I hear that Marvel’s next movie, Captain Marvel, stars Brie Larson in the title role. This sounds like something that I, a straight male horndog, would hate on principle. Watching a beautiful actress punch some CGI aliens and save the world? Not for me!
But seriously, folks: We’re so deep into the tradition of nerds getting mad about female-led sci-fi/superhero movies before they hit theaters — Rotten Tomatoes removed users’ ability to rate unreleased films because dudes were review-bombing Captain Marvel ahead of its March 8th debut — that the fundamental weirdness of their stance now goes mostly unquestioned.
Yes, they hate “social justice warriors” and “having feminism shoved down their throats,” I’m aware of all that. I’m just puzzled by their glee at any infinitesimal downward shift in the aggregate score of a film they’ve decided to boycott, as if they can somehow game the franchises they care about. Studios are going to keep making comic-book blockbusters with women protagonists. This isn’t a gender war the trolls can win. When will they see it’s not worth the angst?
Here are some instructive tweets on the subject, featuring iCarly actor James Woods:
To be clear, I don’t have a dog in this fight — the success or failure of Captain Marvel and Alita: Battle Angel have far less impact on my life than they apparently do for, uh, 71-year-old Woods. I haven’t seen these movies and may not bother to. However, I’d be willing to bet that they follow a similar arc: that of every “chosen one” plot you’ve experienced in this genre over the past 20 years. The degree to which either film might be viewed as feminist (or “anti-men”) in its messaging most likely comes down to representation, pure and simple — we think nothing of seeing male superheroes empowered in the course of their journey, and here women enjoy that opportunity.
I’m skeptical, however, that Captain Marvel’s screenplay leaves any room for “men are trash” memes, lectures on rape culture or an impassioned defense of safe spaces — whatever the misogynist geek crew identifies as a dire threat to their favorite intellectual properties. That a woman centers the story is probably as radical as the politics of a military-promoting tentpole picture like this can get, much as with Wonder Woman, where the sly commentary of the character’s childhood in an all-women utopia gives way to her action-packed, crowd-pleasing warrior saga. Neither do the recent Star Wars entries offer substantial claims as to the supremacy of women; they just include a few more.
No, the “propaganda” the trolls fear is rarely to be found in superhero content itself, so they twist the basics of the formula to argue indoctrination — as with Kurt Schlichter’s super-strength complaint above — or choose to focus on the interviews, production style and industry gossip that surround a given project. Captain Marvel employed women in top set positions, and Larson has been vocal about her feminism, seeking to do press with women and people of color. These are the very factors cited in pre-lash pieces like RedState’s “Brie Larson Is Giving Me Every Reason to Believe ‘Captain Marvel’ Is Going to Suck” or the Daily Wire’s YouTube video of Ben Shapiro whining about “Brie Larson’s Insane Captain Marvel Virtue-Signaling Spectacle.” Not only are these hysterical overreactions to some pretty mild comments from Larson, they represent a laughable misunderstanding of how Hollywood works. The opinions of a single actress are not so strongly indicative of a movie’s tone as these guys assume.
Yet such points are barely worth making anymore. Whoever wants to say that Brie Larson has seized control of the multibillion-dollar Marvel machine and is using it to sell cinematic attacks on masculinity can rack up views and cash on YouTube by doing exactly that. When Ben Shapiro bashes Larson, it’s not because he particularly cares whether justice is done to the character of Captain Marvel — it’s part of the grift. It’s what his audience wants to hear. It’s an editorial decision informed by a haywire social media algorithm, amplifying a false narrative and creating a flywheel of disingenuous rage-bait content. As a result, the nerds feeling betrayed by their pop culture have learned to get their fan service on the incel-Gamergate media axis of male resentment.
It seems impossible that we’ll ever convince them to relax and absorb movies as they are, rather than as salvos in a contest for the soul of western civilization. These dudes are now so consumed by quantifying critical response and box-office performance, I doubt they’ve actually enjoyed a film in years. A trend matters more to them than a story.
And throughout this endless discourse, I keep coming back to my most basic, horny, straight-guy take: Watching a very attractive woman beat up the bad guys after a decade of leading men in skin-tight spandex shouldn’t be that controversial a proposition for the sex-starved boys who spend their hours astroturfing a reactionary movement against modestly progressive entertainment.
It’s not like the studio cast Ruth Bader Ginsburg, okay? It’s Brie Larson, a young, fit, thin, attractive, white, ostensibly straight, cisgender, Oscar-winning actress. She’s up there on screen for you, angry lads, as much as for the little girls who want to kick ass — this is the pleasure principle on which big-budget popcorn fare is made. That your misogyny overrides this fact is incredible to me. Take a cue from my Brooklyn uncle who loved the show Xena (well, he pronounced it “Zeener”) for its softcore lesbianism. You, too, can get a thrill from the feminine. Right?
Or don’t! Who cares. It’s like the millionth superhero movie of the decade, and there won’t be many surprises in it. But it’s time to quit imagining you’ve mounted a meaningful grassroots challenge to a massively profitable company that’s trying to expand its clientele beyond your tantrum-throwing demographic. The people who don’t buy tickets for Captain Marvel were never going to, and those who do, by and large, won’t have wasted a second considering its “agenda.” Truly, they are the lucky ones.