For over a decade, male superheroes have taken the lead in every movie within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But today, on International Women’s Day, that all changes. Captain Marvel marks the first time Marvel Studios has released a movie led – and named after – a solo female superhero and that came with its own set of expectations.
There’s a long-standing myth in Hollywood that movies centred on women don’t make as much money as ones centred on men. People in power maintained that women didn’t want to do action, and female directors were not up to the challenge of writing and directing big budget movies. Of course, that is a load of old nonsense: misinformation that has been repeated for far too long.
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Between 2014-2017, the top-grossing movies were led by women, according to research conducted by Creative Artists Agency and shift7. Researchers looked at over 350 films and the likes of Wonder Woman, Trolls, Moana, Star Wars: The Force Awakens/The Last Jedi are examples of women getting top billing and the big box office to match.
So it’s no wonder that Marvel Studios wanted to get into the female-led movie game and already Captain Marvel is projected to make big bucks. It’s the biggest pre-seller since Avengers: Infinity War on online ticket seller Fandango and box office analysts already predict it will open around the $155 million (£118 million) mark domestically.
The quantity of ticket sales is one thing but the quality of the film has to be just as high, and when it’s a woman leading it has to be higher, further, faster. Historically, if a male-led movie doesn’t do well that doesn’t mean Hollywood will stop making male-led movies. And if we look at Marvel films specifically, there have been quite a few bad ones over the years; Daredevil, Thor: The Dark World, and Spider-Man 3 are some of the worst offenders but they’ve all secured sequels, or been rebooted.
Compare that to Elektra, the only female Marvel character to headline a solo movie (albeit for 20th Century Fox) and after that flopped, it’s taken 14 years for another one to come along. So there’s pressure on Captain Marvel to deliver, as well as for Brie Larson’s hero to serve as a progressive, empowering superhero who is more representative of women today than ever before.
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I’ve watched the movie twice now and can confirm she absolutely does deliver on both fronts, but it also goes one step further. As the movie goes back and forth in Carol Danvers’ life we see how much she’s changed, and grown, and adjusted to her ever-changing surroundings. From a kid wanting to be treated the same as her brothers, to a Starforce warrior striving to prove her worth, strength, and commitment to the Kree cause.
At every moment in her life she has been underestimated, suffered from sexism and misogyny – both in her professional and personal life – but throughout it all, she’s managed to keep her head held high and not lose the playful spirit that has her doing karaoke with her best pal Maria, or being cheeky to Yon-Rogg, her Kree mentor (Jude Law).
She’s stoic, mischievous, smart, determined, compassionate, and perhaps most importantly, she’s a female hero whose backstory is not forged in abuse. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, Zoe Saldana’s Gamora, Karen Gillan’s Nebula, and Pom Klementieff’s Mantis, were all subject to a form of abuse or violent subordination (or both) during their childhood, and the effects of that have followed them into adulthood.
Yes, Carol doesn’t get along with her dad, but the most traumatic thing to happen in her life came from being the hero, not the victim.
Female pain is too often used as a plot device and it is a testament to co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck and writers Nicole Perlman, Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Meg LeFauve, Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch who didn’t fall back on that to tell Carol’s story.
So this International Women’s Day I’m thankful that the Marvel Studios has finally added a female-led superhero movie so that more can be added to the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Phase 4 approaches.
Nice to meet you, Captain. See you again very soon.