It’s not surprising that Marvel fanboys tried to crash Captain Marvel.
As a Marvel fan, I was bothered by the angry men and boys who generated fake online reviews and conspiracy theories to try to hurt the success of the first Marvel film with a heroine at the center, but one thing that rewatching the MCU has made clear to me is that there is nothing in the early films themselves that would have offended those same men and boys.
The Marvel movies in “Phase 1,” as the episodes up to the first Avengers are known, established a toxic cinematic vocabulary, where sexual harassment is depicted as acceptable and funny, women are either sexualized or ignored altogether, and the male gaze dominates.
I would divide the early Marvel movies in two categories: Movies That Aren’t That Overtly Sexist But Feature Almost No Women (The Incredible Hulk, Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor) and Movies That Consistently Showcase Overt Sexism (Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Avengers).
I haven’t yet gotten to rewatching Age of Ultron, where Black Widow feels like a monster for not being able to bear biological children, or Guardians of the Galaxy, where the rather disgusting toxic masculinity of Star-Lord is frequently treated as a cool joke. But the trend is well established.
By contrast, almost all of the more recent MCU films have been major improvements in this area — Black Panther and Captain Marvel prominently feature a variety of full, excellently written characters who are women, as do Thor: Ragnarok, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Ant-Man & the Wasp.
Over the last decade, as MCU movies have come out in a steady drip, American culture has, on the one hand, started to painfully reckon with its own toxic masculinity, and on the other hand, elected Donald Trump as president. The Marvel movies serve as a mirror to this dichotomous cultural moment, a reflection of the times in which they were created. They mark imperfect growth.
The Iron Man trilogy of films are the worst offenders here, with Tony’s objectification and usage of women amplified and unchallenged by the films themselves. But his arc over the many movies in the series does evolve, and he enters a monogamous relationship with Pepper Potts, who herself gains more influence and respect as the series goes on.
When The Avengers came out in 2012, Joss Whedon’s pseudo-feminism was celebrated, but it has since come under more scrutiny. After revisiting The Avengers this week, I’m sorry to say the red flags were there all along. Lots of male gaze, lots of dumb little jokes (like that one terribly misogynistic line Loki says) that were ignored at the time but which now seem like toxic masculinity bursting out of its leather skin of wokeness.
My approach toward pop culture is always to look at how it reflects real life, and to compartmentalize somewhat. Noticing the sexism of the early MCU doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy watching anymore, but I do find it disappointing, and it’s definitely worth talking about.
Hopefully the next 20 movies in this series will continue to get better, because maybe that will mean the rest of us are getting better too.
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On my radar: March 15-21, 2019
To put something good on my radar, please get in touch.
Friday, March 15
🎬 Babylon (In theaters) — Originally released in 1980, the film is playing in the United States for the first time. Trailer.
🎭 Burn This (Broadway, previews begin March 15, opens April 16, closes July 7) — A steamy play featuring Adam Driver and Keri Russell would be on my radar in any circumstance, but in this case, the pairing may placate my eagerness to see them return for Episode IX later this year. More info.
🎬 Captive State (In theaters) — All I know is it’s directed by Rupert Wyatt and it stars John Goodman. I’m in. Trailer.
📺 Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (New episode @ 9 p.m., CW) — The final season continues!
🎬 Five Feet Apart (In theaters) — It looks like a sexy movie about a terminal illness. What’s not to like? Trailer.
📺 Love Death + Robots (Netflix) — An animated anthology series for adults. Trailer.
🎬 Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase (In theaters) — From the writers of The Handmaid’s Tale, the director of Poison Ivy and the star of It, comes (what I assume to be) an entirely different kind of story of young womanhood. I have a feeling the tone for this will more closely resemble that of the film’s producers, Ellen DeGeneres and Wendy Williams. Trailer.
📺 Shrill (Hulu) — Aidy Bryant is finally getting her own show. Trailer.
