“It Wasn’t Made for Him”: Examining Female-Led Superhero Films Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel and the Internet Commentary that Follows
Rachel graduated in 2020 with a BA in Radio/Television/Film, minors in Italian Language and English Literature, and completion of the Media and Creative Markets Module. Her work was accepted into The National Collegiate Research Conference at Harvard University, The Macksey Symposium for the Humanities at Johns Hopkins University, the National Council on Undergraduate Research, and she was a Plenary Speaker at the Northwestern Research Symposium. She has a passion for improving representation within the film industry for marginalized groups. She currently lives in the Midwest with her family dog, Oscar, and boyfriend but plans to move to Los Angeles to pursue a career in film and impact positive change from the inside.
In a nutshell, what is your research topic?
My research explored fan discourse on IMDb for Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel. Both of these movies were successful in traditional Hollywood measures of success, critics reviews, and box office grosses: critics reviews are a baseline measurement for whether or not the film is well made and box office totals indicate how wide of an appeal the film had and whether or not to produce a sequel. Because both of these films found success, it may be easy to believe that the film industry and its paying audiences have opened their minds to female-led projects. But these two measures of success do not tell a complete picture of what audiences thought of their viewing experiences: critics do not necessarily speak for general audiences and just because a patron bought a ticket once does not mean they will do so again. I read through these IMDb user reviews because I wanted to uncover a facet of what users said after leaving the theater to better understand where these films situate in society.
How did you come to your research topic?
My research topic went through a sizable evolution between conception and execution. I was first interested in studying box office trends for films that performed dramatically better financially than traditional Hollywood models of success predicted they would. For this project, I was going to use Get Out and Wonder Woman though due to logistical concerns this never came to fruition. I reapproached the project the following year with a new tactic: to study the discourse surrounding successful big-budget films whose stories center on characters outside of the standard Hollywood white male. My two test subjects for this project were Black Panther and Wonder Woman. However, parts of the project still weren’t fitting right. I assumed that Captain Marvel was not an option for my project because it was slated for release so close to the SURG deadline. However, searching through IMDb proved me wrong because the film had more than enough IMDb reviews for me to analyze immediately after release. I switched my project to studying Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman and the rest is history.
Where do you see the future direction of this work leading? How might future researchers build on your work, or what is left to discover in this field?
I see my research as being an extremely versatile framework that can be used to understand a multitude of other films and how they relate to one another. A potential direction I have been weighing myself is to study how Suicide Squad relates to Birds of Prey specifically in the evolution of Harley Quinn. The film industry is in the midst of greenlighting a plethora of films female-led in multiple capacities so the potential opportunities for comparison are ever-expanding.
Where are you heading to after graduation?
After graduation, my plan was to head to the Disney College Program but due to the pandemic the program was cancelled. I recently accepted a position with Chase bank where I plan to work until film production opens back up again.
The following is a short excerpt from Rachel’s full thesis. To see the full thesis, please click here.
Chapter 3. Wonder Woman: A Motherly Image of Militant Feminism
Wonder Woman fans were split between those who thought Gal Gadot’s performance in the titular role was a cinematic revelation and those who thought she came off as vapid or wooden. In particular, quite a few viewers were pleased with the focus on emotional sincerity and innate femininity in Gadot’s performance. One commenter praised that “[h]er tremendous power is counterbalanced with a naivety that reaches beyond comic relief into an often scathing critique of the human leanings toward inhumanity.”1 This comment speaks to the fact that Gadot’s incarnation of Wonder Woman took undeniable influence from the theories formulated by the character’s creator, William Moulton Marston. Marston believed that women were the superior sex due to their increased capacity for love and tenderness and created the character to act as a counterbalance for the overwhelming masculinity present in comic books. He wanted to populate the world with a sort of “psychological propaganda” to showcase the type of woman, nurturing and sensitive, that he believed should, and one day would, rule the world.2 Marston’s theories are problematic because they treat the entire female sex as a singular entity with definable communal emotional characteristics rather than recognizing the innate complexities present in each woman’s definition of femininity. However, the idea that traits typically associated with femininity and weakness, such as sensitivity and tenderness, can be strengths does have some redeemable qualities. Gadot’s Wonder Woman has an undying belief that the evil god Ares is causing the humans’ desire to wage war because she sees an inner goodness within all creatures; the humans are not inherently evil but are being corrupted to commit atrocities by a malevolent force. While she later must learn that the situation is not quite so simple, her ability to see the promise of a better tomorrow and keep faith that the world’s problems can be fixed is novel.
