My ten-year-old daughter recently returned from her first overseas church trip. She spent the week in a new culture, trying new foods, and serving the children of friends. Before she left, I gave her a bracelet that reads “Be Brave.” We talked the week before about brave women in the Bible, such as Miriam, Deborah, and Priscilla. We read their stories and learned about how God put them in positions to serve others, gifting them with the courage, strength, and wisdom for the task at hand.
Since she returned last week, our family schedule has prevented me from getting to spend extended time with her and hear about her trip. I decided a daddy-daughter outing was in order.
So, on Monday afternoon, we set out to see Captain Marvel, the latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), notable for being Marvel Studios’ first superhero film with a female lead.
Naturally, I wondered what message the film would send my daughter about what it means to be a woman. Would Captain Marvel be Elle Woods from Legally Blonde, only with a cape and superpowers? Would Carol Danvers be a snarling feminist, out to erase and flatten all distinctions between men and women? Or would my daughter see a woman who stewards her gifts, strength, and opportunities to help others, to do good, and to inspire those around her?
In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I am no expert in the MCU or superhero movies by any stretch of the imagination. I entered this film almost entirely ignorant of the Captain Marvel character and her backstory. So, what did I find?
The Carol Danvers Story
Captain Marvel tells the story of Carol Danvers, whom we meet as Vers, a member of the Starforce. As the narrative unfolds, we discover that though born a normal human according to the flesh, she experienced a dramatic conversion (she is called “born again”)—a transformation that blessed her with superpowers.
As Danvers begins to understand her conversion, she comes to grips with her new nature and her new identity. Understanding who and what she now is, she experiences increasing freedom from the powers that once ruled her, among which she once lived, carrying out their desires.
As the film progresses, Danvers learns to put the needs of others ahead of her own. She discovers and befriends a refugee people, exiled from their homeland facing the threat of genocide and extinction at the hands of evildoers. Our hero understands that she alone is uniquely positioned to save this people. Recognizing that she is here for such a time as this, she walks into the face of death, willing to lay down her life for the good of others.
Her strength inspires and encourages others to faithfulness and courage. Through her partnership, Fury is encouraged to take initiative leadership, protection, and provision for the earth, preparing a team to subdue and exercise dominion over whatever supervillains may threaten the earth.
Carol Danvers is not depicted as the ultimate savior of the world. Instead, she inspires Fury to find others like her. Noting her call sign, “Avenger,” the Avenger Project is born, making Danvers the symbolic mother of the Avengers. The seed of the woman will crush the head of the enemy.
The Carol Danvers Statement
What can we say about this film, especially as it pertains to biblical manhood and womanhood?
First, this is not (successful) feminist propaganda. If the authors intended it as feminist propaganda, they failed. I didn’t get that message at all.
This film is not lobbying for drafting or conscripting our daughters to be maimed or die in war. At least, not any more than Spider-Man is pressing for the recruiting 15-year-old boys to enter violent conflict with villains.
Second, this film models positive aspects of biblical womanhood. In Carol Danvers, we find echoes of many positive, heroic and biblical women.
Eve is hated by the serpent (and the serpent’s offspring) because of what shall come forth from her. Enemies hate Carol Danvers because of what is within her. The seed of the woman is foretold to crush the head of the serpent. The Avengers, birthed by this woman, will save the world (or so we hope!).
But what about a woman delivering people—even when it means they go to war? There are noteworthy situations in the Bible when women enter the scene to bring deliverance—some when men would not, and some when men could not, and some when women take up weapons and deliver death blows.
Deborah and Jael
The stories of Deborah and Jael are examples of when the men would not. In Judges 4, Deborah the prophetess is provided by the Lord to judge Israel. She reminds Barak that the Lord had commanded him to go and take their enemy Sisera. The Lord promised to deliver the enemy into his hand. But Barak would not go, not without Deborah accompanying him. She agrees, but now with the promise that the Lord would not deliver Sisera into in his hand, but into the hand of a woman. That woman is Jael, who offers Sisera refuge in her tent, lulls him to sleep with warm milk, and drives a tent peg through his skull. In this instance, the cowardly heart of Barak—a man who would not—is the backdrop to the shrewd courage and violent strength of a woman of God.
God provides shrewd, courageous, and strong women to act—even when no man will. Though such is not the backdrop of Captain Marvel, we do see echoes of Deborah’s leadership and Jael’s shrewd courage in Carol Danvers—a good example, which ought to inspire Christian women (and men!) today.
The story of Esther most closely resembles Captain Marvel, an example of when men could not. The heroine Esther finds herself, along with her Jewish people, living in exile under Persian rule. Providence exalted her to the position of queen, even as her uncle discovers a plot to “to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children, in one day.” Encouraged by Mordecai to consider whether she has “come to the kingdom for such a time as this,” she determines to plead with the king to save her people. At risk to her own life, she puts the needs of others ahead of her own, and risks death to approach the king.
In Captain Marvel, there is no one else—man or woman—positioned to act. Carol Danvers is uniquely and providentially situated to save an exiled people facing genocidal extinction. So, she walks into danger to save them.
The church is a “she,” and she is a warrior.
The church is the Bride of the King. To see her is to behold your queen.
Who is it that Paul commands to put on armor and take up a sword to oppose the devil? The Bride of Christ.
Under whose feet will the God of peace soon crush Satan? The Bride of Christ.
Who shall reign forever with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords? The Bride of Christ.
She is a warrior, dressed for battle, crushing the head of a dragon beneath her feet as she rules with her husband, the King.
Behold your queen, indeed.
Time and space fail to make all the connections we could to women in the Bible—women of whom the world was not worthy—whose strength and self-sacrifice, whose virtuous womanhood and feminine beauty Carol Danvers, our Captain Marvel, reflects and encourages.
A Marvel and a Model
Captain Marvel is not a threat to biblical womanhood. Carol Danvers does not want to be a man. Nor do we get the idea that she wants to flatten or erase the distinctions between men and women, creating a sexless society. In her maturity, Danvers does not demand to be the hero or need to lead the fight. Instead, where she has gifts, ambitions, strengths, and abilities, she desires to help subdue chaos and exercise dominion over a realm that promotes life.
Carol Danvers—Captain Marvel—is a strong, ambitious, compassionate, and self-sacrificing woman. She uses her unique gifts in the setting she finds herself to serve others. She joins with others as a necessary ally, using her unique gifts and strength, to subdue and to exercise dominion. Her example and encouragement stir others, like Fury, to take the initiative in leadership, protection, and provision.
Do we not want that in women? Do we not desire strong and gifted women (with photon blasters and the ability to fly, so to speak) to be our allies in the good fight, this brutal and ugly war into which our Lord calls us? I certainly do. And I don’t think I’m a coward either for wanting them or for valuing such women as my necessary allies.
My daughter loved the movie. She laughed and cheered. Enthusiasm bubbled over as we discussed the film and her trip over dinner. She asked if she could get a poster of Captain Marvel for her room. I gladly obliged. We found one she was excited about, one that I’m delighted to hang in her room, where she can remember Carol Danvers’ statement about what a biblical woman is and can be.