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‘Captain Marvel’: Is Marvel Getting Nervous About Their First Female Superhero Movie?

Captain Marvel comics banner

On Thursday, Marvel Studios made the surprising announcement that they had scheduled an Ant-Man sequel entitled Ant-Man and the Wasp to be released on the plum July 6, 2018 date that had once belonged to Black Panther, which saw its release moved up to February 16 of that year. Meanwhile, the studio’s first female-oriented feature, the cosmic adventure Captain Marvel, once again had its release bumped now going from November 2, 2018 to March 8, 2019.

Captain Marvel has been in development at the studio for years, but it wasn’t until October 2014 when Marvel chairman Kevin Feige formally announced that the film would be released on July 6, 2018 as part of their Phase Three slate. Then Marvel and Sony managed to work out a deal over the rights to Spider-Man and yet another reboot was given the green light for a July 2017 release in between Marvel’s offerings for that year – Guardians of the Galaxy V.2 and Thor: Ragnarok. As a result, Captain Marvel lost its opening day to Black Panther and was moved back to the November 2, 2018 slot that it was recently forced to vacate.

Announcing an Ant-Man sequel was a no-brainer for Marvel, but shoehorning it towards the end of Phase Three (two months after the release of Avengers: Infinity War Part I) seemed like a strange move on the studio’s part. Chadwick Boseman won the coveted role of Black Panther last year and will be making his debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in next May’s Captain America: Civil War. The character will also likely be an important player in the events of the two-part Infinity War. But rescheduling Captain Marvel‘s release once again calls a few things into question, such as what kind of role will Carol Danvers play in the universe-uniting superhero melee against Josh Brolin‘s intergalactic tyrant Thanos and the power of the Infinity Gauntlet.

Joss Whedon had originally wanted to introduce both Captain Marvel and Spider-Man in last May’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. He even went as far as to shoot visual effects plates for the Captain’s planned entrance at the end as part of the new Avengers line-up, but that spot was instead granted to Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). Feige later explained that “it just didn’t seem appropriate to have this new person in a new costume come out of nowhere at the end of this story.”

Several actresses have been linked with the title role in Captain Marvel, including Emily Blunt and most recently Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation star Rebecca Ferguson. The script for the feature is currently being worked on by Nicole Perlman (Guardians of the Galaxy) and Meg LeFauve (Inside Out).

Marvel Studios has a checkered past when it comes to the female members of their cinematic superhero bullpen. They have had no problem introducing characters like Black Widow and Gamora as part of predominantly male ensembles in Iron Man 2, The Avengers, and Guardians of the Galaxy. But by the time Captain Marvel arrives in theaters (if it ever does arrive), it will have been preceded by TWENTY Marvel films featuring mostly male characters.

This could doubtlessly be attributed to the considerable influenced once wielded over the studio’s movie division by Marvel Entertainment CEO Ike Perlmutter, who stated in a leaked e-mail that he didn’t believe female-fronted action and superhero features resulted in strong box office returns. To back up this belief, he listed Elektra, Catwoman, and Supergirl as examples, possibly failing to realize that the reason those movies bombed in theaters was not because they starred women, but because they were widely despised by audiences and critics. Perlmutter was also instrumental in keeping action figures and other toys featuring the MCU’s female characters from being produced in spite of a heavy demand for them from stores and customers.

Perlmutter has been relegated to Marvel’s television arm while being replaced in the pecking order at the film division by Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn. Also no longer a thorn in Feige’s side is the infamous Marvel “creative committee” that included such prominent names in the comics industry as Brian Michael Bendis and Joe Quesada and was, along with Perlmutter, responsible for much of the micromanaging that tended to delay development of Marvel film projects with their incessant notes and unwarranted suggestions.

The actions of the committee could very likely have compelled Patty Jenkins to resign from directing Thor: The Dark World and Edgar Wright from Ant-Man, not to mention forcing Whedon to insert unnecessary scenes in Age of Ultron at the expense of crucial character beats, and helping Ava DuVernay to realize that her time would not be well-spent taking the helm of Black Panther. In the process, Marvel’s reputation as a studio welcoming to visionary filmmakers looking to play in a larger creative sandbox has taken more hits than it really needs. Now that Perlmutter and the committee no longer figure in the development of their film projects and Feige has more power at the studio than ever before, this could very well change in the years to come.