This femininity did not necessarily land well; a commenter stated that “Wonder Woman is played by the bad but gorgeous Gal Gadot. Nothing but a series of poses for magazines, trying to look innocent but also bold and intelligent.”3 Rather than ascribe Wonder Woman’s belief in human goodness as a strength, this critic belittles her for it.
The discourse surrounding Gadot would surely be incomplete if there were not some reviewers who felt the need to comment on her feminine figure in relation to her acting ability. Gadot was continually objectified in one of two ways: those who found her incredibly attractive and those for whom her looks were just not sufficient. In addition to the above comment about her “gorgeous” appearance, one reviewer expressed their distaste in Gadot by stating that “[she] could’ve hit the gym” before filming because “in her current physique ….[she] looks like [she] had to sleep with the coach to make the team” and that “[her] hamstrings [sic]…swing like jelly.”4 Once again, Gadot’s sexuality or perceived lack thereof is connected to her accomplishments. In addition, the comment about the necessity of “sleeping with the coach” is especially relevant in the #MeToo era where influential men in Hollywood are being convicted of manipulating aspiring actresses of exactly that to award them career-changing roles.
While each of these commenters chose to highlight a different aspect of Gadot and her performance, the prevalence of the male gaze is overwhelmingly evident. The male gaze was first conceived by Laura Mulvey in her revolutionary piece Visual Pleasures and Narrative Cinema. It is described as the tendency for female on-screen portrayals to be styled in a way pleasing to heterosexual male desires and females to exist in the cinematic space strictly to be looked at. Thus, the male gaze creates a sort of spectacle out of the very existence of female characters. This phenomenon is often attributed to the result of males being the dominant content-producing force within the film industry.5 Straight male filmmakers can incorporate their vision within their stories because they can cater to their own pleasurable desires in their works.
Halle Berry’s Catwoman is one character in particular who fell victim to a male gaze. Berry starred in the titular role in the 2004 iteration of the popular female superhero. This film was directed by a man and takes special care to emphasize the sexuality of its leading female in her costuming and choreography. Berry’s Catwoman goes from being a submissive and meek artist during the day to fighting male criminals in an overtly sexual style and making cat-related innuendos when she takes on her feline alter ego at night. Her character initially allows her male superiors to overpower her, but when she makes moves to take that power back, she does so using her sexuality. As Catwoman makes her transition from human to cat, the male gaze moves from pleasure at her domination onto blatant sexual satisfaction at the sight of her in suggestive positions. In either situation, her character fits within a set of conventional male desires.
In the end, Catwoman manages to overpower the men challenging her; there is some overt feminism to discuss in her portrayal because she has some agency in the outcome of her story. However, because the film does so in a male-gaze-forward manner that emphasizes her sexuality first and foremost, it raises questions as to how feminist the text actually is. If the text appeals to conventional male desires before it caters to female empowerment, male power undermines the the feminist message as well as the women it supposedly empowers.
The fact that Wonder Woman is directed by a woman, Patty Jenkins, should, in theory, exempt it from the male gaze of pleasurable desire. It is never quite that simple. Wonder Woman still contains elements of a male gaze hidden within its message of female empowerment, albeit not quite so overt as Catwoman. Specifically, the scene where Wonder Woman emerges from the trenches into no man’s land demonstrates a blend of feminist imagery combined with remnants of a male gaze.6
In this scene, Diana stands up for what she believes in and saves the Belgian town from the Germans despite the male voices around her telling her that it cannot be done. Her powers outmatch both her male compatriots holding her back and the army shooting at her. Wonder Woman is empowered, self-assured, and unwilling to allow anyone to stand in the way of her desire to help the innocent; she cannot be subdued because she is simply more powerful than any of the men around her. In short, Wonder Woman is acting with the kind of agency that, in Mulvey’s view, is only available to a male character. So, to add a feminist reading to the scene is not necessarily unreasonable.
