Why 'Captain Marvel' Trailer Feels Like a Course Correction

Does the second glimpse at Marvel's next release respond to online criticism about September's first-look?

It’s unusual to see Marvel Studios sweat, but the second trailer for Captain Marvel seemed more than a little as if someone had been paying slightly too much attention to online criticism of the first.

As the first movie from Marvel fronted by a woman — and, not coincidentally, a movie based on a character who had come under a lot of criticism from irritated trolls online for heralding a shift towards diversity for Marvel’s comic book arm back in 2012 — the initial trailer for Captain Marvel was almost guaranteed to bring complaints on social media. Sure enough, almost immediately after it was released, the objections arrived … and they were unexpectedly disunited. Why is she punching an old lady, so much for feminism was combined with Carol should smile more, and less obviously gendered complaints about the obliqueness of plot details.

All of which makes this second trailer a curious thing to watch. It opens up with an expansion — and, more importantly, an explanation — of the old lady punch scene that makes it clear that, of course Carol Danvers isn’t just punching a random old woman; it’s a Skrull, a shape-changing alien who is (a) tougher than she looks, and (b) one of the bad guys, as helpfully explained in voiceover by Samuel L. Jackson. As if that didn’t seem enough like a course correction, note that the camera lingers long enough on Brie Larson after the line “Noble warrior heroes” to ensure that we get to see Carol smiling, too. All of this before the Marvel Studios logo has appeared onscreen.

Is this specifically a response to the criticism? We’ll likely never know; after all, the rest of the trailer feels like a do-over of the first, with additional emphasis on both explaining the plot and establishing Carol Danvers as a character. In both respects, this is both a good idea and traditional Marvel Studios policy; compare the launch trailers for 2011’s Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, for example, which do essentially the same thing. It’s possible that the plan was always to introduce Carol as, essentially, a powerful and somewhat alien force in the first trailer, and then humanize her in the second.

The problem is, it’s difficult to divorce the feeling of a course correction in the second trailer from the fact of the criticism of the first; that the very opening scenes of the new trailer seem to specifically address the complaints of the vocal trolling fan base is something that’s difficult to dismiss as coincidence, even if it legitimately is. If nothing else, it could potentially empower those critics by convincing them that they’ve been heard and understood, something that will only result in more complaints in the future.

In this, Marvel is unfortunately in a no-win situation; not evolving the promotion of Captain Marvel — or any other movie, for that matter — across the lifespan of its pre-release publicity is impractical to the point of being near impossible, but being seen to respond to (and thereby reward) concern trolling is a similarly poor outcome.

So what’s the solution? Perhaps when Captain Marvel reaches theaters, we’ll have an answer: The finished product might be something that repudiates the complaints no matter what happens in future trailers, with Carol Danvers revealed to be a hero who doesn’t need anyone’s permission to have whatever emotions she wants, and who can save the universe without breaking a sweat, even if it means punching a million old ladies. We can but hope.

Captain Marvel will be released March 8.