Captain Feminism: Marvel's attempt at female empowerment
Niamh Brook- Writer
Without a doubt, Marvel is one of the biggest things to happen to modern cinema. Gone are the days of stand alone movies, we now live in the age of poorly crafted franchise starters rather than a film in its own right. Studios have tried and somewhat failed to walk in Marvel’s franchise footsteps, with even the new ‘Scoob!’ film being linked to the beginning of a franchise. Even Disney, the company who owns Marvel, tried to emulate Marvel’s success with one of its other acquired properties,‘Star Wars’, and the result (as we all know) was disastrous! So, this opens the question “What makes Marvel work?”
For me, the answer will always be the characters and in particular, the film’s protagonists. Marvel has always taken time to craft stories where even if the overall plot is weak and the villain is shit (which let’s be honest is nearly all Marvel films) you spend two hours learning to love and understand the leading man, through one of many quips, powerful speeches and interesting character growth. Yes, at times it can be formulaic, but hey, if it ain’t broke don't fix it.
But there was one issue in the Marvel machine, out of 20 films in their cannon none of them featured a female protagonist. 20 films. DC, Marvel’s spotty cousin and competition, released a film with a female lead after 2 films, which is frankly embarrassing for Marvel really. And embarrassed they were, 2 years after the release of the brilliant and powerful ‘Wonder Woman’, Marvel responded with the aptly named ‘Captain Marvel’.
When I first heard of the release of ‘Captain Marvel’ I was equally excited as I was nervous. Marvel doesn't really have a great track record with their female characters, excluding ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ and ‘Black Panther’, female side characters in Marvel tend to follow the typical tropes of either being bossy, know-it-all or “not like other girls”. They just feel bland, as if they were put in the script to fill the invisible ‘equality’ checklist. ‘Captain Marvel’ was an opportunity to wipe the slate clean, show us that they can, and will continue to feature women who are more than two dimensions.
And boy, did they screw this up.
The entire handling of the project felt like the studio needed to make every person in the cosmos aware of her femininity, heavy handedly shoving it down our throats at every opportunity possible. To start, the trailer features the tagline ‘a HERo’ (retch) and immediately gave a hint to the nature of the film’s 'feminism’ before it was even released. The film, with great effort, fills the script with drab dialogue drawing attention to the fact that Miss Danvers is in fact, female. The worst and ironically best example of the bad writing in this script comes from a generic air force pilot telling Carol “it’s called a cockpit for a reason”. I and countless other women have had sexists statements said to them in one way or another, but in a manner this blatantly overt and on the nose? This line, along with countless others in the film, took me completely out of the film making me cringe in the process, but this was not their intended effect. They were written into the script to empower me as a woman, not to make me embarrassed to be one.
Besides the overtly on the nose ‘feminist’ jargon, ‘Captain Marvel’ has one other major issue: Carol Danvers is bland and at times, just plain unlikeable. With a lot of Marvel films it's the characters that drive the film, it’s the reason behind the studios success, Captain Marvel has nothing compelling about her character in order for you to relate, empathise and ultimately route for her. Ironically. She is portrayed as somewhat of a know-it-all even when she can’t remember anything prior to the last six years of her life. What's worse is that the jokes she’s given in the film never really land and just come off as rude rather than quippy. Humour is a major part of the marvel blueprint, if it has good jokes, then the film is more or less a hit with fans. This film, at its best, warrants a deep breath out of your nose as opposed to a proper belly laugh. It feels as though more effort was put in making the audience aware of her femininity as opposed to allowing us to actually get to know her.
‘Captain Marvel’ could have and should have been good. Marvel has proved in the past that they are capable of breaking the mould with Black Panther’s success proving that critics and fans long for and embrace change. I will forever question what happened in the Marvel board room when planning this film. I feel that the air of panic must have been overwhelming for them. Marvel, from its inception, has thrived off emese planning and ‘Captain Marvel’ seemed to come along very quickly and literally break the mould. If they had had more time, ‘Captain Marvel’ could have changed the game for female characters in the MCU and hopefully in the films upcoming sequel, more work can be done to create a character that is not only a powerful woman, but an engaging and interesting person as well.
Now, don’t get me wrong, Marvel doesn’t only have issues that relate to women. Though they are super powered, the male characters all feature bodies that are borderline unrealistic for the everyman to achieve. Unless you have thousands to spend on dietitians and personal trainers, that body will never be yours. Even Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, a character who is supposed to still be in his teens, is absolutely ripped. Much has been done for the representation of normal bodies for women, but Marvel has promoted male perfection across 20 films. Alongside this, when presented next to the Marvel ‘know-it-all’ female sidekick, the male hero is typically presented as an incompetent fool. Women don’t want to be better than men, we want to be equal. Constantly presenting both genders in this way is ludicrous and is more embarrassing than it is empowering.
Marvel, is one of the biggest film studios in cinema. Because of this, they have a duty to present positive representations of all groups. I know they are trying their hardest but it’s possible they might be doing too much. They are so driven to show us ‘powerful’ women on screen, that they are dedicated to having ‘all the female avengers’ team up and fight together. Not only does this scene not make logistical sense and warrants an eye role due to the bland ‘feminism’ but many of the women in the scene are side characters that we hardly know. They need to take time to show us both genders as real people, not the people they think we want to see, then we will have true and empowering representation.