However, users still commented on her attractiveness in the scene. One reviewer emphasized that her presence was “like some shimmering version of hotness, to set male and lesbian hearts a flutter.”7 This reviewer’s wording reduces Wonder Woman to an object of sexual desire instead of an empowered warrior. Various elements of the scene contribute to his opinion. There are slow-motion shots of Diana’s legs, forearms, and calves as she climbs up the ladder and into battle. She walks in gratuitous slow motion into no man’s land with a look of seductive determination on her face. Her armor shows an amount of skin not entirely practical for a battle scenario that emphasizes her chest and tiny waist.
In many ways, the film does improve upon the genre’s predecessors, a step in the right direction for future female characters industry-wide. However, creating a film that is perfectly feminist may very well be impossible. In a world where the American film industry has been ruled by men since the rise of the studio system in the early 20th century, circumventing oppressive systems that subjugate women into being objects of desire and submissiveness is no easy task. This can mean that while some aspects of the film may take steps forward for female representation, other aspects may constitute a step back. Even films that endeavor to be feminist can still fall victim to misogynistic tropes, such as the male gaze, Wonder Woman included.
Even for film academics, figuring out how to improve female representation in the cinematic space is not always entirely clear. They grapple with differing opinions on how to create a “female gaze” of sorts to counter the overwhelmingly standard male gaze. Teresa de Lauretis details some historical discrepancies within feminist film scholarship. She states that:
“the accounts of feminist film culture…tended to emphasize a dichotomy between…two types of film work that seemed to be at odds with each other: one called for immediate documentation for purposes of political activism, consciousness-raising, self-expression or the search for ‘positive images’ of woman; the other insisted on rigorous, formal work… in order to analyze and disengage the ideological codes embedded in representation.”8
In this dichotomy, Wonder Woman sits closer to “immediate documentation for purposes of political activism” than “rigorous, formal work.” The film is more concerned with adding the best feminist figures it can muster into the social zeitgeist over redefining the meaning of cinema. However, as this feminist film critical debate would insinuate, its manner of accomplishing said task may not be the best and leads to this debate within feminist filmmaking to rage on.
The disagreement about how to create positive images for women on screen does not end in academia; user commenters have their own clashes about what is and is not feminist. In the Wonder Woman comment section, viewers clashed over what elements of the film constituted feminist filmmaking and what additions destroyed the message. Some viewers’ interpretations align with Marston’s theories about nurturing feminism: they see Wonder Woman’s ability to be “charismatic and authoritative but not so much that she loses her feminine charm and sense of humor” as empowering;9 others note how Wonder Woman’s feminine benevolence does not extend to all and that the film “preaches to the audience about pacifism but then hypocritically celebrates ‘heroic’ violence.”10 Some audiences appreciate that the film “provides audiences with a female protagonist who is not merely a leader, but the engineer–the author–of her own destiny and story;”11 others condemn the idea that Wonder Woman is “just dragged from location to location by Steve [Trevor, the film’s male lead],”12 drawing back to the theories of female subjugation presented by Laura Mulvey.
Content made with an amount of a feminist gaze in mind can still contribute to the cause for equal representation, however imperfect it may be. These contributions must be discussed rather than taken on their word alone that they are feminist. Wonder Woman may be feminist to some, but not to others, and the reasoning behind these judgments can further complicate the discussion around films made with a feminist lens. The addition of a complicated discussion about these issues encourages representation to further improve. If spectators cease to discuss what they do or do not approve of in feminine representation, the industry ceases to progress toward a more equitable space for female creators and stars. These audience conversations are necessary as they encourage filmmakers to continue improving their treatment of female characters.
