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Captain Marvel: Cats, feminism, fake news and the universe

Updated: May 8, 2019

The cat? This isn’t what you’re afraid of, is it?

Nick Fury, Captain Marvel



I have to admit that I’m not really a cat person. And yet I couldn’t help falling ever so slightly in love with Captain Marvel’s fluffy Flerken, otherwise known as ‘Goose’. If you’re new to the sci-fi jargon, you might be wondering what a Flerken is. Well a Flerken looks like any other innocent kitty, but it turns out it's actually a highly dangerous, interdimensional creature that can swallow you whole with tentacles that sprout from its mouth.

I was particularly intrigued by Goose's similarities to another feline with alien connections, ‘Orion’, from the film, Men in Black. Just like Goose, Orion seems to have no particular importance to the plot, until we find out that Orion’s dying owner is actually an alien, and Orion’s bejewelled collar contains the energy of a whole galaxy. Goose also guards an unlimited energy source, the Tesseract, which is stored in a pocket dimension in his stomach.

My friend, Max, the cat...or is he a Flerken?

There seems to be an affinity between cats and alien power, and perhaps that’s not really all that shocking. Cats have an air of mystery about them that lends them well to this kind of role. If you were to discover one day that your cat was an alien or an alien accomplice, would you really be that surprised?

Nick Fury’s relationship with Goose is a particular highlight of the film, but I’ve been wondering whether Goose acts as more than just a plot twist, and an extra bit of comedic value and cuteness. Is there maybe some sort of symbolic significance behind this cat’s part in the film?

Goose isn’t the only character to subvert our expectations – the old lady on the train is actually a kick-ass alien, the bad guys turn out to be the good guys and vice versa, and the woman of Vers’ nightmares is really her old boss. The trailer for the film climaxes with Vers/Carol declaring, “I’m not what you think I am.”

This all fits in pretty neatly with the feminist narrative. Carol is no more a ‘pretty face’ than Goose is a cuddly cat. Here we have a strong, female superhero who doesn’t give up in the face of adversity and who bravely rises up against those who would hold her back. The sequence of flashbacks at the climax of the film (where she picks herself up in a very literal sense) wouldn’t be out of a place in a ‘This girl can’ advert.

Now I'm not saying that Goose is simply in the film as a metaphor for the subversive power of femaleness, but I do think it is of some thematic interest. One of the most appealing things about superhero films is that they tell stories about everyday people who suddenly find themselves with extraordinary powers. These films remind us of the beauty of the unexpected. Men in Black similarly fascinates its audience by suggesting that even ordinary human bodies can actually be hiding alien beings.

So I guess you could say that these narratives remind us that you should never judge a book by its cover, or a flerken by its fluffiness. It’s a mistake that could even prove fatal …yep, if you’re not careful you could risk being eaten by a cat.

Feminism isn't the only hot topic that gets explored in this film; ‘Captain Marvel’ also taps into current concerns about fake news. Carol struggles to trust her own perspective as she navigates a universe where everyone tells her a different story. “I see flashes…but I can’t tell if it’s real”, she admits at the beginning of the film. We journey with her as she gradually unpicks the lies she’s been told and discovers who she is. She reaches a point where she realises that she actually gets to choose who she fights for. She is not a weapon in the hands of her ‘mentor’ anymore.

It’s interesting that Goose functions almost like a parallel to Carol. He’s a pretty ambivalent character, who won’t necessarily take sides or perform when Fury wants him to. He fights against the bad guys, but he won’t be treated as a weapon. There’s no trigger that will release those tentacles from his mouth, and he doesn’t even fit neatly into the structure of the film. It’s not until the second credits scene that he regurgitates the Tesseract. This cat likes to take his own sweet time.

It’s an empowering message. Ok, so we might not have pocket dimensions in our stomachs, but we do get to make a choice about who we’re going to fight for and when we’re going to fight, if we choose to fight at all. Goose may be a silent character, but when he opens his mouth, boy do we know about it!

‘Captain Marvel’ asks us to consider the choices we make and the truths we believe about ourselves and the world we live in. Perhaps the story isn’t always as simple as it seems.

And that’s a message that is surely a very challenging one for a society where the media often reacts quickly and divisively on the issues of the moment. The comments we make on social media, the articles we share online, and the way we choose to speak to each other in conversations, whether it’s about politics, culture, or religion, all have the power to influence those around us. If we’re going to take a stand and fight for something or someone, it might be worth taking the time to consider our conclusion carefully.

And then when the time is ripe, and we know what we want to say, we can unleash those metaphorical tentacles and maybe we might even help save the day!

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