Saturday, March 16
📚 Short Plays to Nourish the Mind & Soul Presents: Get Up & Stand Up (George Bruce Library, March 16, 4 p.m.) — More info.
🎭 Hillary and Clinton (Broadway, previews begin March 16, opens April 18, closes July 7) — Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow are two performers I would love to see on stage. More info.
🤣 Shamilton (UCB Hell’s Kitchen, March 16 @ 10:30 p.m.) — An improvised hip hop musical based on an historical figure of the audience’s choosing. More info.
Sunday, March 17
📺 The Case Against Adnan Syed (Part 2 airs @ 9 p.m., HBO) — This four-part documentary series reopens the murder case that catapulted podcasting into the mainstream of popular culture. I still haven’t watched Part 1. More info.
Monday, March 18
🤣 Movies, Musicals, and Me (UCB Hell’s Kitchen, March 18 @ 10:30 p.m.) — A movie musical parody sketch show. The last show was one of the best things I have seen so far at UCB. More info.
Tuesday, March 19
📺 Miracle Workers (New episode @ 10:30 p.m., TBS) — The penultimate episode of this limited series!
💿 Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Blu-ray (March 19) — One of the best movies in years comes out on Blu-ray! Really looking forward to picking up a copy.
🎭 Oklahoma! (Broadway, previews begin March 19, opens April 7, closes Sept. 1) — Since I first started loving musicals, I have identified as a sort of anti-Rodgers-and-Hammerstein musical fan. I have always been more drawn toward productions involving bloodthirsty plants, frank discussions of disease — anything with an edge. And yet, I adored the somewhat updated version of Cinderella in 2013, and now, it seems this production of Oklahoma! — a show credited with being the first modern musical — has all the edge I would ever want. It’s officially recommended only for teenagers and adults for its “mature content,” even though not a word of the book or songs have apparently been changed. This review from The New Yorker has me paying attention. Maybe I have been a fan of Rodgers and Hammerstein all along. More info.
Thursday, March 21
📺 Superstore (New episode @ 8 p.m., NBC) — Slept on this show for too long. It's hilarious and well-written.
📺 Brooklyn Nine-Nine (New episode @ 9 p.m., NBC) — I finally caught up last summer after falling behind, and I am really enjoying the new season.
📺 Broad City (New episode @ 10 p.m., Comedy Central) -- The final season continues!
🎬 Movie Marathon Series: The MCU in chronological order — I’m doing a series of movie marathons this year, and the first is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, leading up to Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame. More info.
At the end of each newsletter, I look to — the past! — to mention the most most notable pieces of culture I've been paying attention to, whether they were previously on my radar or not.
🎬 After Rikers: Justice by Design (short film) — I caught a screening of this short film by Public Square Media at an event at Columbia University. It was eye-opening about the inhumane treatment of prisoners at Rikers prison in New York City and how a more community-based solution would make our communities safer. I highly recommend following both the film @RIKERSfilm and Public Square Media @PublicSquareMed to see when and where the film will be available in the future.
Visit the full list for my complete listing of upcoming movies, TV shows and more.
ADDED THIS WEEK:
🎬 Climax (In theaters) — All I know about this is is that it’s a horror dance film. Those two genres go together like peanut butter and chocolate. Just check out this trippy trailer and see what I mean.
🎬 Gloria Bell (In theaters) — Julianne Moore is earning acclaim for this role. Looks good! Trailer.
🦕 Dinosaur safari experience (April 19-Nov. 3, The Bronx Zoo) — Apparently this will be a shuttle ride around with some enormous animatronic dinosaurs to see and that sounds like very much My Thing ™. More info.
🎬 Booksmart (In theaters May 24) — Received great buzz at SXSW this year. The directorial debut of Olivia Wilde. More info.
Thanks for reading! What's on your radar? Get in touch to let me know! And look for my next letter to go out on March 22.