Why Are (Some) Men So Angry About Captain Marvel?

The trolls have lots to say about Brie Larson's Captain Marvel - but why are they so freaked out by Marvel's first solo female lead asks Helen O'Hara

Captain Marvel

by Helen O'Hara |
Updated on

The Marvel Cinematic Universe, the most explosive soap opera ever made, expanded in a significant way this week. Twenty-one films in (21!), we got our first solo female lead, with Brie Larson starring as Captain Marvel. And wouldn't you know it, there's an internet backlash against her, one started before fans even saw the movie. Internet commenters attempted to “review bomb” the movie with bad ratings online, so that review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes actually changed its rules to stop people posting comments on a film before it’s released. So who is Captain Marvel, and where does this anger come from?

Captain Marvel’s been around for a very long time in comics, but it’s a title used by a few different characters, an alien called Mar-Vell among them. The most recent incumbent, however, is Carol Danvers. Her DNA was fused with Mar-Vell's during an explosion, and she emerged with your basic awesome superpowers: super-strength, speed, flight and energy projection that enables her to shoot fire from her fists. Think Superman and you're not far off. That’s one of the things that upsets the review bombers: they think she is “too powerful” and has too few flaws, making her an overly idealised “Mary Sue” character. Never mind that her powers and flaws are almost directly comparable to Thor and no one has a problem with him. It’s almost like their problem is really with her gender…

Danvers has been around since 1968. She’s had multiple noms de superhero – Ms Marvel most famously, but also Warbird and Binary – and endured tough treatment even by comic book standards. She was stripped of her powers and her memory more than once; she was raped, forced into pregnancy and denounced by her team-mates. But when writer Kelly Sue DeConnick had Carol take up the Captain Marvel mantle in 2012, something clicked. This Carol was strong and determined, sometimes impatient and always pushing for greatness: higher, further, faster as her new catchphrase has it. It gave Marvel a female superhero to stand alongside – and even lead – the Avengers.

That’s the Carol onscreen, more or less. We meet her as “Vers”, an amnesiac on an alien world being trained to fight by Jude Law. He is a Kree, a race at war with the shapeshifting Skrulls. Happily for those who don’t love keeping track of imaginary alien politics ‘Vers’ track the Skrulls to 1995 Earth, and teams up with Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury (computer de-aged to look exactly how he looked at the time) to stop the bad guys and save the world.

If you like superhero movies, chances are you'll enjoy the colourful characters (especially British actress Lashanna Lynch, who has a key role as Carol’s BFF), surprising developments and an excellent bit with a cat. The only big difference from the usual Marvel movies is a ‘90s-heavy soundtrack with classic bangers by Salt ‘n’ Pepa and Garbage.

More: Brie Larson on life as Captain Marvel

So why are these men so frothed up? They claim that they’re tired of “identity politics”, which in this case means “making a female-led film after ten years of men”. They say Captain Marvel isn’t a good character – though these complaints began long before they saw the film, so how did they know? They’re quick to emphasise that they’re in favour of female leads, just not this one. Or Rey, Rose and Admiral Holdo in Star Wars. Or any of the rebooted Ghostbusters. Or Wonder Woman, which also drew sexist criticism. Or Black Panther, which suffered a similar review-bombing campaign. It's like the anti-Hillary Clinton campaigners who are fine with a female candidate for President, but not her. Or Elizabeth Warren. Or Kamala Harris. These internet trolls welcome non-white-male leads in theory, honest, but they can’t be too powerful, or too determined, or too independent. They want, essentially, final say over our role models as well as their own.

There are also grounds for criticism that have nothing to do with the film or the character. Several of these men have told me that they “hate” Oscar winner and indie darling Brie Larson; one called her a “self-righteous bitch”. This outrage stems from Larson’s observation that most people who interview her on junkets are white men, and her call for media titles to send a more diverse line-up. That, in the minds of these men, makes her “sexist” and “racist”. Never mind that she was highlighting a real imbalance. Never mind that research by Martha Lauzen of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University shows that male critics are more negative on female-led films, and most critics are male. Larson's simple call for diversity is the real problem, apparently.

These people will find something to protest with every step toward more equal representation, with every blockbuster that shows they don’t rule the box-office, and at a certain point we have to stop paying them any attention. Whatever their reviews say, Captain Marvel is a fun superhero movie with an explicitly feminist point to make: men do not determine our worth. No wonder they're terrified of her

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