Bigotry will be dead when we stop judging people. Someone tell Brie Larson

Laura Kennedy: As a feminist artwork, Captain Marvel makes some pretty good points

Apart from the general entertainment of the action scenes, which have become more spectacular (and more ridiculous) with increasingly sophisticated computer-generated imagery, superhero films fall flat for me. The hero is generally presented to the audience as an outcast or misunderstood weirdo made superhuman by fate; an individual plucked from mundanity and gifted or burdened with supreme powers and a higher calling to help humankind, usually in a literal, preventing-the-apocalypse type way. While it appeals to the secret wish within us to have our inherent sense of specialness acknowledged by providence, it isn’t all that relatable – it is the ultimate escapism.

For this reason, it feels a bit tedious when popular culture or political sensibility appear to bifurcate around a superhero film, as appears to be the case with Captain Marvel, the new Marvel film starring actor Brie Larson as Carol Danvers. In classic Marvel style, Danvers gains superpowers when she has the good fortune to get mixed up in an explosion, and becomes Captain Marvel, a superhuman hero who in a plot that is a little on the nose in terms of feminist imagery, realises her suppressed power and regains her memory. It is a coming to know oneself story with a bunch of stuff blowing up, and it is precisely as philosophically deep, politically relevant and enjoyable as a reliable mid-quality cheeseburger.

Drab online conflict

However, within popular culture and media commentary the film has already become the rope in a very drab online conflict – if the film is a success, it is because society is enlightened and clearly has an appetite for a feminist superhero. If the film fails, it is because angry men on the internet have derailed it as a result of their toxic masculinity and sexism. Nowhere is there room for nuance – it is definitely one or the other, and of course it goes without saying that rather than a corporate product generating hundreds of millions of dollars for Disney, the film is primarily a feminist social justice cause that people should rally around online and gripe at one another over.

The specificity of Larson's focus, though certainly well intended, makes her appear out of touch

It does not help that Larson – an Oscar-winning Hollywood star – has been kind of obnoxious in her commentary around the movie and ensuing controversy, despite the fact that it has been a financial success. In a recent speech, in which she criticised the fact that the majority of film critics are white and male (which is fair enough – a variety of outlooks can only enrich things), Larson said, among other pejorative comments about a group of people based on their gender, age and skin colour: “I do not need a 40-year-old white dude to tell me what didn’t work for him about [the fantasy adventure movie] A Wrinkle in Time. It wasn’t made for him.”


Niche group

This reveals several problems. Larson is an incredibly privileged person, and the film industry is what she knows, so it might be unfair to poke fun at her for attempting to spur change inside her own Fabergé egg. However, the concept that she is targeting such a tiny, utterly niche group of people as film critics who, as we all know, are the coal shovellers in the engine of functional society, is laughable. For the record, I don’t think most film critics consider themselves that way, but the specificity of Larson’s focus, though certainly well intended, makes her appear out of touch.

Obviously, the hugely flawed underlying implication in Larson’s words above is that we are defined as thinking and feeling individuals by immutable characteristics like biology, age and skin colour, and that it is only possible to appreciate art that is “made for” the demographic in which we are immovably entrenched. Because no white male critic ever highly rated a film articulating the female experience, or sharing the nuances of a particular trans individual’s life or outlook. As a feminist artwork, Captain Marvel shows us precisely this – that magic part-alien people with fancy lights that shoot from their bodies can be women too. Great. Bigotry will be dead when we stop judging people by immutable characteristics. Someone should tell Brie Larson.