There was something particular that struck me when I was watching the Captain Marvel trailer earlier this week. (Aside from general excitement over how great it looks.) It’s not the costumes or the CGI or the gorgeous music. It’s that Captain Marvel herself rarely ever smiles. In fact, Carol Danvers looks entirely, miraculously indifferent to be on a movie screen. Or anywhere at all.
As far as I can tell, that’s a first for the entire superhero film genre.
It’s easy to think of comparing Captain Marvel to Wonder Woman, since the mere idea of having two female-led superhero films in the space of a couple years seemed impossible back when Marvel Studios decided to seize control of the box office. But while there are clear differences between these two characters and films, what we see in the trailer actually sets Carol Danvers apart from the entire superhero milieu. Captain Marvel does plenty of heroic-looking things in this trailer, but unlike the rest of her cohort, she seems totally unaware of her status as a magical superhero.
And this is new.
When you look at trailers for Wonder Woman, Doctor Strange, Thor, even more “serious” fare like Logan, the images are largely about bringing comic book panels to life. They are rife with power poses and superhero landings and overwrought emotions because that’s what we’ve been taught superheroes are about. Observe:
Power stances, glints in their eyes, donning or brandishing weapons and armor, flourishes all over the place. (Even for something as bloody and terrifying as Logan.)
But look at Carol:
There she is, just existing, magically somehow unaware of the camera. No big eyes, no telegraphed emotions, no constant posing to assure us that she knows what kind of movie she’s in. When she walks somewhere, she plain walks. When she smiles, those smiles are relaxed rather than beaming or coy. When she she falls, she hits the ground like any person would, hard and gracelessly. It doesn’t mean she isn’t gorgeous or still covered in makeup, but it’s still completely different from anything the genre has been interested in handing us before.
Carol Danvers doesn’t know that she’s in a superhero film. She isn’t interested in performing those cues for us. Most of these characters know who they are and what they’re supposed to look like up close. Tony Stark grandstands and lets his armor enfold him for show; Doctor Strange snarks and sparks and whirls; Thor is a jovial powerhouse who is also a king (with all the pageantry that royalty brings); Spider-Man is trying to make sure his flips look good on his phone’s camera before posting to YouTube; Black Widow somersaults and rolls and smirks as she runs away from villains; Star Lord dances; even when Captain America is sad he is beautifully sad.
And Carol Danvers doesn’t care. She’s got a job to do, and that’s all that matters.
And that’s something we’ve never seen before.