My younger daughter, who will be nine this month, is a big fan of the MCU. As much as I was a fan of Star Wars when I was a kid. It’s also fun to have someone who wants to watch action movies, as George Lucas said it’s great to have someone who understand explosions. She is eagerly awaiting the release of Black Widow [wikipedia.org] and also Shang-Chi [wikipedia.org]. Black Widow is one of her favorite characters and Shang-Chi is, well, Asian so close to home.
Since the MCU has been on a bit of a hiatus in the age of COVID-19 we have been re-watching the many of the movies. Not all of them but a lot of them, we’ve been in second wave COVID lockdown for the summer school holidays, so movies galore. Last week we made it to the final leg of the “Infinity Saga”; Avengers: Infinity War, Ant Man, Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame.
Captain Marvel is one of my daughter’s favorite MCU characters (can you see a pattern here?). and while I didn’t think Captain Marvel was a great movie, it is fun. And while being a fun movie it managed to server another purpose, it was the first MCU film to have a solo female lead character.
Remember that even before the movie came out it sparked a skirmish in the culture wars [forbes.com]? Whatever you think about the controversy the movie was an empowering story for a 6 year old girl. And bravo to Disney for making superhero movies that remember that there are girls out there to who like explosions. I remember reading somewhere, that Disney bought Marvel and Star Wars since they didn’t have properties for older boys but they have not just focused on the boys, they have continued to make stories with female characters, in both supporting and lead roles, that aren’t just damsels in distress or eye candy for their male fans; not just fan service.
If you’re not familiar with “Fan Service” let’s let Wikipedia get you up to speed:
Fan service, fanservice or service cut, is material in a work of fiction or in a fictional series which is intentionally added to please the audience, often sexual in nature, such as nudity. The term originated in Japanese in the anime and manga fandom, but has been used in other languages and media.Fan Service [wikipedia.org] article on Wikipedia (emphasis mine)
Wikipedia is being nice, mostly it’s a way for media to parade their female characters in the tightest or skimpiest or otherwise sexiest outfits they can. It’s not a new thing, I remember 90’s anime traded on VHS tapes that had “fan service”. And while I’m sure there is fan service targeted at audiences who want to look at guys out there it’s nowhere near as ubiquitous as scantily clad women.
And speaking of fan service, and getting back to watching the final leg of the Infinity Saga with my daughter, there is a scene in Endgame during the final battle that pissed off a lot of (male?) fans. During the climactic battle there is a scene where all the female superheros of the MCU appear in a single shot. Even watching Endgame in the theater and caught up in the action it felt unnecessary and forced; out of place and in your face. Watching the movie again, at home, for me, it’s worse, it doesn’t fit with the narrative to me and I can see why people see the heavy hand of a studio wanting to be inclusive and “woke” in it. But for my daughter? She loves it, she pauses it and names all the characters.
Endgame was filled with this different, more family friendly, type of fan service: Captain America taking up Mjolnir, proving his worthiness and finally getting to say “Avenger, assemble” being two major examples. Fan service it is, but in a way that takes the term away from it’s sexist roots.
What separates those two scenes with Cap from the (almost) all-the-MCU-ladies shot is that Caps senses served a narrative purpose. I failed to find any purpose in the al-the-MCU-ladies shot. (I did read there was a narrative reason [yahoo.com], but it sounds like it was after-the-fact inserted, so the scene was truly forced, and it’s purpose was not clear to me when watching or re-watching the movie…) I think trying to single out the ladies as a single group at once didn’t work, better to have had more screen time kicking the baddies asses throughout the epic battle (Captain Marvel and Wanda had some good fight scenes but less so the other ladies.)
Anyway I’m getting off topic… the point is that one persons eye rolling, cringe scene can be another persons fan service and inspiration. And as the father of two girls I’m glad they have role models outside of princesses. I’m glad Disney has expanded on the role of female characters in Star Wars and make the women of Marvel more empowered and empowering and less just eye candy for the boys.