The Captain Marvel Issue: Part 1
At the time of writing part 1 of this blog, Marvel's latest movie is a little under a week away from its UK theatrical release. We have recently heard about the strange goings on over at Rotten Tomatoes, with their oddly timed removal of the 'Want To See' metric, just as Captain Marvel's rating in said metric was edging down below 25% or thereabouts. Finally, Brie Larson's comments about '40 year old white dudes' while broadly taken out of context in a wholly predictable way, has seemingly caused something of a backlash against her and the film and she is not really doing a whole lot to try and win back any of those 40 year old white dudes who may be feeling a little alienated right now (rightly or wrongly).
Some commentators are describing the unfolding situation as akin to the shit-storm that surrounded Ghostbusters 2016. Personally, I think there are aspects that are broadly similar, but I am banking on the actual film to still be a fun ride as opposed to the fatally flawed, unwanted and unlovable turd that GB 2016 was.
So what's my take on the whole thing?
Well, taking a broader view; all this is coming in the wake of not only the aforementioned Ghostbusters 2016, but also Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and DC's Wonderwoman, not to mention the #metoo movement and 'toxic masculinity' talking points etc. All three films presented themselves as 'feminist' statements to one degree or another, or were instantly perceived and/or promoted as such. Two of them bungled the job dreadfully, and one didn't. Only Wonderwoman (arguably the least militantly feminist of the three), handled things deftly. Now, I am not the biggest fan of the Wonderwoman film, but it stole a march on Marvel with a big budget female superhero led movie, that managed to make its lead character strong, independent and supremely capable without having to do so at the expense of the male characters integrity, or the male audience's attendance dollars. One feels that Gal Gadot's Wonderwoman was somewhat analogous to Blondie's Debbie Harry, in that she generally appealed to both men and women equally, and said appeal wasn't couched in any kind of overt politics. One could of course be base and say something to the effect of "Yeah but men and women liked Gadot for very different reasons" - sure, OK. Yes, part of Gal Gadot's appeal to a lot of men was her sex appeal, but is that an inherently bad thing? I don't think so per se. Is it any different to the obligatory 'shirt off' scene that Chris Hemsworth's Thor seems to need to have in every movie? No, it's appealing to the 'physical attractiveness' aspect that we all tap into to one degree or another. All I will say is this: Neither Gal Gadot's thighs, or Hemsworth's bulging muscles would be enough to propel a terrible movie to the kind of box office success we are talking about, so there has to be more to it. The casting of Gadot came under some fire for being too geared towards sex appeal at the detriment to real physical prowess (err muscles I suppose), and I get that, however I didn't think Gadot ever looked silly and unconvincing, even if she didn't exactly look like a Russian shot put champion either. As someone old enough to have watched Lynda Carter's delicate Wonderwoman spinning her way onto our TV screens in the 70s (in her satin tights, fighting for her rights), I think Gadot is perfectly viable casting.
Of course Wonderwoman in terms of brand recognition outside of the core fan-base (comic and/or film/TV), is premier league. No-one in their right mind would try and posit an argument that would seek to demote her in terms of who her peers are. Wonderwoman proudly stands toe to toe with Superman and Batman as an instantly recognizable cultural jewel, and she has done so for a very long time. And like Superman and Batman, she holds her own not just in the DC realm, but in the entire superhero genre. She is a very powerful superhero, and is very well known.
This is a key difference to the topic in hand actually, as truth be known (and I am saying this as someone who if push came to shove would choose Marvel over DC), Marvel has never really managed to create an equivalent female character with as much standing. There is no female hero in the Marvel universe that can match Wonderwoman in terms of non-fan brand awareness, and household name value. Furthermore, if this writer were to suggest who in the Marvel firmament might come closest to fitting that requirement; It most certainly would NOT be Carol Danvers.
So why Carol Danvers?
When John Lennon sang "So Captain Marvel zapped him right between the eyes" - He wasn't talking about Carol Danvers. Now, in fairness; Lennon may have actually been talking about the character now known as just 'Shazam' and not Marvel's Captain Marvel at all, but the point is worth making that 'Captain Marvel' was a thing decades before that thing was Carol Danvers, and that should count for something when planning to make a film called simply Captain Marvel. A lot of people aren't going to know who the heck this Captain Marvel is. However, more people will have never heard of the character at all, so would be neutral on this point.
