Well, the news broke that Brie Larson is in early talks to play Captain Marvel in the upcoming movie. I’m going to go on at length as to what the actual reason is for this seemingly out-of-the-depths-of-space choice, why this is probably a mistake, and why another – fan-favorite – actress should be given the nod.
Oh, man… where to begin…
Okay, let’s talk physicality to start with. When I was thumb-wrestling RTK to see who’d get to write this, we discussed the idea that fit, healthy (or, as Hollywood and big-time supermodel agencies like to call them, “fat”) never get choice roles in films and television. Well, not unless they take the reins in their own hands and make that opportunity happen themselves. I’m thinking Amy Schumer and Lena Dunham here. Both of these women do not fit the typical, stereotypical Hollywood ideal of a healthy, sexy woman. They have some weight on them. And you know what? There isn’t a goddamned thing wrong with that. And look what the two examples I’ve cited above have done so far: Dunham created and controls practically every aspect of her hit show Girls, except maybe choosing which toilet paper is used in the talent’s trailers. Schumer has her own hit show on Comedy Central called Inside Amy Schumer, in which she often skewers the exact same Hollywood standards that women have faced for generations. (“Last Fuckable Day“, anyone?)
But I’m getting away from myself here. The thing about superheroes is, they are a presence. They have to be. There has to be something about each and every one of them that must distinguish them from the absolutely gargantuan horde of other superheroes out there. For some, it’s a certain set of superpowers; for others, a gimmick of some kind. For still others, it’s character traits. But for the majority of heroes, presence equals power. Superheroes have power. This is what makes them “super” to begin with. Remember the transformation sequence in Captain America: The First Avenger, when scrawny Steve Rogers was transformed into the almost comically muscular tower who’d soon wear the colors of the flag? Remember how powerful he looked when he stepped out of the vita-ray chamber? He looked like he could chase down a car and catch it (which, pretty much right after, he did that very thing), and probably throw it across the Hudson River.
Now, sometimes a case can be made that not all superheroes need to be big and muscular to establish presence. They can be of a more average build. Maybe wiry, or even willowy. Spider-Man is a good example of the former. It makes no sense to have a guy who suspends himself between buildings by a thin string to be weighed down by tons of muscle. And while in the comics, Scarlet Witch is most often portrayed as a buxom, curvy woman, somehow Elizabeth Olsen found a way to make her small frame fit the character by essentially fooling the audience (and the bad guys) into thinking she was a weak link in the Avengers, when all she needs to do is wave her hands, and suddenly you’re flung across the Hudson River to land on the car that Cap threw a few decades before. The current owner of the name Ms. Marvel – Kamala Khan – would never be confused with, say DC’s Starfire if you put them in a room and backlit them. She’s a skinny, yet resourceful young woman who uses her powers to great effect to fight crime and whatever else threatens Jersey City.
However, we’re not talking about willowy here. We’re talking about a woman – Carol Danvers – who has been associated with power, authority and physical ability since she was introduced in the original Captain Marvel comic in 1968 as an Air Force security chief. She is a unique character, sharing specific characteristics with just two other heroines that immediately come to mind: Wonder Woman and Power Girl. All three of these characters could not, in any way, shape or form, be mistaken for a damsel in distress. I wouldn’t want to meet Power Girl in a dark alley unless she was rescuing me from muggers. And the latest iteration of the Wonder Woman Barbie doll has her carrying a sword and shield – as she is currently being portrayed both in comics and film – along with her ubiquitous Lasso of Truth. You don’t give a gal a sword and expect her to just cut carrots with it. And Carol Danvers is the third member of this triumvirate. She has proven, time and time again in the comics, that she is worthy of the mantle of Captain Marvel, to the point that current readers probably aren’t even aware of the previous holder of that moniker, Mar-Vell.
And Captain Marvel – the Carol Danvers version – is a no-nonsense leader who can not only back up what she says with her own power, but also through her toughness and being an inspiration to others.
And to be honest, if that’s the character they’re going to portray on the screen in any form, I just simply don’t see Brie Larson in that costume.
Who do I see?