While not all those who contribute to the discussion surrounding feminist filmmaking will do so in a productive manner, those who do can have noticeable impacts on righting the misogynistic wrongs of past releases. For example, the year before the release of Wonder Woman, DC released Suicide Squad,13 a male-directed film featuring a male-gaze-forward portrayal of Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). In this incarnation, Quinn wore sequin shorts that were more akin to swimsuit bottoms, a tight ripped shirt that read “Daddy’s Little Monster” across her chest, and flaunted a jacket that read “Property of Joker” in large font across the back (in case somehow it wasn’t clear enough who her paternalistic boyfriend was). However, DC has since handed the reins for the character over to Kathy Yan, a female director, for their second outing with the character, Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn).14 This film made drastic improvements upon how Quinn was portrayed within a feminist lens. A major plot point for this film is Quinn repairing herself emotionally after splitting from her toxic relationship with the Joker, in a manner that seems to actively rebel against a male gaze. Quinn and her female compatriots wear costumes that do show skin, such as Quinn’s recurring pink sports bra that she pairs with high-waisted jean shorts and a yellow jumpsuit with gold harlequin diamonds. But this costuming treats Quinn’s shown skin as natural and intentional rather than a sexual tease peeking out from under revealing clothing. The difference between the two films, made just four years apart, showcases the industry’s ability to break out of old ‘male-gazey’ habits that encourage female sexual objectification and romanticize relationship paternalism. Progress can be made; these archaic habits just must be recognized and addressed rather than accepted as being an inevitable part of the industry.
Chapter 4. Captain Marvel: The Intersection of Social Justice and Intertextuality
This note of positivity is rather fleeting as the discourse around Captain Marvel was, once again, a cesspool of negativity. The feminism-directed user commentary for this film tended to take two forms: those who took issue with Brie Larson’s demeanor during the film’s press tour and those who disliked her performance as the titular heroine. Any semblance of respect for the film was minimal to say the least. Outside of slight shifts in the direction where the hatred was aimed, Brie Larson and her involvement in the film were always the standout problem and the reason that fans were angered or offended.
Commentators criticized Brie Larson for bringing up feminist comments that she made during interviews and on social media. Commenters constantly mentioned aspects of her behavior as evidence that Larson has “toxic public opinions”15 or “is just VERY unlikable as a person” because “she hates men” and just “wanted to spout feminist hate.”16 As a result, this particular commenter “can no longer bring [themselves] to support a company [Disney/Marvel] that sacrifices everything they’ve built up over 15+ movies to push some false absurd agenda.”17 This discourse is largely shaped by a speech that Larson gave a year before Captain Marvel’s release and notable themes then bled into the Captain Marvel press tour.
Now, as tends to happen with the internet, by the time that details of an encounter reach the current commenter, it is often far away from the events that actually occurred. Keeping that phenomenon in mind, what did Brie Larson actually comment on that made the internet feel the need to lambast her in such harsh terms? Strangely enough, she called attention to the scarcity of female critical opinion, particularly with women of color, in the film industry and how it negatively impacts films that star anyone other than a traditional white man. During her acceptance speech at the Women in Film Crystal + Lucy award ceremony in June 2018, Larson brought up the disconnect between the demographics of professionals who can see and review films compared to the racial and gender breakdown of the United States. She emphasized throughout the speech that while she “doesn’t hate white dudes,”18 the film industry needs to be “conscious of [their] bias and do [their] part to make sure that everyone is in the room”19 to ensure that all sides of the discussion relevant to the film’s release are heard and considered. Then, during the Captain Marvel press tour, Larson reportedly stood by her word and ensured that she was interviewed by more than just white male reporters including Marie Clare contributor Keah Brown, a black woman with cerebral palsy who was often passed up for major interview opportunities.20
This situation speaks to spectatorship theory, the idea that people view media differently based on their diverse backgrounds and experiences. As described by Judith Mayne, “the study of spectatorship involves an engagement with modes of seeing and telling, hearing and listening, not only in terms of how films are structured, but in terms of how audiences imagine themselves.”21 Mayne believes that while spectator theory is inherently connected to cinema, the discipline is not limited to solely cinematic study. Instead, spectator theory “has provided a way to understand film in its cultural dimension.”22 For Captain Marvel, spectator theory goes a step further beyond audience response to the onscreen images by also taking into account how the film affects a wider cultural understanding. By insisting that the discourse surrounding Captain Marvel during the press tour be populated by people of diverse experiences and ways of imagining themselves, Larson opened the discourse pool to people whose experiences often get overlooked.
