THE ACADEMY AWARD WINNING STAR OF ROOM AND KONG: SKULL ISLAND TAKES ON THE FORMERLY MALE PLAYED ROLE OF CAPTAIN MARVEL, IN A MARCH 8 RELEASE FILM ITS PRODUCER DESCRIBES AS PRESENTING “THE MOST POWERFUL HERO THE MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE HAS EVER SEEN”
BY MATT SCANLON
The presence and prevalence of female centric graphic novels and female characters therein has been the subject of renewed interest and scrutiny since 2017, when David Gabriel, marketing VP at Marvel Comics, offered to online trade magazine ICv2 that retailers were reporting “people didn’t want any more diversity. They didn’t want female characters out there.” Though he retracted the statement shortly thereafter, it put not just the comic world in a fresh spotlight, but also its multi-billion dollar motion picture extension. Seemingly in gathering awareness of the proportionally smaller presence of women on the graphic novel page and both in front of and behind the lens, by just the next year, a cinematic landscape that had been largely bereft of women superheroes was redrawn by Wonder Woman, which raked in international receipts of $821.74 million, becoming at the time the highest grossing superhero origin film (though surpassed last year by Black Panther and Venom).
The inclusion lesson seems to have been decidedly learned, because there are, at time of press, at least 11 female superhero movies recently completed or in some stage of development. This includes Alita: Battle Angel (starring Rosa Salazar), Wonder Woman 1984 (due next summer, and once again starring Gal Gadot), Batgirl (its cast members as yet unknown), and Captain Marvel, written and directed by the team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Mississippi Grind, Half Nelson) and starring Brie Larson as Carol Danvers, a U.S. Air Force pilot who ultimately becomes one of the universe’s most powerful heroes. In the March 9 release film, based on a comic character that first appeared in 1968, Earth is caught in the middle of a 1990s set war between alien races, and describes, according to the studio, “a previously unseen period in the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe [MCU].” Also previously unseen is the range of women stars and executives at work in the film; it will be the first simultaneously woman led and co directed production in the 11 year MCU franchise.
In Boden and Ryan Fleck’s script, Danvers’s DNA is partially fused with that of a technologically advanced and militaristic alien race known as Kree. The result that she’s imbued essentially with the powers of a god, but also aggression, impetuousness, hot headedness, and in lighter moments a penchant for bad joke making essentially a stew of Kree superlatives and human fallibilities.
“Those two sides warring against each other is what makes her her,” Larson explained in a September interview with Entertainment Weekly. “You have this Kree part that’s unemotional, that is an amazing fighter and competitive. Then there’s this human part that is flawed, but also the thing that she ends up leading by. It’s the thing that gets her in trouble, but it’s also [what] makes her great.”
During preparation for Larson’s Academy Award , Golden Globe , and BAFTA winning performance in Room (2015) about a mother and her 5 year old son who gain freedom after being held captive for years in an enclosed space the 29 year old Sacramento native became adept at the physical and psychological requirements of transforming for a role. In that film, that metamorphosis was from a normal young woman to an underfed but wiry and muscular feral like state. For Captain Marvel, by contrast, in order to produce what Producer Kevin Feige described as “the most powerful hero the MCU has ever seen,” Larson was required to grow in both presence and physicality. During extended pre shoot workouts, she trained in the boxing ring and also became adept at martial arts.
“[In the end] I was able to lift more than 220 pounds,” she offered at a panel event during early December’s Brazil ComicCon. “I [trained in] judo, taekwondo. I dedicated myself.”
“She’s so deft in her abilities and so willing to go all the way I don’t think anyone else could have brought [the Room role] to life with so much emotional truthfulness,” said that film’s director, Lenny Abrahamson.
It simply wouldn’t be a 21st century media project of any kind never mind one in the graphic novel inspired realm without largely anonymous social media critics, and reaction to the first Captain Marvel trailer on YouTube included some observations that its lead “wasn’t smiling enough,” a phrase Polygon (polygon.com) media writer Julia Alexander adeptly assessed as “not just an oblique suggestion… but [one] often associated with gendered discrimination and street harassment.” Larson herself responded in part by Instagramming Twitter user HeyMermaid’s redrawing of other MCU movie posters to include its stars sporting large and inappropriate grins on the likes of Doctor Strange, Iron Man, and Captain America.
Captain Marvel was written as a prequel to a number of MCU characters; joining the cast and reprising previous roles are Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson, and Djimon Hounsou and Lee Pace as Ronan and Korath, respectively. New faces include Jude Law as Danvers’s mentor, Walter Lawson (aka Mar Vell), and Annette Bening as her mother.
Born Brianne Sidonie Desaulniers to homeopathic chiropractors Heather and Sylvain Desaulniers, Larson was home schooled, spoke French as a first language (her father is of French Canadian ancestry), and began studying drama at 6 as the youngest student ever to attend the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. Her first non-bit TV part was in the short lived 1998 CBS series To Have & to Hold, and she was a costar in all 22 episodes of the WB series Raising Dad (2001–2002), but found breakout roles as Toni Collette’s sarcastic and rebellious daughter in Showtime’s drama United States of Tara (2009 2011), then as the supervisor of a group of at risk teens in the acclaimed film Short Term 12 (2013), for which she earned an Independent Spirit Award Best Actress nomination. Larson has also appeared on stage at Manhattan’s Williamstown Theater Festival in the role of Emily in Our Town. In addition to acting, she is a writer and director; her short film, The Arm, won the Special Jury Award for Best Comedic Storytelling at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
At the same Brazil Comic Con panel, she spoke about both Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame (due out on April 26, and in which she reprises the role). Somewhat jokingly asked to compare the relative strengths of The Avengers, Larson replied with a smile that “She’s the strongest character in the Marvel universe…and she’s coming at a very interesting time, is she not?” in reference to plot events from both Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.
Later asked about how she inspired herself, Larson offered simply that “[her character] Carol inspired me to push my limits; there’s so much [in her], including trust and a good ego.” Her performance, she hoped, would help women, particularly, “recognize that you’re strong, that you’re amazing. [The role] gave me respect for myself, and I hope it makes you feel like you own it when you leave the theater.”