Wellll, go back and read all that stuff I just put down about power, and ability, willingness to throw oneself into the fray and to lead.
We’ve already got someone who’s played a character like that. You might remember her: Katee Sackhoff.
When it was announced back in the early 2000’s that there would be a reimagining of Battlestar Galactica, fan reaction went kinda like this: Edward James Olmos as Adama? Ooh, that’s kinda cool. Mary McDonnell as the president of the Twelve Colonies? Hmm, not a bad choice. Katee Sackhoff as… WHAT? As Starbuck??? What the hell, man? Didn’t you guys read the memo? Starbuck’s a guy, y’all!
So, yeah, there was an imperial shit-ton of objection to Starbuck being reimagined as a female character. That is… until Katee Sackhoff grabbed that character by her short, blonde bob and put her through her paces. In the very first episode of the miniseries that led to the Galactica series, she smoked cigars, drank like she had a Cylon’s liver and leapt across a table to attack and have a fistfight with a superior officer because he provoked her. All throughout the run of the show, Sackhoff owned that character like she was the highest bidder at Christie’s, earning several Saturn Award nominations and winning one. And she also became, almost through sheer force of will – both that of the character and that of the actress who played her – the most popular character on the show.
Quick! Name a character on Battlestar Galactica besides Kara “Starbuck” Thrace! Took ya a second, didn’t it? Even with the hints I laid out. That’s because she burned her portrayal of Starbuck so deeply into the grain of the show that, when her character apparently died, and was missing from the show for a few episodes (five episodes without her was five weeks of pure hell), her presence was even more strongly felt by her absence. Characters who didn’t even like her mourned her passing. Her return to the show brought a collective sigh of relief from fans. After awhile, people started to go, “hey, wait a minute… Starbuck was a guy before?” Kara Thrace owned Battlestar Galactica, and Katee Sackhoff owned Kara Thrace, and wielded her with a vengeance in a four-season-long tour-de-force performance that makes me want to stop writing this article right now, call in sick tomorrow and binge-watch the whole run of the series yet again all the way through the weekend.
That is the actress who should be playing Captain Marvel. Sackhoff has more than earned the right, and has more than shown she’s capable of taking on a character that people want to associate with some other actor. Plus, she just looks like Captain Marvel. I haven’t read the latest run of issues, and I have no direct proof of this, but the latest comics pictorial representations that I’ve seen of Carol Danvers look suspiciously very familiar.
People have been, in the last few days, putting up fanart photoshops of what Brie Larson would look like in a Captain Marvel suit.
She looks like a little, willowy woman in a Captain Marvel suit. Similarly, however, there has been a movement over the last few years, since the announcement by Marvel Entertainment of a movie, by fans showing what Sackhoff would look like in the uniform. And she looks like the suit is tailor-made for her, as if this role was created and is just waiting for her to take it.
But Kevin Feige is touting Brie Larson as the front-runner for the part.
I have a theory about that.
Brie Larson starred in a movie last year called Room. It was about a woman who was abducted, raped, and who bore a son by her captor-rapist. She spends the years as a captive trying to keep her son optimistic about the world, all the while she is being secretly, repeatedly raped by their captor, and fighting off a crippling depression. She won an Oscar for the performance.
I think Feige wants an Oscar-winner for a superhero. I can’t think of any other qualifying reason for these talks. Not to take away from her performance in Room, because in that story, she played a hero of a sort – protecting her son as much as possible from the worst of their predicament, and from the outside world once they were in it – but this was not a superhero. We’re talking apples and asparagus here.
A superhero movie, no matter how serious it gets, is, at the end of the day, a story about one or more people in Halloween costumes beating each other up and rescuing the rest of us. That is the essence of a superhero movie’s story. Good guy/gal finds trouble, good guy/gal fights through the trouble, good guy/gal vanquishes the trouble and emerges victorious. And when it’s done right, everybody enjoys what they see, much popcorn is consumed, box office goes apeshit, and people piss themselves in abject glee when Nick Fury or Thanos show up in the post-credits sequence.
And you want to throw Brie Larson into that mix? I don’t think so. I just don’t see it working.