Under this logic of spectator subjectivity, Larson’s behavior seemed innocent enough and even praiseworthy, as though all the user backlash is just part of a wild misunderstanding. However, there is one other comment from her initial speech that can be easily misconstrued and, as luck would have it, very much was. During her speech, Larson commented on how she “does not need some 40-year-old white dude to tell [her] what didn’t work for him about A Wrinkle in Time”23 because “it wasn’t made for him.”24 This film prominently features a biracial couple and highlights the strengths of their daughter and adopted son. Therefore, when an African American, biracial, or adopted person watches A Wrinkle in Time, they may feel a stronger impact from the film compared with those who do not share those demographic backgrounds. This matters because, while the film’s merits can be debated, the cultural impact of the film for underrepresented groups may outvalue the potential pitfalls. The film was made for groups of people in this country who do not often see themselves portrayed in a positive light on screen, unlike white men from nuclear families.
While according to spectatorship theory this concept is not incorrect, daring to insinuate that a white male is not the only intended audience and, therefore, should not be the only voice surrounding a film turned out to be a dangerous statement on the internet. As mentioned previously, the IMDb review section is heavily populated by male commenters, similar to that of the professional critical opinion circuit. Rather than taking Larson’s comments to heart and working toward a space of increased inclusivity, commenters cited a mutated version of Larson’s stance and went to work trying to discredit her. One commenter claimed that Larson “used this film to promote her own politic [sic] agenda and herself instead of making it what it is — just a movie everyone should be able to enjoy.”25 One commenter swore off seeing the film because “Brie Larson told [him] not to. She said she didn’t want or need “‘[him]’ (a man in [his] forties) to support it.”26
In addition to this backlash, there were also commenters who chose to attack her acting performance. There were the straightforward critiques, calling her performance “wooden,”27 “cringy,”28 “lacking in emotional depth,”29 or straight-up “unwatchable.”30 Then, there were those who went in a more creative direction. One reviewer stated that “Larson looks like she had to go to athletic school for a crash course but didn’t make it past the first jog!”31 This critique is especially perplexing as Larson notably went through a rigorous training regimen to prepare for her role, including posting footage of herself pushing a nearly 5,000-pound Jeep with nothing but her own strength.32
Outside of this, some of the most common ways that users found to describe Larson’s performance was to negatively compare her to Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) predecessors Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, and Scarlett Johansson, among others. Jonathan Gray describes a similar phenomenon in his theories about intertextuality. Gray defines intertextuality as “instances wherein a film or program refers to and builds some of its meaning off another film or program” and that the intertext as the “referenced film or program.”33 I will take a slight spin upon one of the ways that he elaborates upon intertextuality and apply it to one of the basic functions of the MCU. Gray explains that “[i]ntertexuality refers to the fundamental and inescapable interdependence of all textual meaning upon the structures of meaning proposed by other texts.”34 In this statement, Gray is referring to how understanding the many nuances of West Side Story35 requires a basic understanding of Romeo and Juliet.36 In these cases, the texts are connected by allusion, not plot intertwinement. However, users pulling knowledge from other texts has taken on a new meaning with the integration of the cinematic universe into popular culture. One of the main conceits of this cinematic universe is that each film takes pieces from previous installments to build upon while still, in theory, being comprehensible in its own right. To understand any one MCU film in totality, spectators must pull tidbits of knowledge acquired from a previous text. Under this reframing, Larson’s performance is the intertext and the intertextuality is her inability to escape the shadow of her Marvel predecessors in the eyes of commenters.
Under this logic, commenters comparing Larson’s Captain Marvel to previous MCU characters and stories is not altogether unreasonable; all of their stories are inescapably connected. Beyond the obvious gender connection between her and Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, Larson’s Carol Danvers has a witty sense of humor similar to Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, the military experience of Chris Evans’ Captain America, and the incredible physique and God-like power of Chris Hemsworth’s Thor.
