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Marvel went woke, now it’s going broke

The superhero-film studio is paying a heavy price for trying to lecture its fans.

Laurie Wastell

Topics Culture Identity Politics World

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Marvel Studios, the superhero-movie behemoth, endured its worst year ever at the box office in 2023.

A few explanations have already been offered for Marvel’s ailing fortunes. Bob Iger, CEO of Disney, Marvel Studios’ parent company, has said that fans are tired of so many sequels. One pundit has blamed a lack of quality control. Another feels that 15 long years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has resulted in an ‘ennui de superheroes’ among the cinema-going public.

No doubt these factors have played a role in Marvel’s torrid year. But there is a rather more obvious explanation that Hollywood elites are loath to acknowledge. Marvel, like Disney itself, is paying the price for having ‘gone woke’. It is discovering that injecting preachy, hectoring storylines into its output is a real turn-off for audiences.

Out of Marvel’s three releases last year, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 did fairly well at the box office; Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania failed to break even; and, most telling of all, The Marvels bombed.

There had been a lot riding on The Marvels, the sequel to Captain Marvel (2019). Starring an ensemble superhero cast of Captain Marvel, Ms Marvel and Monica Rambeau, it had a mammoth budget of $275million. As one outlet explained before The Marvels’ release in November, such hefty financial backing meant it had ‘the potential to be something special’ and even to ‘make or break’ the future of Marvel Studios.

Typically, to break even, a film has to make back its budget plus its marketing and distribution costs, which can often amount to more than it costs to make the film. In these terms, it’s fair to say The Marvels flopped. After the worst-ever opening weekend for a Marvel film, The Marvels ended up with box office takings of just $205million, failing to make back even its production costs.

That The Marvels flopped should have surprised no one. Lacking the popular old-guard cast of Iron Man, Captain America and Thor, the franchise rested on the character of Captain Marvel, played by Brie Larson. This was always going to be a recipe for box-office failure.

Larson’s smug Captain Marvel exemplifies the tedious trope of the ‘girlboss’, which is now depressingly common in Hollywood. The girlboss is basically a woke person’s idea of a ‘powerful woman character’. She is arrogant, flawless and often appears to hold men in contempt. Not only does the character Captain Marvel possess all these characteristics in spades – endlessly bragging about her powers and defeating villains with ease – so too, it appears, does Larson herself.

Back in 2018, Larson infamously complained that too many ‘white dudes’ were giving her film, A Wrinkle in Time, negative reviews. The following year, at a press junket for Avengers: Endgame, Larson pompously upbraided co-star Chris Hemsworth for likening her to Tom Cruise, after she boasted of doing her own stunts. ‘I’ll be the first me’, she told Hemsworth, ‘not the next Tom Cruise, thank you very much’. Later that year, on the press tour for Captain Marvel, she lectured fans about the importance of ‘female empowerment’.

Promotional material for The Marvels did little to endear Larson to fans. An early trailer featured a lyric from ‘Intergalactic’ by the Beastie Boys, ‘Well, now, don’t you tell me to smile’ – a reference to a scene in Captain Marvel where she ticks off a biker for doing just that. Sympathetic media duly interpreted the trailer as a ‘middle finger to all the haters of the Captain Marvel franchise’, a not-so-subtle dig at Marvel’s allegedly sexist male fans.

And, then, ahead of The Marvels’ release, director Nia DaCosta was even more contemptuous, railing against ‘pockets [of the fandom] that are really virulent and violent and racist – and sexist and homophobic and all those awful things’. If that’s what the director thinks of some of those who watch Marvel films, no wonder so few turned up.

It might comfort DaCosta, Larson or Marvel Studio execs to attribute The Marvels’ box-office failure to sexism and racism. But the success of other recent Marvel films refutes this theory. After all, fans flocked to see Scarlett Johansson’s kick-ass lead performance in Black Widow in 2021. And 2018’s Black Panther, which featured a mostly black cast and focussed on the fictional African country of Wakanda, was a box-office sensation.

Audiences are no doubt tiring of Marvel and the superhero genre in general. But Marvel’s woke turn has accelerated the decline. Its decision to treat its audience as a mass of unreconstructed bigots in need of moral correction is alienating even many hardcore fans.

Marvel is learning an all-too-familiar lesson. It has gone woke, and now it is going broke. And it only has itself to blame.

Laurie Wastell is a writer.

Picture by: YouTube.

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Topics Culture Identity Politics World

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