Miriam Kent is Lecturer in Film Studies at the University of Essex and has a PhD in Film Studies. She researches film, media and comics with a focus on gender and adaptation. Her work draws from interdisciplinary feminist theory, film studies, comics studies and cultural theory. Her monograph Women in Marvel Films is forthcoming from Edinburgh University Press, 2021.
Superhero blockbuster Captain Marvel (Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, 2019) was framed in popular discourse as a breakthrough for Marvel Studios, the company’s first women-led (and co-directed) film, a ground-breaking “feminist” triumph. Focusing on a character established in Marvel comics in the late-1960s as a response of sorts to US second-wave feminism, the shape of the character in the film bears complex intertextual links to her publication histories. The film plays into wider representational conventions in recent popular culture through its use of a 1990s setting, inserting the character into a distant but still familiar environment inhabited by Blockbuster video stores and grunge music. However, Captain Marvel’s use of nostalgia also reaches into established and ongoing conventions of revisionism and self-reflexivity that extend far into the history of superhero comics form and publishing. This has explicit implications for the character of Captain Marvel, who carries a history through comics and other media as a woman-, or “feminist,” superhero and frequently occupies distinctly a postfeminist subjectivity and temporality. This video essay examines how the film’s use of 1990s nostalgia ties into ongoing issues of superhero revisionism in the character’s adaptation to a highly politicised, contemporary popular feminist media landscape. Here, Trump-era politics were often overtly criticised, while the film maintained a sense of ideological complacency around meanings of “tough” femininity (e.g. through its construction of military femininity).