Rather than the user commenters adopting these influences to understand the character further, they created an unattainable bar that Larson had to meet to be considered successful. Users claimed that in her portrayal of Captain Marvel, Larson did not “display…fight IQ or heart, something you see in Captain America or Iron Man,”37 and that “[t]he reason characters like Thor, Tony Stark, and Captain America are so well loved is because they have flaws” whereas Larson’s Captain Marvel was too perfect and overpowered.38 This commenter also claimed that “despite the fact that Brie Larson spent her entire press tour bashing men, she spent the entire movie trying to copy the successful act of Robert Downey Jr….[with his] hilarious one-liners and quips.”39 This review cements the previous point that the MCU’s intertextuality is not always positive, especially when it comes to critique of female characters. Brie Larson could not portray her character with a witty sense of humor without being accused of copying Robert Downey Jr., who was far from the first person to use that character trait in a performance nor will he be the last.
In addition, one user was adamant that they “[d]on’t need Captain Marvel for a female role model in super hero [sic] movies” as they “[a]lready have [B]lack [W]idow.”40 This comment speaks yet again to the prevalence of the male gaze in Hollywood films. In many ways, Black Widow is an empowered female character. She proved time and time again throughout her stint as an Avenger that she could fight her own battles without becoming a damsel in distress. However, this does not mean that her treatment within the MCU was always entirely fair or free from a level of male gaze. She was introduced into the universe as an object of sexual desire for Tony Stark and while this dynamic did not last long, the overt male-gaze sexuality of her character never quite went away. Her combat attire was often a skintight leather jumpsuit with a strategically placed zipper that was always slightly unzipped at her chest. Not even she could escape the series without a potential love interest in Avengers: Age of Ultron when she was momentarily paired up with Bruce Banner.41 In possibly the most egregious crime of them all, she never achieved a status above secondary character throughout the ten years between her character introduction and death, in contrast to newer male characters getting their own solo films, like Doctor Strange.42 It was not until after she sacrificed herself for the sake of the universe (both physical and cinematic) in Avengers: Endgame that she was deemed important enough to get a prequel solo film.43
However, from the beginning, Captain Marvel presents a female image contrary to those that came before her. For one, she already escaped the fate of Black Widow by appearing in her solo film before any others. Her costuming infuses a level of combat practicality not often seen with previous female heroes. Although she still wears a skintight bodysuit, it mirrors the costuming of her male compatriots and does not overly emphasize her breasts. Captain Marvel also escapes the film without any trace of a romantic interest. Instead, she has a meaningful platonic relationship with a fellow former Air Force pilot, Lashana Lynch’s Maria Rambeau and her daughter, Monica, played by Akira Akbar. This choice emphasizes Captain Marvel’s ability to have purposeful relationships that deepen her character — she gains strength in being a friend, rather than weakness in being a passive love interest.
Captain Marvel’s story also invites a reading in contrast to Wonder Woman’s journey of self-discovery. They both hinge upon the fact that, in society, women face stereotypes of being less self-composed and rational and more impulsive and emotional than men. Wonder Woman finds her strength in redefining these generalizations. Her emotion and compassion fuel her heroic behavior and she uses her immense physical strength to accomplish her goal of saving the innocent. Wonder Woman is heroic because she cares deeply for others but must learn that right and wrong are not always precisely defined.
Captain Marvel takes a vastly different journey. At the beginning of the film, Danvers, or, as she is called at the time, Vers, is held back by her male trainer, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), and the “Supreme Intelligence” (Annette Bening) of her world. Their training mantra is that, in order to become an effective warrior, she must fight analytically rather than emotionally. However, Vers’ atomic power becomes more effective when fueled by her anger or excitement, and ultimately her suppression of emotion in battle only benefits those controlling her. Captain Marvel’s power is linked to her emotional expression and she reaches her full potential when her emotion and logic are used in tandem. The movie is far from subtle in exploring workplace discrimination against women, but it takes more time to highlight the effort involved in resistance than Wonder Woman’s display of idealistic determination.
However, the commenters’ backlash would perhaps indicate that Captain Marvel’s views of feminism were not ideal. Previous superheroines, such as Wonder Woman and Black Widow, were praised as feminist simply because they were not damsels, and often remained un-challenging on a fundamental level. And commenters continually harkened back to these standards of feminism in which the heroine upheld an image closer to standard femininity marked by motherly benevolence and inherent sexual appeal. However, Captain Marvel’s feminist journey introduces Danvers as a witty hero who is dirty, angry, and difficult — similar to Tony Stark — and who destroys a male oppressor in an anti-patriarchal beatdown. This femininity requires a balance between physical strength and emotional balance that is unladylike according to age-old standards.
