Featured Image from: Den of Geek
[This article may include spoilers]
Let me be clear: I liked the new Captain Marvel movie. Was it mind-blowing? Ehhh maybe not so much. But was it worth the ticket price (and, of course, the wildly ridiculous prices of popcorn and soda)? Yes, I think so.
I loved certain parts of the movie (Hi, Goose!) and cringed at parts (they could have toned down the “witty” banter, IMHO), but at the end of the day, it was an enjoyable movie from a casual fan.
But this isn’t a critique of Captain Marvel. This is a critique of the criticism Captain Marvel has received from, let’s face it, mostly white men who felt absolutely offended that *gasp* a WOMAN would dare take on the role of their favorite costumed hero.
Even before the movie came out, a torrent of vitriolic comments were already flooding social media, with many of those comments taking aim at Marvel’s alleged pandering to the “SJW” crowd for producing a film about a female superhero. What’s worse is that groups of these anti-SJW, anti-feminist men tried to manipulate the movie’s overall score well before the movie came out.
Heck, the “controversy” (I use the term loosely because there shouldn’t be any controversy) started with the casting of Brie Larson in the titular role. To be fair, it was less about Brie Larson’s gender, politics, or even acting abilities. Strangely, it was about her age: in the comics, Carol Danvers is a mid-30 something superhero, while Brie Larson was only 26.
Fair enough, comic book geeks. While I personally would find this mildly pedantic, I could understand where purists would come from. Could Brie Larson, despite her age, portray a woman who was already wise to the ways of the world (and, well, the universe at large)? This was but one of the questions debated upon in online forums after Larson’s casting.
But that debate died down, thankfully. However, Marvel’s first solo female-led film wasn’t in the clear just yet: from the time of its announcement to its eventual release, it had been bumped twice in a row, pushing back its premier from July 2018 to March 2019, almost a full year.
Debates about double standards in the Marvel Cinematic Universe—Robert Downey Jr. first played Iron Man well past 40 and will bow out at 53, yet some maintained that frequently fan-cast actresses like Emily Blunt or Katee Sackhoff might be too old for a decade-plus of blockbuster action—raged amid calls not to underestimate an Oscar-winning actress because of her youth.
This was, however, a mild boon to Marvel. During the delay, Brie Larson proved herself all the more worthy of the Captain Marvel mantle, displaying acts of bravery on-screen and off-screen (she famously refused to applaud Casey Affleck’s Oscar win due to the latter’s sexual harassment allegations), and was one of the few talents in Hollywood to actively campaign for more diversity in films.
While these actions were hailed by many as the progression Hollywood so desperately needed, online trolls begged to differ. In the same manner of online harassment campaigns that targeted women and minorities in media (remember Ghostbusters, or Kelly Marie Tran?), Captain Marvel became the target of angry white men who were insulted that Brie Larson called for inclusion. The toxic comments from these Men’s Rights Activists and so-called “incels” (involuntary celibates) stemmed from a quote by Larson:
“About a year ago, I started paying attention to what my press days looked like and the critics reviewing movies, and noticed it appeared to be overwhelmingly white male,” Larson told Marie Claire interviewer Keah Brown, a disabled journalist the actress handpicked for the gig.
So, I spoke to Dr. Stacy Smith at the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, who put together a study to confirm that. Moving forward, I decided to make sure my press days were more inclusive. After speaking with you, the film critic Valerie Complex and a few other women of color, it sounded like across the board they weren’t getting the same opportunities as others. When I talked to the facilities that weren’t providing it, they all had different excuses.”
Immediately, the quote was run by multiple publications that emphasized the “white male” aspect of what Larson was saying, rather than the idea of inclusivity. Whether this was done as clickbait or if it was a deliberate attempt to stir the pot, we might never know, but the result was immediate: online, MRA’s and Incels mobilized to boycott the film, attacking it across various forums, boards, and social media channels, commenting wave upon wave of misogynist hate.
The message these groups sent was clear: including women and minorities in what they believe to be their space is an insult to them, their masculinity, and their perceived gender roles. Rather than see the move as an addition to their space, they see it as a subtraction.
Although, in a way, it is: this new space that Larson talks about requires equality, requires an equal treatment of all people, regardless of race or gender, something that MRA’s and Incels have shown to be against. This is displayed on multiple platforms, from YouTube videos with titles like “Brie Larson HATES Men!” or “SJWS ARE RUINING MARVEL”, to twitter threads bemoaning the death of cinema itself, thanks to Brie Larson’s championing of equality.
Overblown and exaggerated? Yes. But the most damning action: the manipulation of Rotten Tomatoes critic’s scores. Rotten Tomatoes has served as one of the first passes for many moviegoers, with people relying on initial reactions and scores to gauge their own interests in seeing the film. MRA’s, Incels, and general Brie Larson haters flooded the review aggregate site and bombarded the Captain Marvel film with tons of negative reviews, despite the fact that the movie had yet to come out and none of the people who commented had even seen the film.
This prompted Rotten Tomatoes to redefine how they do audience scores: users (except for Rotten Tomatoes critics) are no longer allowed to rate or comment on movies that have yet to be released. A common sense move that they should have done in the first place, but hey, at least it’s in place now.
And where was Brie Larson this whole time? How did she weather the troll storm? Well, much like her character, she brushed off adversity, smiled, and kicked ass. In Captain Marvel’s opening weekend, Marvel pulled in more than $300 million, making it the 6th biggest opening in the history of movies, and the 7th biggest opening for the MCU. Take that, MRA’s!
More than spitting in the face of toxic masculinity, Captain Marvel did something that was sorely lacking in female-led superhero films: project a non-sexualized female hero that spoke, acted, and thought like a real person, rather than as a caricature of what men thought a woman was. That, in itself, is pretty marvelous.