How Captain Marvel took Top Gun to a whole new level


Forget “Take My Breath Away.” Captain Marvel goes “higher, further, faster” than Top Gun, and Carol Danvers is “Just a Girl.”

Warning: It’s time to talk some Captain Marvel spoilers. (We’re also going to spoil Top Gun, but that movie came out in the ’80s.)

Is “higher, further, faster, baby” the new “I feel the need. The need for speed”? Well, probably not. But let’s face it: Captain Marvel practically invites the comparisons to Top Gun just by virtue of renaming Carol Danvers’ cat Goose in a deliberate shout-out.

Now, Carol is not Maverick, down to their serving in different branches of the military. (Carol is in the Air Force; Maverick actually serves in the Navy.) Nor do they have the exact same plotline. But both of them are on the “highway to the danger zone” in their own ways, and there are some weird parallels not only in their characters, but in their stories as a whole.

Going beyond the surface level of who Carol and Maverick are, both of their stories hinge on a revelation key to their past. For Carol, it’s figuring out who she was and why she remembers nothing but her time on Hala — and why that’s worth fighting for even as the Kree try to convince her it means nothing. For Maverick, it’s learning that his father died honorably and that there’s no stain on his legacy.

Why are these pieces of information important to them? It’s not just that they need reasons to fight so much as they need reasons to get back into the field after tragedies, from learning that she’s had her life stolen to losing his RIO, the original Goose. Carol and Maverick come in as strong characters with skills their compatriots can only dream of. Seriously, just look at the smugness young Tom Cruise channels here:

If they didn’t have these conflicts, we probably wouldn’t find their stories very interesting, but they’re also more human stories. Most of us will probably never pilot any sort of plane with the skills that either of them display. But we can relate to losing a friend, or finding out that what we believed in wasn’t true.

Why, then, did we title this article “How Captain Marvel took Top Gun to a whole new level”? Simple. We’ve seen Maverick’s story a thousand times before. Cruise has literally played the same story out in different films! A Few Good Men is the easy example, but Ethan Hunt’s arc in the Mission: Impossible franchise fits this general plotline well, too. That’s just one actor, off the top of this writer’s head. It’s not hard to find more all over media, because men — white men in particular — have been the norm.

Even with the limits Carol has on her piloting because she’s a woman, she’s still involved in a top-secret project and is, need we remind you, Earth’s mightiest hero. In 2019, it shouldn’t feel so odd that a story we’ve seen before can feel fresh like this.

Carol is a woman, but she has skills most of us can only dream of. She is funny, sarcastic, and confident. Like Maverick, she can put her money where her mouth is when it comes to her skills. Not only that, but her most important relationships are with women whom she elevates and who elevate her in turn, from Mar-Vell to Maria and Monica Rambeau, with Nick Fury as the odd man out, quite literally. It’s a gender reversal from Maverick, whose major relationships are with Goose and Commander Jardian — with Charlie Blackwood being his most major exception.

Additionally, Charlie is Maverick’s love interest. We’re pretty sure that Fury and Carol might actually combust something if they tried to go on a date.

One day, hopefully, we’ll be able to get the Valkyrie or Shuri movies that we honestly deserve from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With movies like Shang-Chi in development, it’s clear that Marvel is finally taking slow steps forward to improve representation across the board.

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Even with something like Captain Marvel, there are positives there — not in the least of which is showing that women can have the same story arcs and find emotional resonance there just as men can, without the help of “Take My Breath Away.”