Marvel Meets #metoo

I recently checked out the latest entry in the Marvel universe series of films, Captain Marvel, an ironic and iconic title for a character that promises much, but delivers little, either in substance, or originality as these things go. Being a lifelong comic geek, I am probably just as swept up in the comics to big budget film mythology as much as any other fan of the art form. Somehow, though, I just couldn’t get into it as much as I thought I would be. Lets review the fundamentals:

  • “Classic” superhero from the Marvel universe? Check.
  • Big, bodacious sets, lots of well designed costumes? Check.
  • Pretty, attractive, female lead character, loaded with superpowers? Check.
  • Solid cgi with a nifty, nostalgic musical soundtrack guaranteed that we don’t miss a beat of the action? Check.

So why wasn’t I enthralled? Well, it certainly wasn’t the directors or those responsible for creating the film. They did their job, rounding the bases towards an action and adventure laden two hours of entertainment, with lots of feel good moments interspaced with battle scenes of galactic importance. But somehow, it just didn’t resonate here.

Captain Marvel (the current version), created in the seventies as a way for Marvel (the comic company), to protect their male copyrighted characters and prevent anyone from developing female counterpart versions, and perhaps to make an attempt to lure in female readers, was really never much beyond a cipher. I haven’t read any of the current stories, but the first twenty years worth certainly didn’t produce any memorable, groundbreaking, or even interesting series of comics. In fact, there are no great, classic comic book stories of her, and she never developed into much more than a prototypical, sexually clad female version of dozens of other, better written and drawn versions of the male studs that were already in the Marvel universe.

So in the first twenty(?) or so films of the Marvel film franchise, there seems to be little but lip service given to women heroes, other than to support their male counterparts. However, in this recent era of female empowerment, Disney seems to think its about time now to place a female as the lead, subtlety first suggested in the Ant-Man and Wasp movie, where the female co star seems to be a bit ahead of her male partner, both in abilities and brain savvy. Not that we aren’t WAY past this point already, but now the calculations of the Marvel machine seem to think that the #metoo movement may just run to the box office and financially support such an idea. Captain Marvel is the fruit of their labors, providing both a pretty face and cosmic powers than can easily demonstrate a ladies ability to whup ass with the big boys.

While this is a venture that’s time is certainly overdue, Captain Marvel comes across as an all too vanilla beat the drum and hit the notes version of stuff that’s already well known and not particularly interesting. Carol Danvers is the archetypal brat girl, her history a collection of failed attempts to compete with the guys (and generally failing), but it misses an attempt to create a character that could of been new, different, textured, and ultimately something that could of led towards bigger things.

Not that I deny her place among the mightiest of Marvel gods parapet, certainly women deserve to be there, but this effort is squandered on a pretty dull story with a calculated set of hit points, and the finale pushing her towards god like status seems too quick and dishonest for a heroine than really didn’t seem to endure much sacrifice in the first place. Her trials and tribulations seem trivial and calculated, its payoff the stock answer to a question that remains, is she a captivating enough story that deserves better, at least as far as the weight of this woman empowerment epic stuff goes.

Perhaps I’m being too picky. Unlike the more weighty art forms of prose, music, and films, comic books were never concerned for social issues that much except to inject a modern sensibility into the story to capitulate a interest and sell comic books. Perhaps Captain Marvel, with her humble origins and dreadfully pedestrian history has too much of a burden to fully succeed in this goal. But she is the one Marvel Studios (and Disney) chase to emphasize in this “sudden” interest in women empowerment

Perhaps its the laissez-faire attitude they have towards the histories of comic book characters, using the framework of the character as a springboard to fine tune into the goal they want a film to carry. While Captain Marvel utilizes pieces of comic history to cinematically tell her story, they are woven into a new tapestry for the needs of the filmmaker.

Rough childhood in trying to compete with the boys and their toys? The betrayal of her creators merely using her as a device to achieve their own ends? Her ascendance to god like status? Don’t remember any of that in the comic books. The Skrulls being a persecuted race of peaceful beings only trying to survive? Well, that’s in contrast to the fifty odd years they’ve been portrayed as merciless killers in Marvel comics. Ronan the Accuser running from a traitorous perceived inferior? And don’t get me started on how goofy Nick Fury comes off despite his disciplined persona in all the other Marvel films. Perhaps it doesn’t matter.

Perhaps the only thing that matters here is the establishment of a powerful female being in the hierarchy of the Marvel universe that can be exploited as an equal to get women and girls into a movie theater to watch Marvel stuff.

The sad part of this is, the movie is filled with plot devices that have already been done many times before, and better. Marvel’s male counterparts have stories and origins much more interesting than Carol’s, and sadly the movie doesn’t try to be their equal. Or better. Everything’s easy peasy, follow the numbers formula with lots of wink wink easter eggs that addicts of the other films can decipher on their way through them.

There are many other better examples of female empowerment in cinema that didn’t need a hot looking lead, loads of expensive cgi created special effects, and hit songs in the soundtrack to get the point across. These all come across as crutches aiding the final product.

While I certainly don’t expect a Marvel movie to be an experience in grand movie making, at the least we could of gotten a great roller coaster ride with all the money and effort that went into producing this. That it was a ride in a kiddie park level carnival that we’ve seen and experienced before in simpler times only leads to its disappointment, and a missed opportunity to create something truly different and lasting is just tough and sad. I don’t dislike Carol Danvers that much, I just don’t care about her all that much, either.

And that’s a darn shame, because I really wanted to.

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