Ronda Rousey is a marvelous athlete, but Captain Marvel she is not


Ronda Rousey is an epic fighter, a vocal defender of women’s equality, a Street Fighter character, and an unabashed Pokémon master. Ronda Rousey is, above all else, having a moment right now, and that’s a great thing.

For the past few weeks, Rousey’s used her platform as a newly-minted, crossover celebrity to express her interest in pursuing opportunities outside of the octagon. Most recently, Rousey’s set her sights on Marvel’s upcoming Captain Marvel film due out in 2018.

“A lot of the good ones have been taken,” Rousey said in an AMA when asked which superhero she’d consider playing. “But I’d like to vie for Miss Marvel.

Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige said that he loved the groundswell of support Rousey had amassed around the idea of her as Captain Marvel, saying that it was a “testament more to the strength of the characters.” Many Rousey fans interpreted Feige’s comments as an endorsement of her campaign.

Captain Marvel will be Marvel’s first film with a female lead and it’s not hard to see why Rousey wants to play the titular role. Carol Danvers, Captain Marvel’s civilian identity, is a headstrong, no-nonsense Air Force pilot who one day finds herself transformed into a half-alien with the ability to fly and wield cosmic energy.

In the comics, Captain Marvel is one of the most important members of the Avengers and one of Marvel’s most compelling female characters, highlighted in the “All-New, All-Different” campaign. Her inclusion in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe makes all the sense in the world.

Unfortunately, the same can’t really be said for Rousey playing her.

Let it never be said that Ronda Rousey’s camera shy. Last year, Rousey made her acting debut in The Expendables 3 where she played Luna, an ass-kicking nightclub bouncer. Rousey’s gone on to appear in 2015’s Furious 7 (as another ass-kicker) and the Entourage movie (as herself).

In nearly every role, Rousey’s performance has been light on lines and heavy on physicality. This in and of itself wouldn’t be a knock against Rousey were it not for the general woodenness of her on-screen presence.

Rousey’s athleticism oozes through the screen when she’s throwing elbows at Michelle Rodriguez, but her verbal taunts fall flat in a way that borders on being criminal. “You ain’t that charming, bitch,” she snarls in Furious 7 with all the subtlety of a knee to the groin. “Thank God you showed up, these parties bore me to death.”

That’s all fine for franchise action movies about car racing and aging assassins, but it simply won’t do for Captain Marvel.

As a superhero, Captain Marvel does her fair share of hand-to-hand combat that Rousey would be perfect for. As a person though, Carol Danvers’s personality is nuanced, subtle, and rooted in the complex relationships she’s had both in and out of costume.

Today’s Captain Marvel began as an occasional member of the Avengers who joined the team when The Scarlet Witch took a leave of absence. Instead of simply filling the Avengers’ need for another female member, Carol exposed the team’s weaknesses and challenged them to be better.

One of Carol’s most iconic story arcs involves the sudden loss of her abilities at the hands of the power-absorbing mutant Rogue. While Rogue went on to become famous for the strength and flight that she stole from Carol, Carol struggled to maintain her identity as a hero.

After dying, coming back to life, exhausting the last of her powers, and subsequently sinking into an alcohol-fueled, months-long depression, Carol re-emerges as Captain Marvel, world-weary, but stronger for the experience.

During her time as a hero, Carol’s storylines have touched on issues of gender discrimination, sexual violence against women, and the loss of agency over one’s body that echoes much of the current debate around women’s reproductive rights.

Captain Marvel is in a prime position to set the bar for what a “female” superhero movie can really be, but Rousey simply hasn’t demonstrated the acting chops needed to bring her to life.

Ronda Rousey isn’t an actress, but that doesn’t mean that she can’t be in superhero movies. Dave Bautista, a former MMA fighter, was one of Guardians of the Galaxy‘s highlights, but the stiffness of his acting was played for laughs and turned into a character trait.

Carol Danvers is many things, but she not a character that can be played straight for the entirety of a film that’s about her.

For all of the buzz that’s surrounding Captain Marvel, there are still many people who would love to see a superhero movie starring a female lead fail.

Even more depressing, there are still plenty of movie executives who have been (mistakenly) convinced that action movies led by women simply don’t do well. Movies like Mad Max: Fury Road have proven that to be false, but they’ve also shown that these films, like Rousey in the ring, have to be strong all throughout in order to be successful.

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