Captain Marvel, released to cinemas this month, is more than just another addition to the already saturated superhero film market. It is a perfect case study in a social justice takeover of a pop culture franchise.
Until now, the Marvel Cinematic Universe films – such as the Avengers films, Black Panther, or Iron Man – have been reliably-inoffensive escapist fiction, if at times blandly formulaic.
The Marvel formula, established by the 2008 adaptation of Iron Manand repeated a further 20 times to varying degrees of critical success, has delivered a staggering financial return to Marvel Studios and parent company Disney.
This success equals a massive platform, and all such platforms inevitably attract propagandists who seek to use them to transmit not-so-subtle socio-political messaging.
The ‘woke’ marketing for Captain Marvel was as divisive as it was obnoxious. Early promotional material for the film used the slogan ‘The future is female’, kicking off hype that the film was ‘important’ for featuring a female character. The leading actress Brie Larson has been a walking gaffe magnet, complaining about toxic masculinity and the white-male patriarchy. To Entertainment Weekly Larson said of the film: ‘I think because it’s 2019, and what 2019 is about, really, is intersectional feminism.’ The film’s co-director, Anna Boden, noted in an interview ahead of the film’s release that ‘it’s not just a feminist movie, it’s also a humanist movie’.
To the ordinary observer, it would seem utterly bizarre that a film based on an obscure character with no pre-existing fan base or wider cultural impact could not only be greenlit to be produced with a massive $152 million budget, but also heavily marketed with language to turn off segments of the market.
Those familiar with the comic book industry, however, are all too familiar with efforts to push Captain Marvel onto an unwilling market. The version of Captain Marvel being adapted into film this year was based on a character that since 2012 has been at the forefront of a suicidal effort to subvert comic books for blatantly political ends.
For decades, Carol Danvers was at best a C-list character in the Marvel Comics Universe as Ms Marvel. Beginning about a decade ago, the leading comics publisher began to believe the suggestion the consumer base for their books was too white and too male. Comic books needed to be more representative, and those comic books ended up representing fewer and fewer people as the prioritisation of divisive identity politics gutted the industry and turned away hordes of comic fans without attracting new ones.
At the forefront of this destructive mission was Carol Danvers. Marvel Comics needed a Wonder Woman of their own, and in 2012, Ms Marvel was plucked from relative obscurity and promptly given captaincy.
This promotion was not successful. As the comics industry was increasingly stacked with writers concerned with political point scoring, the books were filled with lazy social justice tropes.
Modern progressive activists, being obsessed with politics, only respect power. This usually results in commercial failure in fictional and entertainment outlets, because normal people don’t share those obsessions. For this kind of writer, heroes are not defined by their limitations. Instead, the relationship between power and the value of a fictional character is a direct positive correlation – meaning the more powerful a character is, the better and more meaningful that character is. That is why the only character trait of Captain Marvel – being primarily a political creation – is ‘most powerful superhero on earth’ with an emphasis on being stronger than the men.
This is also present in the film. Larson portrays the supremely competent and powerful character with a snarky ‘I got this’ attitude, while Samuel L. Jackson – as the erstwhile godfather of the mighty Avengers – is relegated to bumbling sidekick who loses his eye to a cat scratch. As Lindsay Bahr at the Associated Press noted in her review of the film, ‘I spent two hours with Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers and I still have no idea what her personality is.’
That is not an accident; that is the design. The activists that have set up shop in the entertainment industries believe power is personality.
Despite the Captain Marvel comic series being launched, cancelled, and rebooted seven times since 2012, the publisher aggressively promoted Danvers as the new flagship character of the Marvel Comics Universe, ahead of proven characters like Spider-Man or Wolverine. Even more grating, by marketing Danvers as the most powerful character in all creation, readers were reminded that the characters they actually like had to be diminished to suit a fringe political agenda. Take that, ya geeky male nerds!
Currently, market demand for superhero films is exceedingly strong, and Captain Marvel will likely benefit from added anticipation of Avengers: End Game, a film that Brie Larson is rumoured to feature prominently in. But the film’s financial success is not a reflection of the popularity of the character which has represented destruction in the comics industry. If the film establishes a precedent, the rot will accelerate and society will be more miserable for it.
The loss of superhero films may not raise many alarms, but the ongoing assault on superheroes is an attack on a valuable part of Western cultural mythology. Heroic fiction can recontextualise important social discussions and our anxieties in a way that transforms those heroes into metaphors of power and freedom that we can use to improve our own lives. Twisting these stories amplifies those anxieties and weakens the foundations of a culture that reveres freedom and personal responsibility.
What is happening at Marvel fits a familiar pattern of left-wing activists infiltrating civil society bodies, corporations, and entertainment outlets. The goal is not to use those platforms to generate wealth for shareholders, nor is it to make good products or provide good services. There is no profit motive, just an ideological motive to generate change in social attitudes and impose new orthodoxies.
Fortunately, another Captain Marvel – the real Captain Marvel, marketed under the name ‘Shazam!’ by DC Comics due to legal shenanigans last century – is to be adapted in May with a rare strategy: they just want to entertain people.