However, that still begs the question: Why does Captain Marvel keep getting pushed back? One possibility could be the problem of cracking the script. In an interview with Collider to promote the upcoming release of Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur, screenwriter LeFauve discussed the challenges of bringing the character to the big screen:

“We just got the phone call to come over to Marvel. But for me personally, the wonderful thing about her and the challenge of her is going to be that she’s a female superhero. And that is awesome because she’s so powerful, and how hard is that going to be because she’s so powerful? We don’t want the Superman curse. ‘What’s her vulnerability?’ is what we have to figure out.”

Nailing the character and locking down a filmable script is very important, especially with major tentpole releases such as the ones that have proven to be Marvel’s specialty. Iron Man 2 went into production without a completed script and ended up one of the studio’s weakest releases to date. Ant-Man turned out better than that movie despite going through endless rewrites that went on right up until the beginning of principal photography, and possibly beyond. So if Marvel’s willingness to push back the theatrical premiere of Captain Marvel is based purely on their insistence to avoid potential narrative pitfalls by getting a great script in place before moving forward, then bully for them.

But if the studio is getting cold feet about committing to a Captain Marvel feature because certain individuals within the Marvel ranks still believe that a female-fronted superhero movie won’t appeal to modern audiences, then they have a lot of catching up to do. Women make up more than half of the ticket buyers now. Though that majority is often by a slim margin that fluctuates from year to year, women are the majority nonetheless. It is an audience that Marvel cannot, and should not, ignore.

Jennifer Lawrence rocketed to movie superstardom as the lead in Lionsgate’s mega-popular Hunger Games franchise. Sigourney Weaver is one of the gold standards of female action heroes as the star of 20th Century Fox’s first four Alien films. The Resident Evil movies did wonders for Milla Jovovich’s career and have proven to be profitable at the box office and on home video. Then there are films released by Marvel’s parent studio Disney that appealed primarily to female moviegoers such as Maleficent ($758.4 million worldwide), Cinderella ($542.4 million worldwide), and the 3D animated feature Frozen ($1.274 billion worldwide).

Marvel Studios has become one of the most trusted brand names in film today. They take chances with their feature slate all the time and they are always rewarded for their troubles. Audiences turned out in droves last year for Guardians of the Galaxy despite having no big-name stars and characters that were not even barely established in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The same went for Ant-Man, which some of the studio’s most devoted followers were prepared to write off throughout its production due to the troubling circumstances surrounding Wright’s exit. I saw that movie twice on the big screen, which is something I rarely do anymore.

The time has been right for Captain Marvel – not to mention Black Panther – since long before Marvel Studios existed. As long as the right creative talent is employed and the end result is well worth checking out, the audiences will be there and the movie will make serious cash at the box office. Don’t think anymore, Marvel. You’ve done plenty of that.

Just go and make Captain Marvel.

1 Comment »

  1. Marvel should be nervous. They’ve mismanaged Carol Danvers for decades.

    Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel is under rated and under employed at Marvel. She’s invulnerable, has super healing and strength, the ability to manipulate gravity and basically fires the power of the sun or any other nearby cosmic entity containing unfathomable amounts of electromagnetic energy out of her hands/fingers in the form of light. Yet, she keeps getting lame story lines like having amnesia, tumors, fighting off re-hashed or ultra lame villians, and even had to punch out some sharks.

    Her super powers could easily be argued to be greatest of the Avengers, yet Marvel never allows the writers to use her powers properly, presumably due to the potential for major imbalance. One can only assume that this imbalance is ignored by your average comic book reader, accustomed to the stereotypical weak or pointless role females have historically played in comics. But these discrepancies won’t be acceptable to the masses on the big screen, especially a largely female audience. So Marvel is stuck.

    Do they unleash Captain Marvel for what she really is, “earth’s mightiest hero” and upset the balance of the Marvel world, or do they reign her female character in as per the status quo of the printed comic book world and push a confusing dud onto the box office? It shouldn’t be a tough choice, but evidently Marvel is struggling with this. Marvel must be wishing they never opened this can of worms.

    Comment by Neil McLean — October 13, 2015 @ 11:51 am

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