Captain Marvel’s Care for the Refugee
Spoiler alert! This post addresses plot twists in Captain Marvel.
Captain Marvel flew into theaters this past weekend, promising to go “higher, further, faster” than its predecessors, and it did not disappoint. The 21st entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe opens with green aliens, spaceships, and an elite Starforce whirling across the screen. Right smack dab in the middle of it all is Carol Danvers (Brie Larson), Marvel’s first big-screen, standalone female superhero. Her origin story develops as she crosses borders throughout the universe, encountering new aliens and humans alike.
With a release date coinciding with International Women’s Day, many hoped that Captain Marvel would make feminist statements similar to those in 2017’s Wonder Woman. But it doesn’t. Carol Danvers herself pointedly states that she has nothing to prove, and the film is content with a fairly standard comic-book narrative in which a powerful figure falls to earth and then goes around saving people.
However, Captain Marvel does break new ground in its exploration of a very different hot topic: the plight of refugees.
At the start of the film, Carol is known as Vers, a member of the Starforce squad who is suffering from amnesia. Starforce is dedicated to protecting the home world of the Kree against a dangerous, shapeshifting rival race known as the Skrulls. However, halfway through Captain Marvel, we discover that the presumed Skrull villain, Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), is not the antagonist. Rather, he is simply a refugee looking for a new home for his people. The true villain, in fact, is the Kree empire. As part of their imperialist expansion, the Kree seek to exterminate the Skrulls—using Vers and her photon-powered hands as one of their primary weapons. When Vers learns the truth, she leaves Starforce, discovers she had a past on Earth, and resolves to help the Skrulls find a new home.
There’s no doubt that Captain Marvel will serve as a leading figure in the upcoming Avengers: Endgame, following a rather typical superhero trajectory as the protector of earth. However, in her origin film, she’s simply the defender of a displaced people group, a unique role that breathes complexity and nuance into her character. This is not just another thin Christ figure, a savior of humanity. Rather, Captain Marvel’s care for the refugee allows her to stand out among her fellow pantheon of comic book superheroes as she points to Christ in a much more subtle and creative way.
This is not just another thin Christ figure.
Captain Marvel reflects a unique aspect of God’s heart in her protection of the Skrull refugees. We see God’s command to care for the foreigner among us throughout Scripture, and he leads by example. In Deuteronomy 10:18, “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.” In the film’s climax, Carol uses her photon powers to keep the Starforce soldiers occupied. While she battles her former compatriots, Talos and his family slip away to safety. In that moment, Marvel leans into the biblical call to care for the foreigner in a way we have not seen before within the MCU.
This is also where a feminism of sorts comes into play. It’s not only provocative that a female superhero is the first to embody Christ’s love for the refugee; Captain Marvel also does so through her distinctly feminine personality. Throughout the movie, her emotions catalyze and guide her.
Female emotion is often negatively stereotyped in pop culture, comic books notwithstanding. In Captain Marvel, the Kree embody this perception as they see passion, desire, humor, and anger as weaknesses. During her training, Vers’ superior officer (Jude Law) tells her to repress those aspects of her nature. “Control your impulses,” he demands, while knocking her to the ground. “I want you to be the best version of yourself.” The gendered power structure within this teacher-student relationship is intentional; part of Carol’s character development hinges on learning how to emotionally break free from this patriarchal control. It is only when her feelings are unleashed that she can harness the full breadth of her power and protect the Skrull refugees.
Christian feminists such as Phyllis Trible, Catherine Brown Tkacz, and Allison Quient have long argued that women, not just men, can serve as Christological types. In other words, there are unique characteristics in women that speak to an aspect of Christ’s character not found in men. In Captain Marvel, Carol’s emotions help us see Christ in a way that we haven’t seen before in the likes of Captain America, Iron Man, or Thor. Captain Marvel helps us better visualize and understand how the biblical call to care for the refugee is no mere intellectual exercise. In the same way that God passionately and fiercely cares for the foreigner, so too does Captain Marvel deliver an impassioned defense of the Skrulls. That’s a good thing, and we would do well to follow in her example.