Is Captain Marvel military propaganda?
By Joe Harker
Captain Marvel has opened to generally favourable critical reviews and a box office opening that took enough money to make Croesus blush. Of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films only Avengers: Infinity War had a bigger opening.
The film follows Carol Danvers, the titular heroine played by Brie Larson, and provides an origin for a character widely expected to be one of the main stars in the upcoming Avengers: Endgame. The post credits scene of Infinity War teased her introduction and this movie tells her story along with a bit of help from a de-aged SHIELD agents Nick Fury and Phil Coulson, plus Goose, a cat that has become insanely popular in Korea.
However, an unusual criticism of the film has surfaced and that is the way the military is portrayed in the film. Carol Danvers is a fighter pilot and Captain Marvel has been accused of glorifying the US military.
Writing for Los Angeles Magazine, Samuel Braslow argues that beneath the superheroics and feminism of Captain Marvel is support for the US Air Force, which he describes as "yet another holdout of gender inequality".
In press interviews for the film Larson said she hoped it would inspire women to become pilots. The USAF is facing a shortage of pilots and hopes that films like Captain Marvel can have a similar impact to Top Gun, which was a major boost to air force recruitment.
The Wrap reports that the USAF using Captain Marvel as promotion for itself glosses over a "wider, persistent problem" of sexual misconduct in the military. They may want more women to sign up but they haven't made it a place where they are safe from their comrades.
Writing in the Washington Post, David Sirota argues that since Top Gun was released in 1986 the military has increasingly turned to Hollywood for propaganda and recruitment.
Calling it the "Military-Entertainment Complex", Sirota writes that popular films can boost recruitment numbers and public perception of the military. While some films such as the Oscar winning The Hurt Locker manage to do it without military backing many more sign up and let the military interfere with their script in exchange for access to equipment and locations.
It's a form of soft propaganda where many viewers don't even realise the film they watched had to be signed off by the military as appropriate. The military knows how helpful the movie industry can be in maintaining a strong public image and boosting recruitment.
The Counter Claim:
However, the Marvel movies have often had a critical streak in them despite working with the military, argues Gavia Baker-Whitelaw of The Daily Dot.
She writes that the Iron Man films attacked the military-industrial complex as protagonist Tony Stark shut down his weapons manufacturing operations. At first a supplier to the military, Stark soon decides to stop making weapons of war after seeing them in the hands of his terrorist captors.
Baker-Whitelaw also points out that Captain America, a US soldier who should be the perfect poster boy for the military, has a strong anti-establishment streak in his films. He's often left wondering who the good guys really are and ended up going on the run as a fugitive.
At least three members of the wider Avengers team are canonically serving members in the US military (or is that two since Falcon got Thanos snapped?) but that doesn't necessarily mean that Marvel films are military propaganda.
Captain Marvel may be a USAF pilot and the promotion for her movie has been heavily laden with praise for the air force but Baker-Whitelaw suggests that they were going for more of a feminist angle than a military glorification one. However, she does warn that viewers should keep an eye out for propaganda and be mindful that the military has quite a lot of problems.
A lot of famous films are made with co-operation from the military. Many films require authentic equipment and vehicles. Requests to film on military bases are also common in filmmaking.
When a production asks for access to US military assets they have to submit their script to The Pentagon's entertainment liaison offices for examination and vetting. You want to play with the military's toys? You have to agree to any changes they demand.
In 2017 the US Defense Department received 6,769 reports of sexual assault involving service members. In that year there were also 146 cases of accusers reporting that they had suffered retaliation for speaking out.
The reported rate of sexual assault against US service women was 4.4 per cent in 2010 and dropped only slightly to 4.3 per cent by 2016. Recruiting more women might help but it will put them in danger until a culture of assault and silence is removed.