at one point he mansplains medicine to Christine, an emergency room physician. What are you doing with this overgrown man-baby who needs to seriously rethink the length of his moustache? Dump his sorry arse, Christine.
In the more recent Marvel movies, the trope of the love interest has been slowly, but steadily dismantled. Nakkiah in Black Panther is a fully-fleshed out character with needs and desires of her own, and she’s not afraid to share them with T’Challa.
In Spider-Man: Homecoming, MJ is a smart, independent girl who isn’t going to be Peter’s damsel in distress.
And in Captain Marvel there isn’t a love interest at all.
Or rather, the love interest isn’t a dopey male co-lead chewing up Carol Danvers’ (Brie Larson) screen time as the first female superhero in the Marvel franchise. It’s her best friend and fellow fighter pilot Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch).
“The great love story in this movie is her best friend,” Larson explains to news.com.au. “That’s her long lost love. And I can’t think of anything that is more powerful to me than the girlfriends in my life. To get to imbue what that experience is really like [in the movie] felt powerful.”
Not even Wonder Woman, in which female superhero Gal Gadot trailed was around by a doe-eyed Chris Pine, could get away with such a radical notion: That the person you might want to save the world for isn’t a romantic partner, but your best friend.
Captain Marvel’s ode to the power of female friendship — supportive and quirky and unconditional — is just one of the many ways that this movie is taking a photon blaster and busting open the tropes of the superhero genre.
The film also wants to change how we think about strength, particularly in women.
“Being unapologetic and owning strength,” is the message of Captain Marvel, Larson explains. “Not making yourself smaller because it might make somebody else feel bad. I think some people might use the word cocky, but I don’t think it’s that. It’s that Carol really is as strong as she knows, and that’s cool.”
Having to downplay her own abilities in order to appear “likeable” is something Larson has experienced over and over again in her career.
“I felt a lot of the time that I needed to dim myself to make other people comfortable, or I needed to apologise for my ambition,” Larson explains. “Carol doesn’t do any of that. It’s such a simple thing, but it’s in the core of her.”
Conveying that steely confidence on screen required hours of striking poses in the mirror.
“It seems ridiculous,” Larson says, laughing. “I barely know what to do with my arms when I’m just being myself. Just to figure out how to make that costume work, it was like learning poses. I would have to do it in the mirror for hours.
“That pose that you see on the poster, I look at that and I’m like, I had days of stance work for that poster. It wasn’t like I showed up and was like, ‘I got this’. It was more like, ‘I don’t how to do this at all.’”
Couple that emotional strength with the physical strength of Larson’s Captain Marvel training — up to three hours of workouts every day for nine months — and you have the makings of one of the most formidable female characters in comic book movies.
That training was as much a physical transformation as it was psychological for Larson.
“I learnt that I am a lot stronger than I realised,” she muses. “I know I’m strong. But then the movie was over and I was like, wait, that’s crazy, I know that I’m strong and I’m stronger than I realised.
“That’s something that stuck with me and something that I’m planning on keeping,” Larson adds. “I really like pushing myself to the limit just to see what I’m made of.”
Taking on the responsibility of being Marvel’s first female superhero was something that initially gave Larson pause.
“It was all really exciting, but the stuff that comes after it, the fame stuff, I was like I don’t know if I can do that,” Larson explains. “I’m an introvert, I think birthday parties are too much attention … I just sort of sat with myself and tried to be at peace with it. It got to the point where I was like, I think I’m more clever than I’m giving myself credit for. I think I can do this.”
Three years after she first signed onto the role, Larson feels more comfortable in her own strength than ever before. The actress used that power on the Captain Marvel press tour, fighting for representation by insisting female journalists, and in particular, writers of colour and with disabilities, be given preference to attend.
“I have to push for inclusion because it’s not happening naturally,” Larson explains. “If it was happening naturally I wouldn’t have to say anything. Unfortunately it was a little bit of a narrow view [before] and we’re just trying to expand on that. It means my press days are a little bit more varied, which I really like.”
Carol Danvers would be proud. “I gained a lot from playing Carol,” Larson says. “I learned a lot about myself and my strength, but also I feel clearer about what it is that I want and how I want to live my life and what’s important to me. So I can only hope that some of that lives in the movie and that other people can feel it.”
Captain Marvel is in cinemas on March 7.