“There were none. Now there’s one. And, so, we’re done,” sang Kate McKinnon and Kenan Thompson from the stage of the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles at last night’s 70th Emmy Awards. It was part of an opening musical number making light of the industry’s tendency to pat itself on the back and call “job done” with diversity initiatives even though the statistics show TV and film is as old, straight white male dominated as usual. The exact quote is in reference to Sandra Oh’s history-making nomination for Killing Eve – first Asian woman nominated for a lead acting award – but it’s such a general phrase it can be used to apply all sorts of other categories in the diversity push.
I’m thinking of it here specifically in reference to superhero cinema:
There were none (black-led or female-led superhero movies, either ever or in this current era). Now there’s one (Black Panther and Wonder Woman). And, so, we’re done.
Except we’re not. Done, that is. Captain Marvel’s first trailer is upon us, announcing Marvel’s long-awaited inaugural entry into the female superhero game. Ant-Man and the Wasp was a half-step in that direction, a two-hander, not a solo showcase for Evangeline Lilly’s titular badass. Captain Marvel is jumping into those waters all the way. So, thanks to Marvel and DC, there used to be none, but now there’s two.
For anyone confused, EW recently ran a cover story explaining everything: Captain Marvel is set in the 90s. It’s not an origin story and will instead open with Carol (Brie Larson) already having her powers and serving on her own Green Lantern-style outer space police force. As seen in the trailer, however, she’ll have little grasp on who she was before she became Captain Marvel, and after landing on Earth she’ll interact with CGI de-aged Nick Fury, Clark Gregg’s Coulson (who are each in the trailer), and Cobie Smulders’ Maria Hill (who is not, unless I missed her). The Kree-Skrull hostilities hinted at in Guardians of the Galaxy will be front and center here. Jude Law appears to be playing Carol’s boss-turned-enemy.
The trailer is perfectly pitched and opens on a wonderful period-setting shot of Blockbuster Video. I imagine there will be lots of “What’s a Blockbuster Video?” from those audience members too young to even fathom the concept of a video store. My God, we’re all so old.
Anyway, the closing quick-cut montage of Carol at various stages in her life, starting as a little girl on a beach and standing up into a badass adult woman only just coming into her full potential and clenching her fist in battle preparation, is the type of inspirational messaging we see more and more these days. It wouldn’t be out of place in a Google commercial, for example.
Other notable moments: Carol punches an old lady on a bus for mysterious reasons, and Nick Fury sports a rather familiar-looking pager.
The world is big enough for Diana and Carol Danvers to have their own movies and for those movies to be directed by women (Patty Jenkins and Anna Boden), co-directed in Captain Marvel’s case (Boden is joined by longtime directing partner Ryan Fleck). Plus, world events continue to fuel the desire for stronger female representation. Wonder Woman arrived as women were marching in the streets in protest of Donald Trump and his administration; Captain Marvel might very well arrive after a record number of women are voted into public office.
Who knows what will have happened by the time Wonder Woman 1984 is released, which will just be 8 months after Captain Marvel. Carol Danvers will have likely helped defeat Thanos by then. Maybe the real Wonder Women and Captain Marvels of the world will have defeated their own metaphorical Thanos’s as well. and I don’t even mean that as a direct hit on Trump – there are a lot of villains around not named Trump.
However, Captain Marvel doesn’t even need any of it that zeitgeisty IRL material to appeal to audiences. It already has a wonderful lead-in from Avengers: Infinity War and appears to be a movie we’ll have to see to fully understand who this woman is and how exactly she’ll prove so crucial in helping the Avengers put right what Thanos put so very, very wrong.
I once wrote that true, long-lasting diversity in Hollywood won’t be achieved through initial success but instead by being allowed to fail. The all-female Ghostbusters reboot, for example, flopped, but that didn’t stop its co-financier, Village Roadshow, from moving forward with and making smarter financial decisions on Oceans 8, which ended up tripling its budget worldwide. In the past, the Ghostbusters flop would have been enough to kill Oceans 8. That it didn’t is a sign of progress.
We’re not there yet with female superhero movies. We have been before when Supergirl and Catwoman/Elektra killed the genre in their day. But in this current era, Wonder Woman is the only female superhero movie that has mattered. All it did was end 2017 as the third highest grossing film at the domestic market of the year, tenth highest worldwide.
Captain Marvel may or may not reach or exceed those same heights, but it’s highly unlikely to fail at the box office. Outside of the Ant-Man sub-franchise, all Marvel Studios does is produce colossal, often record-setting hits. If Captain Marvel hits the way most Marvel movies do, we might enter into a territory where we can stop talking about them as female superhero movies and just consider them, you know, movies.
That would be great because thanks to Wonder Woman there are already plenty of them in the development, mostly at DC – Supergirl, Batgirl, and Birds of Prey. There have similarly been hints of further diverse superhero films on the Marvel side, but Infinity War-Part 2 spoiler reasons they can’t say what those films will be yet.
There were none. Now there’s two. By the end of 2019, there will be three. After that, there will be many more. It shouldn’t have taken this long, but here we are. Let’s enjoy the moment, and, ya know, hope Captain Marvel is a good movie. This trailer is a good opening argument for that, I’d say. What about you?
Captain Marvel is due March 8, 2019. Wonder Woman 1984 is due November 1, 2019. Supergirl, Batgirl, and Birds of Prey are still in development.