Captain Marvel Is the MCU’s Gayest ‘Not Gay’ Superhero

I would love for Marvel to just confirm her sexuality already, but there is something special about Carol Danvers' ability to live within two worlds.

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Captain Marvel Is the MCU’s Gayest ‘Not Gay’ Superhero
Brie Larson as Captain Marvel in The Marvels. Photo:Disney (Other)

Throughout its existence, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has showcased few middling, explicit attempts at LGBTQ representation. Ranging from Gay Joe Russo in Avengers: Endgame to Korg’s husband (who was essentially just Korg with a mustache) in Thor: Love and Thunder, a surface glance at the MCU reveals a lackluster track record of truly meaningful or sincere queer stories. However, across both Captain Marvel and The Marvels, the MCU has engaged in both thoughtful and impactful queer storytelling—even if it isn’t explicitly stated on screen.

In all but name, Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers, the mighty Captain Marvel, is queer. From her “friendship” with Maria to her self-imposed exile, Carol never says she’s gay, but to those who understand the implicit queer language present throughout her story, those deep connections and biting choices feel familiar and authentic to queer life.

In the titular film, we are introduced to Maria (Lashana Lynch) as Carol’s “best friend.” They live together, they work together, and they co-parent Maria’s daughter Monica (Akira Akbar) side by side. As Carol attempts to put the pieces of her life back together after the colonizing Kree stole her memories and used her as a super soldier to further their cause, we are treated to karaoke flashbacks and sweet family photos. These glimpses transcend the pretenses of “best friends” and “Aunt Carol.”

The loneliness of Carol’s self-imposed exile and her unwavering self-loathing offers a heightened representation of a sometimes-lonely queer existence.

Of course, women can and should be allowed caring and deep friendships on screen, but the bond between Carol and Maria is different. In Captain Marvel’s 90s setting, Carol and Maria’s cohabitation skews closer to a quiet (but not secret) relationship, where they’re dedicated to spending their lives together in their shared home, just like queer icons throughout history have lived with lifelong roommates.

It’s this relationship between Maria and Carol that anchors the larger-than-life, ultra-powerful Captain Marvel to her humanity. Even in The Marvels, when Maria makes a haunting appearance in Carol’s memories, their interactions are defined by their shared love for their daughter and a very lesbian in-joke about cats.

Later in The Marvels, Carol finally reveals why she avoided returning to Earth in those 30 years: After Captain Marvel, she returned to Hala, the Kree’s home planet, and destroyed the Supreme Intelligence, the AI governing body responsible for the Kree’s continued colonization and Carol’s own kidnapping and brainwashing. However, the destruction of that body forced the Kree into a civil war, and earned Captain Marvel the nickname “The Annihilator.” She couldn’t fathom facing the child who once looked up to her as this disgraced version of herself—she believed she couldn’t come home until she fixed the Kree, fixed Hala, and finally put herself back together. The loneliness of Carol’s self-imposed exile and her unwavering self-loathing offers a heightened representation of a sometimes-lonely queer existence.

And Carol quite literally destroying the Supreme Intelligence, the Kree’s symbol of order and same-mindedness, acts as a metaphor for the very real ways in which queer people move against the grain of society, and are often ostracized for rejecting societal norms. Internalized hatred often comes hand-in-hand with finally breaking free of the chains of a forced heterosexuality; the destruction of the bonds that once tied Carol to the Kree draws deep comparisons to breaking away from the strict expectations of a heterosexual society. Self-realization is a difficult and lonely path, and watching one of the MCU’s most powerful characters walk down it so explicitly and poignantly offers more impact and sincerity than any throwaway scene with one of the MCU’s “explicitly gay” characters ever has. Like when Joe Russo’s character offhandedly mentions his husband in Avengers: Endgame; his revelation feels less like a triumph and more like a checked box next to “MCU’s first gay character.”

To top it all off, Carol is in a political marriage of convenience with Prince Yan (Park Seo-joon); her marriage was a favor to him, as the matriarchal society of his planet demanded a queen at his side. The Marvels makes it quite clear that she only sees this man every once in a blue moon…if that.

So, while Carol is not explicitly queer, The Marvels went further than ever in its flagging. Carol’s brief flirtation with Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) reads like a new beginning, a fledgling love that could finally allow Carol to heal from the wounds she suffered when she lost the most important woman in her life. On the deck of the ship, hugging and holding hands through their entire interaction, it’s obvious that there is a greater connection between them, even if it’s never made officially “canon” within the film.

(Of course, some leaks have suggested that an explicit confirmation was simply cut from the film, with the two characters allegedly suggesting that they “tried it” but it didn’t work out. Frankly, I’m much happier with their not-quite-canon connection than the confirmation of an entire relationship and breakup off-screen.)

But with all that said, doesn’t that make Captain Marvel’s very existence queerbait? In the case of Carol, whose place in the larger Marvel machine has always been called into question by blatant misogynists and outward haters, Marvel has never actually used any of her implicit queerness as a marketing ploy. Carol is just queer-coded, unspoken in a way that may fly over the heads of a less-observant heterosexual audience but rings true to anyone willing to look even slightly closer at what is bubbling under the surface of this complicated character.

And while I would love for Marvel to buckle down and just confirm her sexuality already, there is something special about Carol’s ability to live within both worlds, to be so obviously queer to those that relate to her journey yet remain unaffected by all the plights that befall the MCU’s explicitly gay characters. After all, Eternals was the victim of cuts in various countries to exclude queer kisses and was banned from some theaters due to Phastos’ (Brian Tyree Henry) existence within the film. But Captain Marvel remains miraculously uncut for international audiences, so much so that it feels like we’re getting away with something; she’s the perfect example of what real, sincere queer representation can be when it’s not a corporate-policed idea of an appropriate amount of gayness.

Carol has always been a headstrong character, complex and fully formed enough to stand on her own, even without allusions to her queerness. The Marvels doubled down on the most complicated parts of her, solidifying her stubbornness and hero complex, while also allowing her to finally loosen up as she fully adjusted to her newly-formed personality in the years since her memories were erased. She’s confident, cocky, self-sacrificing, stubborn, and sometimes even childish, and in between the lines of those dynamic flaws and strengths, she is heartbreakingly human and unspokenly queer.

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