Hollywood's lack of confidence in female superheroes is the reason why female-led superhero films have a history of failing critically and/or financially. People often refer to poorly received films like 2004's Catwoman, which seemed to focus almost solely on the character's sex appeal instead of her actual character. Then there was 2005's Elektra, a spin-off of Daredevil that failed because there seemed to be more interest in action scenes and clunky romance as opposed to the story of a hero who returned from the dead.
These films were indications that studios simply didn't take female-led superhero films seriously. They were also proof that Hollywood simply didn't really know how to write female superhero characters as anything more than romantic interests. Typically, these movies would resort to familiar tropes like the singular "strong female character," bringing the hero's sex appeal to the forefront. That's how we got a film like Aeon Flux, which contained exactly none of the depth and complexity of the animated series.
We've seen a lot less of that in the last decade, thankfully. There are numerous powerful female heroes in mainstream cinema who don't fall into your typical archetypes. More and more we're seeing female leads on the big screen. The Hunger Games, Divergent and Wonder Woman have given us female heroes whose strengths we can all admire. Still, female-led action films are too rare, and female-led superhero films, even more so. It shows that, while attitudes have certainly changed, studios are still slightly hesitant when it comes to bringing female superheroes into focus.
This is why Wonder Woman had such a huge cultural impact. It starred a well known female superhero, was directed by Patty Jenkins, a female director and it was showed everyone, especially studio execs that female-led superhero films can be done extremely well if studios just gave them a proper chance. There is a demand for them and they have every chance of succeeding, all the while avoiding the paper-thin characterisations of heroines past. It represented a huge turning point and offered a reassuring reflection of societal changes.
Wonder Woman cleared the path of a lot of doubt, now it's Marvel's turn to maintain momentum with Captain Marvel. There is no doubt that the film will make the character more popular than she currently is. It needs to take inspiration from Wonder Woman and depict its hero with all her femininity and strength while it avoids showcasing antiquated attitudes.
No tropes like damsels in distress unless absolutely necessary for the story (which, let's face it, it almost never is), no gratuitously sexualized shots. Feminism isn't just about the empowerment of women, it's about equality; in essence, what Carol Danvers has always been about. The most important thing is for the film to remain faithful to the character. That doesn't mean getting the costume to look exactly like it does in the comics. (Though that would be nice!) It means staying true to what the character represents for her fans and readers. It means being more than just spectacular in a fight.
She's got to show audiences the ideals and strength writers had in mind when Ms. Marvel was created decades ago. If Marvel can do that, Captain Marvel could be just as significant to the genre as Wonder Woman, regardless of how well the film does in comparison.
Kevin Feige seems to understand the important of the film and from what we can tell, he seems to be doing his best to ensure its success on all levels. To that end, he chose Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck to direct. They have little experience with films of this magnitude but they understand the importance of character depth which, as we've established, is what this film needs the most.
Time will tell if Captain Marvel is up to the task of making a statement and furthering the progress feminism has made in mainstream cinema. We'll find out more the closer we get to the film's release in 2019.
Set to premiere in March 2019, Captain Marvel is being directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, and stars Brie Larson as Carol Danvers, Jude Law as Mar-Vell and Ben Mendelsohn as Yon-Rogg.