WASHINGTON — The new “Captain Marvel” film has sparked an online backlash for featuring the Marvel cinematic universe’s first solo female superhero, an Air Force F-15C pilot named Carol Danvers.
But that criticism doesn’t phase two of the Air Force’s most powerful women.
“It is amazing to me that people would criticize a movie because it only has one [main] character in it [who is a woman]. I’ve never heard that criticism of other films,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said before a March 7 premiere of the film at the National Air and Space Museum. “That doesn’t bother me at all.”
“There are other superhero movies that just have a male superhero, and I haven’t heard criticism of those,” said Brig. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt, the Air Force’s first female fighter pilot and an inspiration for Carol Danvers’ portrayal in the film.
The Air Force plays a major role in “Captain Marvel,” and the service’s Hollywood liaison office collaborated closely with the directors. Not only are Danvers and her best friend Maria Rambeau F-15 pilots — though the women note they cannot fly in combat, as the movie is set in the 1990s — but the movie also features shots of Danvers at the Air Force Academy and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo by the B-2 bomber.
Thursday’s premiere at the Air and Space Museum was a bit of a victory lap for the service. Air Force leadership and members of Congress attended the viewing, and “Captain Marvel” directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck were present to introduce the film.
But it was also clearly a celebration of women in the Air Force. Many of the attendees were Air Force families with young daughters, who could be spotted in Captain Marvel-themed costumes and jackets walking around science- and technology-themed exhibits before the show, as well as female airmen in flight suits.
When Air Force Times caught up with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein, he said he hopes the film inspires young women to consider joining the service.
“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “More than anything I hope that young women see themselves as future Air Force members; I hope they get excited about their future. And I hope they enjoy the show.”
Neither Wilson nor Leavitt are big comic book fans — Wilson described herself as “more of a Mad Magazine kid,” and Leavitt copped to only have watched “Captain America” and “Iron Man” before Brie Larson, who plays Danvers, visited Nellis Air Force Base in 2018.
But both noted that the Marvel crew — and Larson in particular — wanted to accurately portray what it means to be in the Air Force.
“It seems to capture a lot of the ethos of what it means to be an airman," Wilson said. "They paid attention to details about who we are as airmen and how we approach things.”
For example, the T-shirt worn by Danvers in the Air Force Academy scenes is the same design worn by real cadets, not the one anyone can buy at the gift shop. Those details help ground the movie in the reality of being a part of the service, Wilson said. “It’s the difference between you’re really a cadet or whether you’re just visiting.”
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.