Feminist agenda versus fun superheroes: What do the audiences actually want?


Superhero stories have enthralled people for ages. They are loved for their powerful heroes and heroines and their fascinating plots. But what happens when the traditional stereotypes for our superpowered role models are replaced with characters that represent current issues? Is that what audiences really want? Image courtesy of CamStockPhoto.com

Animesh Sarkar, Lode Writer

We all agree that it’s been a total superhero movie season lately. With the whole world excited to see the final saga of the Avengers franchise, the release of other movies like Shazam and Captain Marvel have kept the audience on edge. However, it’s interesting to see how despite all the hype behind the MCU and DCEU, the movies Captain Marvel and Shazam are poles apart regarding their performance in the box office. According to Rotten Tomatoes, the approval ratings of Shazam were 93 percent, while Captain Marvel earned a mere 33 percent. So the question has to be asked, why is MCU trying to politicize its movies rather than make a fun movie with an interesting story?

As a comic book enthusiast, it is important to point out that Shazam is the true Captain Marvel according to the comics. Due to the overlying similarities with Superman, DC decided to rebrand the character with the name Shazam. The movie Shazam tries to stick to the origin story according to the comics and delivers a nostalgic 80s vibe similar to that of Goonies, ET and of course the movie Big. In addition, Zachary Levi seems like a genuinely nice guy who is in love with the comics and hence embraces the character even in post-production promotions on different talk shows.

Compare this to Captain Marvel. The movie has a below average script with the disinterested actress on its lead role. Captain Marvel as a character was never so big in Marvel comics until the Civil War II comics came out. But the movie became the center of a controversy because of the strong political agenda of the movie. MCU has a habit of using its platform for political messages, like when they released Black Panther during Black History Month and at the same time being represented by faces like Chris Evans who is perhaps one of the most politically outspoken actors online, along with passionate environmental activist Mark Ruffalo.

Brie Larson, who is also a feminist activist, has been using the movie as a platform for diversity. This is one of the major reasons why comic book fans are unhappy with the movie. It is not that the majority audience consists of white male critics or are male chauvinists. But the fact that the essence of the superhero movie is lost when the movie has an agenda. Superhero movies are supposed to create this fantasy world of interesting stories and characters and clearly, Captain Marvel has failed to do that.

Films have always been a strong tool to project social themes and show political issues. Movies like Marianne and Juliane (1981) and A Question of Silence (1982), to name a few, have portrayed feminism well. However, when it comes to superhero movies, the bottom line is fans want to see the actor as someone with the same enthusiasm for the character as they have.