Let’s go back to physicality. Brie Larson isn’t exactly thin, but if you put her in a room together with, say, Summer Glau and they had their backs turned, you’d have a hard time telling the two apart. Katee Sackhoff, on the other hand, has never hesitated to show herself as fit and healthy, muscular, and even a little bit curvy in places. Very womanly, not girlish, but also powerful. Her physicality is at least half of what made her succeed so well at playing Starbuck and other such roles in 24 and Riddick. Sackhoff has shown she is as fearless as the characters she’s portrayed on both the big and small screen. Exactly the quality one should expect in an actress who’d play Captain Marvel, and exactly why fanboys and fangirls started up with the Katee-as-Carol photoshops pretty much as soon as a movie had been announced. Fans of both Sackhoff and Marvel didn’t see the writing on the wall so much as they took cans of spray paint and did the writing themselves.
Let’s address another point – acting chops.
Larson won an Oscar. Probably much deserved. ‘Nuff said.
You know who else won Oscars? Adrien Brody, whose most famous roles afterward were the hero in Peter Jackson‘s fairly forgettable remake of King Kong, and the Stella Artois guy. Cuba Gooding, Jr., who is only in the last few years slowly making up for his roles in Boat Trip and Daddy Day Care. Also, Marisa Tomei, whose career really never took off as expected after her Supporting Actress win for My Cousin Vinny (although she’s in Civil War for a couple of minutes, so cheers to her for that).
What I’m saying here is that winning the Oscar is not necessarily the barometer to use when judging the ability to take on a superheroic character.
However, as I mentioned before, Katee Sackhoff, although not winning any Emmys – because pfft, science fiction shows, amirite? – consistently blew us away with her portrayal of Kara Thrace. She’s made a career of playing badass women: the aforementioned Riddick, Dana Walsh on 24 (a character really put through her paces, which Sackhoff took on with aplomb) and even a mean-tempered, cynical Pink Ranger in that Power Rangers grimdark short that came out a while back.
Let’s address one last point – recognizability.
Until Larson won the Oscar for her performance, I certainly hadn’t heard of her (seriously, I still keep getting her confused with Alison Brie). The movies and TV shows she was in were far outside my purview when it comes to entertainment. And her recent hosting stint on Saturday Night Live was, for an Oscar winner, disappointingly lackluster. Maybe she was a big deal to some fans, but she’s apparently a really big deal because she has a gold statue in her house now.
On the other hand, you mention Katee Sackhoff, and the fanboys and fangirls either start to drool like extremely drooly things, or get the vapors and fan themselves as furiously as an extra in Gone With the Wind. But outside of her fandom, she’s a relative unknown who is apparently not on Kevin Feige’s map.
You know who else started out as a supporting character in a long-running show, and was given a hey-wait-a-minute-Kevin-are-you-sure-about-this lead role in a Marvel Cineverse production?
None other than Chris Pratt. And, surprising everyone, he demonstrated a deft touch playing the linchpin lead character is what is arguably the most fun and colorful of all the Marvel films so far. Then he went and had the audacity to star in Jurassic World, which went on to earn approximately the gross domestic product of New Zealand.
What I’m saying here is that if you’re going to bet on a relative unknown in the lead role of a franchise film, bet on people who have a solid background in the same type of character you want to cast. Pratt played a lovable, if not totally moral, dufus in Parks and Recreation before getting the role of Star-Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy… where he played a lovable, if not totally moral, dufus, but in space. He saw what that role entailed, and ran with it. I mean, seriously, who challenges Ronan the Accuser to a dance-off and pulls that off without making it look stupid? Someone who could actually make that line work.
And Katee Sackhoff is someone who could easily play Captain Marvel, if that character is portrayed the same way as her most recent comics incarnation, because her most recent comics incarnation is essentially Kara Thrace with some flashy blue-and-red duds. I can see a role like this catapulting her into the A-list, where she has belonged for years, but no one got the memo.
So what Gus is sayin’ is, sure, consider Brie Larson for the role. But give Katee Sackhoff a call. Get her in there to screen test with the outfit on. Watch magic happen, and watch the casting director tear up the list of other hopefuls, including Brie. And then just give Katee the damn role already!