Marvel Studios is now eleven years into redefining what a homogeneous cinematic universe can be, and did not come down with yesterday's rain. So, one has to assume they picked the Carol Danvers version of Captain Marvel with very specific intent. They knew they did not have a character of Wonderwoman's cultural significance and standing to hang this movie on. Not only that, but some of the best female Marvel characters were not even available to them anyway, as many are to be found in the X-Men pantheon currently under Fox control (Storm, Rogue and of course Jean Grey/Phoenix). One caveat that has gone under the radar thus far is Wanda Maximoff. Wanda is a supremely powerful character and a Nexus Being in the comics. However, the MCU version of Wanda is still discovering her power, and obviously doesn't have that recognition factor.
Now, it is no coincidence that most of the '40 year old white dudes' Brie Larson mentioned would have grown up with their Captain Marvel being a guy (Mar-Vell), that's if they knew the character at all. I did, and when Captain Marvel was announced, I was initially surprised the character was female.
So if Marvel Studios had wanted to bring a game changing omega level super-powerful hero into the mix at this stage in the MCU, and couldn't have more well known choices like Silver Surfer, then Captain Marvel would be a good choice, as the name obviously carries an inherent value and pre-recognition under the Marvel brand. However, they could have easily used the original Mar-Vell incarnation which would have carried the most recognition among the largest segment of both the core fan-base, and the MCU supporting cinema goers. However, they did not. They instead chose the Carol Danvers version of Captain Marvel.
Some history if I may.
When I was growing up in the 70s, Carol Danvers hero AKA was Ms. Marvel, and after that in the 80s she became Binary. After that, in the 90s she became Warbird, and only after THAT in 2012 did she finally assume Mar-Vell's now vacant title of Captain Marvel. By the looks of the trailers for the movie, some if not all of the MCU's Carol Danvers backstory looks like an appropriation of the comic Ms. Marvel backstory. This makes a lot of sense of course, and who knows; they may even work that title into the back story they have chosen to tell.
One could make the argument that it is only fitting that the MCU Captain Marvel is Carol Danvers, because that's who Captain Marvel is in the comics right now (since 2012 as already mentioned). However, this argument is not at all watertight as the MCU has mostly tended to opt for 'classic' or at least readily digestible/recognizable versions of its heroes for the MCU, rather than adhering to what the comics might be doing. Take Thor for example - His adapted but still very classic look in the first movie would not really be appropriate in a darker movie like Infinity War, and accordingly Marvel has toughened the character's look up in preparation (Ironically during Ragnarok, which was by far the most comedic outing for the character). Inversely, they could not have started with the Infinity War look either, as this would not have been so universally accepted as 'what Thor looks like'. Thor needed to look as much like most people's default idea of what Thor should look like as possible when first introduced. Logic.
No, Marvel chose Carol Danvers specifically so that they could introduce a super powerful, omega level, game changing female hero into the MCU, and tap into that 'Wonderwoman' game space. That's it. Everything else is secondary to that agenda or intent. I am not knocking it either. As a 40 something year old white male who Brie Larson seems to have little time for (but whose demographic is the fiscal bread and butter of the Marvel MCU); I am deliriously happy to see female Marvel characters do well, and get the cinematic justice they deserve. I just don't want to see Captain Marvel try the same needless man hating bullshit The Last Jedi did.
I do feel in my bones that Marvel would not make a film of that nature though, surely the lessons learned from GB and TLJ should be warning enough. Also, how do you make your Captain Marvel like that and then cast her among your heaviest hitters in Avengers: End Game? What, she's going to try and emasculate and belittle Tony Stark, Steve Rogers and Thor? I don't see that happening. Marvel have to try and make Captain Marvel likeable, and despite Brie Larson not being the most charismatic or even likeable natural persona out there; I am hoping for the best.
Just don't be in any doubt that the choice of Carol Danvers and literally everything that has happened since (including Brie Larson's comments), have been a part of the promotional thrust for this movie all along, and Marvel has a plan.
So is that plan backfiring on Marvel right now....or is it actually working exactly as planned?
Not sure. In a weird way, Marvel can take a chance on Captain Marvel, coming as it does, just weeks before Avengers: End Game. I'm sure they would not want the movie to completely tank, but however it performs; End Game will completely overshadow it very quickly, so a mild hit would be OK.
I really don't want it to tank though, I want Captain Marvel to be...well Marvelous.
Well, I guess we will find out in part 2 which I will write after seeing the film next week.