Monday, March 11, 2019

Captain Marvel

Higher.          Further.            Faster.

Carol Danvers, a woman who had it made - until the day radiation from an exploding alien machine gaver her the skills and powers of a Kree Warrior, plus an uncanny Seventh Sense - transforming a human woman into ... a heroine!
Stan Lee Presents Captain Marvel

Marvel's newest film and heroine premiered this weekend.  Captain Marvel soared into theaters, {box office results}.  The film is certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes with an 81% positive review ratingMetacritic gives a rating of 65, with less reviews than Rotten Tomatoes.  It's even scored an impressive A on CinemaScore.  Thankfully, this was one weekend where we got to see the new film in its opening weekend to see for ourselves.

And it's good.  Real good.  This is a beautifully structured movie, that plays with the "mystery box" trope well, setting up a lot of good moments and paying them off well.  Brie Larson fills the role well and Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, and Lashana Lynch really ground the film with stellar performances.  There are a couple of very impactful moments that are excellently put together, particularly in the films third act.  Plus, as someone with their formative years in the 1990s, it was great to have the soundtrack of my youth backing the film.

The film did really well over the weekend as well, with an estimated $153 million opening weekend, placing it in first place for the weekend and the year so far.  It's the seventh biggest opening for the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole and the second-biggest debut of a new Marvel character, trailing only Black Panther.  It took in $302 million internationally for the fifth highest international opening weekend of all-time and the second biggest super-hero opening weekend.  It is also the third highest opening weekend in China.  Even better and more impressive, it outpaces Wonder Woman's solid $103 million open weekend.  The $455 million global debut makes it the most successful launch for a female-led film ever, surpassing the previous record holder, 2017's Beauty and the Beast.

I really wish I could leave this discussion with the review above.  But it's impossible to talk about Captain Marvel the movie without talking about toxic masculinity and the events of the past couple of weeks regarding the film and through its entire production.

When Marvel first began releasing promotional images, there was criticism that Captain Marvel wasn't smiling.  A variation on the "you would be prettier if you smiled" misogyny.  The film faced more opposition following an interview with the Hollywood Reporter in which Larson discussed her work with other women in the industry regarding pushing for diversity through inclusion riders and Critical, a more diverse database for studios and publicists.  In particular, Larson recounted how "On the Captain Marvel press tour, I'll be pushing for more representation across the board: my interviews, magazine covers, the clothes that I'm wearing.  It means spending more time thinking about things than you sometimes want to, but it's worth it."  Further fuel for the fire was a Marie Claire article, where the interviewer discussed in detail Larson selecting that interviewer specifically, a black disabled female reporter. "I want to go out of my way to connect the dots.  It just took me using the power that I've been given now as Captain Marvel.  [The role] comes with all these privileges and powers that make me feel uncomfortable because I don't really need them."

Angry knuckle-dragging fanboys took to the internets with cries that Larson was trying to take away opportunities from traditional film critics (read: white males).  They then took to review-bombing the audience score on Rotten Tomatoes for a film that had not yet premiered, blasting it with terrible reviews.  A misguided effort to drive the audience away from it, that resulted in Rotten Tomatoes adjusting the audience score metrics and policies preventing a film from being commented on by the audience before its release.  On Friday, these whiny entitled man-children were able to voice their tirades, resulting in a 36% audience score, bombarding the site with 5,216 user ratings following the first day of screenings.

I have to wonder if this is part of a backlash, the inevitable result of the decision to following the Peter Pan Syndrome for marketing films.  For decades now, the majority of films have been marketed to 18-35 year old males, largely under the old American International Pictures strategy.  It follows that:
  • A younger child will watch anything an older child will watch;
  • An older child will not watch anything a younger child will watch;
  • A girl will watch anything a boy will watch; and
  • A boy will not watch anything a girl will watch.
Therefore, to catch the greatest audience, you zero in on the 19-year-old male. They kept that audience with the ARKOFF model, designed to titillate and excite.  Action (exciting, entertaining drama), Revolution (novel or controversial themes and ideas), Killing (a modicum of violence), Oratory (notable dialogue and speeches), Fantasy (acted-out fantasies common to the audience), and Fornication (sex appeal, for young adults).  It often pandered to the lowest common denominator.  There's a reason why the AIP movies were often schlock, B-movies, and exploitation.

And yet, the studios have been using the same formula for major releases for years now.  If you look at the release slate for the tentpole films, you can see this in action. It used to be that films where written for adult audiences - sophisticated dramas, witty comedies, etc.  Now, you can clearly see the demographics skew towards a very specific target.

Sure, there are exceptions.  But those are clearly marketed as niche products.  Romantic comedies or chick flicks.  The way films with primarily Latin American or African American casts are acutely marketed to those specific audiences.  Under the existing Hollywood rules, you would never market a blockbuster to a female audience or African American audience.  You just wouldn't get the same results.  Don't you know, female led action movies don't sell.

We're learning that's not the case, though.  Wonder Woman had an exceptional response, as did Black PantherCaptain Marvel has been on track for the same.  And part of their appeal is that they reject the old ARKOFF model.  Look at how many reviews for Wonder Woman mention the lack of a male gaze in the camera work.

Yet, there seems to be a subset of the population that just isn't ready for it.  That wants the ARKOFF formula to remain.  That wants films to remain to be made just for them.

It's the same subset of people as are in the comics reading population that is railing against inclusion and diversity in the comics market.  The Comicsgate movement against "a hard push by social justice warriors into their hobby" and "forced diversity" in hiring and content.  They want their comics just as they want them.  Original heroes.  No perceived politics or social commentary.

It's this last point that is most ludicrous.  Comics were always political and pioneers of social justice, starting with Captain America punching Hitler.  Marvel Comics in the 1960s were revolutionary and counter-cultural, speaking out against racism, sexism, and bigotry.

It's similarly ludicrous for the film industry.  It's amazing to think of, but in many ways, films in the Golden Age of Hollywood shame current Hollywood in regard to gender representation.    In 2013, women accounted for only 15% of all protagonists and only 30% of all speaking roles, despite representing 50% of the population.  It's strange that this is an area we have regressed in.  Women dominated Hollywood from 1917 to 1923.  During that heyday, all that mattered was star power regardless of gender.  Betty Davis practically ran Warner Brothers over Jack.

Captain Marvel, or Ms. Marvel as she was known in 1977, in particular, was an outspoken feminist and her comic had her working at a feminist magazine.  She was always used as an outspoken proponent of women's issues, reflected in the use of the word Ms. and in an in comic fight for equal pay for equal work.  So it should be no surprise that her film is going to carry the same overtones.

I guess it really should come as no surprise that we get reminders that the fight is still out there and that we need heroes like Captain Marvel to step up.  To inspire us to keep up the fight. 

To push on.

Higher.          Further.            Faster. 

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