The Zack Snyder cut of Justice League began streaming online a few days ago. It inspired me to reflect on how different the DC and Marvel Cinematic Universes are. I find one difference particularly striking: how they portray their super-powered female leads. I am referring, of course, to DC’s Diana Prince (aka Wonder Woman) and Marvel’s Carol Danvers (aka Captain Marvel). The cinematic portrayal of Wonder Woman is obviously superior to that of Captain Marvel. I will use this post to explain why.
The biggest reason why Wonder Woman’s portrayal is superior is that DC realizes its female characters cannot carry a feature film without, at the very least, a male love interest. For Wonder Woman, that man is Steve Trevor. He added so much value to the first Wonder Woman film that the studio crafted a convoluted storyline to bring him back for the second. His role in the second film not only illuminated Diana Prince’s moral weakness, but helped her overcome it. Wonder Woman 1984’s happy ending, such as it was, came more from Steve Trevor’s fateful wish than it did from Diana’s power and prowess. He was the real hero of the film. Well played, DC.
Contrast that with the mess of a film that was Captain Marvel. Sure, there were male characters. We see younger versions of Nick Fury and Phil Coulson, and various male-appearing, sometimes gender-bending, Skrulls. While Fury helped Carol Danvers at various points in the film, she never needed his moral bearings or even motivation. With a few extra plot twists and turns, Danvers could have gotten the job done without help. Marvel producers must have been smoking something potent to think a plot like that was worth investing in.
To understand why this matters, we need to face a simple fact: this is a man’s world. The United States of America, where both DC and Marvel are based, is a country founded by — and ultimately for — men. Women were not even allowed to vote in this country until 1920, barely 100 years ago. Within 10 years of the Constitutional Amendment that perpetrated that change, the Great Depression ensued. Coincidence? I think not. But I digress.
Films that portray women as people capable of accomplishing important tasks without the support and oversight of men challenge stereotypes in a profoundly sinister way. They trigger male viewers’ insecurities. This serves no useful purpose! DC producers understand this. That understanding guides their film-making decisions, as it should. Wonder Woman’s audience approval rating illustrates this well. Marvel apparently missed that memo, and its films suffer accordingly. We need look no further than Captain Marvel’s audience rating for evidence of this.
Carol Danvers’ role in Avengers: Endgame exacerbated this issue. Her arrival turned the tide in the film’s final battle. The Avengers would not have defeated Thanos without her. Her portrayal inspires some to wonder if she is the most powerful character introduced so far in the MCU. DC’s Justice League never made this mistake with Diana Prince. It was a certain super man’s arrival that turned the tide in that film, as it should have been. At least Marvel Studios had enough sense to entrust Tony Stark with the task of dusting Thanos’ army. Rest in peace, Iron Man.
Another aspect of how these characters are portrayed is also worth mentioning: wardrobe. Here again, the DC Cinematic Universe reigns supreme.
Who, I must ask, fights baddies wearing armored lingerie? The correct answer to this vital question is the one and only Diana Prince. It takes a true Wonder Woman to do the hero thing while showing serious skin, and truly good casting directors to make sure the skin is worth seeing. Directors that film gratuitous ass shots and sneak in the occasional up-skirt during Diana’s wondrous leaps make for even more viewing pleasure. We can count on DC to offer these. Marvel, not so much. Diana’s appreciation of heels is a nice touch too.
Contrast Wonder Woman’s fine costuming with what Marvel stuck Carol Danvers with: a drab rubber suit that covered everything worth seeing. Technicolorizing Danvers’ costume when she switched sides later in the film helped nothing. She was dressed just like her male Star Force counterparts earlier on, even down to her flat-soled boots. It was as if they saw her as an equal, and allowed her to dress as such. Whatever, Marvel.
Films like Captain Marvel give me the distinct impression Marvel producers have ulterior motives. It is as if they are trying to suggest to women and girls that they can be more than eye candy for the male gaze. Marvel, heed this free advice: If you want to stay relevant, you need to get with the program. There is no money to be made by inspiring disadvantaged people to expect something more from the world, even if those people make up more than half of the world’s population. Leave the moral activism to athletes and academics.
And one final note before I let your eyes wander from my profound writing: In case it is not clear, this is satire.
I wonder: Why is it so taboo for major movie studios to produce action-adventure spectacles with strong female leads who get the job done without a male love interest, all while staying fully clothed? And why do so many male movie goers lose their shit when a film like this finally shows up?
These questions are worth pondering. I hope to see more films, and other media too, that inspires us all to ponder them.
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