Captain Marvel and the Attack of the Internet Trolls

By Jordan Gablaski:

On March 8th, 2019, on International Women’s Day, Captain Marvel premiered across the country. For fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe this was a big moment, especially for those fans who had waited patiently for Marvel to expand and diversify its leading heroes. Captain Marvel marks the first movie in the MCU to be named for and led by a female superhero. Since Marvel is planning to have female superheroes fill the ranks in years to come, the pressure for this film to be received well was substantial. And despite the massive excitement for the film’s release, its reception has been tainted by the comments and actions of internet trolls that took place weeks before the film was even released on the popular movie review site Rotten Tomatoes.

According to a post tweeted by HuffPost on February 24th, the internet trolls that plagued the Rotten Tomatoes page had caused Captain Marvel’s pre-release ratings to drop from 78% to 53%. The question then became: is this how audiences truly felt about the first female led Marvel film, or was it just an attempt by internet trolls to stir discord and negatively affect the ratings of the movie before it even came out? Some of the pre-release comments (many of which were later deleted by Rotten Tomatoes in an attempt to combat the works of the trolls) claimed that Brie Larson, the lead actress of this film, was to blame for their attack on her film. One user even commented that Larson was “sexist and racist”, while another wrote that “Larson has made it clear… men need not attend this movie.”

Early comments from Rotten Tomatoes show a pattern of hate and sexism.

What did Larson say to cause such a backlash? In her own words, she said three times in a speech at the “Crystal + Lucy Awards in 2018” that she did not hate white men, but that she wanted to see more diversity in her industry, and wants to know that her work “will be discussed by a variety of people, not just a singular perspective” She wants to know “what (her) work means to the world, not a narrow view.”

However, as evident from the comments that are cluttering not only Rotten Tomatoes but also IMDb, many white male viewers took offense to her point of view. The audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes for Captain Marvel post release has since slowly crept back up to 62% at the time this was written, and perhaps will continue to increase. The film has managed to earn 79% on the Tomatometer and a 64 out of 100 from Metacritic, both respectable scores. Entertainment Weekly sings praise about the film, proving that not everyone was unimpressed with Brie Larson’s performance, and in fact, fans were shouting their love for Captain Marvel all over Twitter.

However, the negative reviews have not stopped in the days since the film has been released, even though, according to the official Marvel website, “in its opening weekend, Marvel Studios’ “Captain Marvel” made $153 million in North America and $455 million worldwide”. What’s more, according to the The Hollywood Reporter “‘Captain Marvel’ is (internationally) pulling in more money than any superhero film introducing a new character.” And yet Rotten Tomatoes and IMBd are filled with ½ star and 1 star reviews, many of which don’t even bother to explain why they didn’t enjoy the movie.

hAccording to Box Office Mojo, Captain Marvel‘s opening ranks 7th out of all other
MCU films.

Furthermore, those users whose comments were deemed to be hateful were deleted by the Rotten Tomatoes site. So many users are now claiming that movie review sites are now being censored. When I asked Meg B. what she thought about the idea that many of the users of Rotten Tomatoes are claiming that their opinions were being censored, she had this to say: “I don’t think it’s censorship because it was a review based on off a movie they hadn’t even seen. Trailers and posters, and interviews with cast aren’t enough to judge a movie entirely. I don’t understand why they are angry.”

However, Rotten Tomatoes only deleted those negative posts which were dated before the release of the movie and has discontinued the ability of users to leave comments on movies before they have been released in theaters. Rose H., a Junior at Assumption believes that Rotten Tomatoes had every right to delete the hateful pre-release comments, saying that people “shouldn’t have that chance to skew the ratings without having seen the movie first.”

In order to find out how the average viewer felt about comments made about the movie, I took to the streets of Assumption College and put out a poll on Facebook and Twitter to ask people about Captain Marvel. Out of 33 people polled, 75.8% of voters had not heard about the attack of the internet trolls prior to reading about it for the poll.

Out of those 33 voters, a majority, both people who had seen the film and had not, responded that they did not pay attention to reviews and would not have let the comments of the trolls influence how they watched a film. Many thought that people who were “true fans” of the franchise would go see the movie regardless of the comments and “make their own decisions.”    

However, on the social media poll, 11 voters replied with some variation of the idea that viewers who had heard about or read these negative comments would probably watch the film differently. One voter wrote that he/she thought that “naive people” may watch the film with a bias after reading comments that the film had a feminist agenda. Another stated that people who don’t “fact check” may have a “skewed opinion”. And yet another thought that he/she might actually like the film better after reading negative comments about the female lead film because he/she would “want it to succeed”.

When I sat down with Professor Becky DiBiasio, an Associate Professor of English at Assumption, she agreed reading the comments would affect the way a person received the film. “Whether you agree with those comments or not, (knowing about the comments) predisposes you to think about it (the feminist claims) and watch the film with that in mind,” she said. She also added that she is always bewildered by the male fans who become outraged by the idea of feminism because it doesn’t take away from the power of the male characters in any way.

When I sat down with John C., a self-proclaimed Marvel Fanboy, he also thought the comments would influence how people received the film. “I’d say it would be hard not to be influenced by them, regardless of whether you’ve read them.” he said. John also discussed the fact Captain Marvel is introduced as a middle-movie between Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame. “I think that if they had released her before Infinity War people might have liked her better,” he said, “we didn’t have enough time to understand the character since she came in so late in the game. But if people hated it because she is a woman, that is misplaced.” However, when I asked him specifically about the troll incident on Rotten Tomatoes, he was very emphatic, “If the movie hasn’t come out yet, you can’t review the movie”.

The truth is that there is a lot riding on the success of this film. With the success of Captain Marvel follows the future of empowered women in the MCU. As Brie Larson herself said about the changes for empowered women on the horizon in an interview with Marie Claire Magazine “It’s just the beginning. Captain Marvel will not be the answer to all of these things”. There will always been room for growth and further diversity in the industry. Luckily, the negative reviews that are still covering prominent review sites are mixed in with incredible amounts of praise. Like any other movie, it’s incredibly difficult to get a complete consensus. Overall, Captain Marvel can be deemed a success, at the box office and in the hearts of her growing league of fans.

And, as Captain Marvel says, “higher, further, faster, baby”. The struggle that Captain Marvel faced was most definitely a rocky first step, but there is nowhere to go but up. As the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to grow and expand, the best we can hope for is the same quality of film, the same evolution and move toward diversity, and an equal amount of acceptance and open-mindedness from fans.


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