There used to be a time when superhero movies were fun, light-hearted fare for a hot summer’s afternoon. With a bucket of popcorn and frosty air-conditioning, watching Iron Man quip one-liners while blowing stuff up was a good way to pass the time.
Marvel Studios really upped the ante with superhero flicks, ladling in humor, depth, pathos, rich characterization, interlocking storylines, and all the rest. For ten years, they pretty much dominated cinemas, with few misfires. Heck, even the bad Marvel films were merely mediocre or forgettable. I’ve definitely forgotten a lot of the plot points since the first Iron Man flick came out in 2008 (good grief—has it been that long?!), but the films were largely humorous, action-packed thrill rides at the time.
Then everything started getting hyper-politicized. Think back to 2008, and how different the world was then. Yeah, sure, Barack Obama was elected President that year—perhaps an important turning point in the wider culture war—but at the time, that was at least billed as a some kind of magically unifying moment. Sure, we conservatives didn’t buy it, and he ended up being everything we feared he would: a race-baiting socialist with delusions of grandeur. But overall, our culture wasn’t nearly as divided as it is now, and while Hollywood always put out some propaganda, it largely stuck to entertainment.
By the time Captain Marvel (2019) came out eleven years later, it felt like the entire world had been turned upside-down. Suddenly, everyone was talking about how much “representation matters” and established superheroes and other characters were being gender-swapped willy-nilly. Rather than, you know, creating compelling female (or [insert identity here]) characters, we were told Batman needed to be gay, trans, Asian, wheelchair-bound, and suffering from a protruding overbite.
It was into this milieu that Captain Marvel was born—and it suffered for it.
To be clear, I honestly don’t think that Captain Marvel is that terrible of a film. It’s not a good film, especially by Marvel Studios standards (or what they once were), but it had some moments of levity, and had fun with its 1990s setting. At best, it’s forgettable—I don’t remember much about it, other than there was an alien masquerading as a cat, and Nick Fury and Captain Marvel butt heads a bit. Oh, and Jude Law was an evil alien or something.
But Captain Marvel is an example—perhaps the quintessential example, besides the Star Wars sequel trilogy—of how an aggressively grrrrrrl power message (one largely outside of the film, though found within it as well) ruined what should have been, at worst, a mediocre Marvel film.
When I saw the film in the theater—yes, yes, I paid to see it—my thought was, “Yeah, Brie Larson is annoying and not a good actress, but the movie is okay.” But Larson’s comments outside of the film, as well as her generally unlikability, really killed the character.
Even Captain Marvel the character was unpleasant. For one, if you’re trying to convince audiences that she isn’t a schoolmarmish wokescold, why would you name her “Carol Danvers”? At that point, go ahead and commit to the bit and name her “Karen Danvers.” “Carol Danvers” sounds like a czarina from the totalitarian human resources department of a Fortune 500 company, or the like the lady who complains about co-workers not responding to e-mails quickly enough.
And, yes, Marvel fanboys, I know the character’s name was Carol Danvers in the 1960s comic, but if we’re playing so fast and loose with these characters, could we maybe give her a more superhero-y name? Even something like “Kat Danvers” would sound a bit more cool and youthful.
I digress: Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel is super overpowered, to the point of having god-like abilities and powers. As a hero, she encounters the same problem that Dragon Ball Z ran into: at a certain point, your heroes are so powerful, you can’t craft compelling villains for them to fight. It also creates a real disconnect between the superpowered hero—who is essentially a demigod—and the ant-like people the hero is ostensibly charged with defending.
Future Marvel films do slightly explore that—like when Captain Marvel is asked why she didn’t come back to fight Thanos, allowing half of the universe to be killed—but if you’re going to create such an overpowered character, at least examine the potential pitfalls a bit more. Watchmen did this very well with the character of Doctor Manhattan, who becomes so insanely powerful he grows disconnected from the human race and mopes on Mars.
I suspect that Marvel writers found themselves facing a conundrum—they had to create an “empowering” female character, which in our childish age meant writing a female character who is never wrong or never challenged. Captain Marvel can be bland, offensive, and unpleasant, but to a certain viewer, those are all positive character traits, because God forbid anyone suggest a woman do or be anything she doesn’t absolutely want to be, no matter how dull and imperfect that may be.
Contrast Captain Marvel with Black Widow, who does face real challenges and problems. That character is a Marvel Cinematic Universe fan favorite. She’s resourceful and quick-witted, but she also needs to build strong relationships with the other Avengers. She has to work with them to further team goals, and she sometimes loses fights.
Captain Marvel steals a guy’s motorcycle and blows up stuff with her hands.
Marvel could have done some interesting things with this character. Instead, they caved to woke pressure and produced a dud—a tiresome, pushy, overly powerful dud.
Maybe Captain Marvel should be named after the lady from human resources after all.