Spectators in IMDb comment sections were used to passively feminist superwomen, and the new complexity of Captain Marvel was not a welcome addition. Captain Marvel requires that viewers adjust their schemas for what a female character should be, even more dramatically than they already have for previous women in superhero genres. Captain Marvel’s plot explicitly relies on defying systems of male control and the film rejects traditional male-gaze focused cinematography to present an empowered woman who possesses physical strength and emotional expression. Although part of an intertextual web of MCU films, Captain Marvel charts a new course for women, while externally, Brie Larson’s support of spectatorship theory and calls for diversity deepen an industry reckoning with who is glorified on screen.
When the male characters of a universe are maintained as the untouchable gold standard and the female ideal retains a level of the male gaze, it speaks to audience members’ expectations of the media and their reactions when that status quo is broken. Captain Marvel strayed the furthest from the male gaze in her first appearance unlike most previous female superheroes, including Harley Quinn, Catwoman, Wonder Woman, and Black Widow. She has enough power and agency to define herself and prove that societal scorn for women’s emotions is misplaced. But these sentiments are not always commonplace in big budget films and perhaps the commenters were not prepared for such a drastic change. And, in a cinematic universe where each text is defined by each of the texts that came before, adopting a different filmmaking lens becomes even more prominent and perhaps even more jarring.
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18. Women In Film, Los Angeles (Producer). (2019). Brie Larson Receives 2018 Women In Film Crystal Award [Video file]. YouTube. Retrieved June 16, 2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wpVKBAT7MJ4, 2:44-2:54.
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25. Lusha12. (2019, May 20). Re: I acually think the film itself deservs 4 out of 10 but brie larson is not a nice person. [Web log comment]. Retrieved June 16, 2019, from https://www.imdb.com/review/rw4817399/?ref_=tt_urv
26. Spotop04. (2019, April 25). Re: Brie Larson made my mind up for me [Web log comment]. Retrieved June 16, 2019, from https://www.imdb.com/review/rw4803007/?ref_=tt_urv
27. Grantpaulsen. (2019, March 6). Re: Honestly, I was hoping for better [Web log comment]. Retrieved June 16, 2019, from https://www.imdb.com/review/ rw4701425/?ref_=tt_urv
28. Bloodfalcon64. (2019, March 10). Re: Captain Marvel Dethrones Iron Man 3 as worst MCU Movie [Web log comment]. Retrieved June 16, 2019, from https://www.imdb.com/review/rw4714082/?ref_=tt_urv
29. Nicholsells. (2019, March 8). Re: Worst Marvel Movie Ever Made [Web log comment]. Retrieved June 16, 2019, from https://www.imdb.com/review/rw4707606/?ref_=tt_urv
30. Deztron. (2019, March 7). Re: Has cool moments, but poor main character writing [Web log comment]. Retrieved June 16, 2019, from https://www.imdb.com/review/rw4704566/?ref_=tt_urv
31. DudesTheWorld1. (2019, April 3). Re: Larson cannot run [Web log comment]. Retrieved June 16, 2019, from https://www.imdb.com/review/rw4759468/?ref_=tt_urv
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37. Htutmaung. (2019, May 5). Re: Just a girl who won the ‘over power’ lottery without any character depth [Web log comment]. Retrieved June 16, 2019, from https://www.imdb.com/ review/rw4829089/?ref_=rw_urv
38. Rory_woodard. (2019, April 1). Re: We deserve a better movie [Web log comment]. Retrieved June 16, 2019, from https://www.imdb.com/review/rw4755615/?ref_=tt_urv
40. Frisco 2007. (2019, March 11). Re: Painfully Dull And Annoyingly Over-Hyped. Brute force does not a superhero make [Web log comment]. Retrieved June 16, 2019, from https://www.imdb.com/review/rw4715925/?ref_=tt_urv
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