As Brie Larson's Captain Marvel packs on '90s nostalgia, a look at what makes the era lucrative to explore
Amid the excitement generated by the Captain Marvel trailer, here's a question: why is it that the '90s have become the new go-to place for nostalgia?
Most superhero films out there today have all chosen a specific time in the world’s history to tell their tale. DC’s Wonder Woman is set in the period from the Cold War to the early 1980s along with Marvel’s Captain America. With Steve Rogers, Agent Carter, Tony ‘Ironman' Stark’s father and The Avengers covering the 2010s, there is only a small window open for anyone else. In some ways, the only period left to embrace was the 1990s and this is where Marvel’s first 'superheroine' film, Captain Marvel will land soon. Looking at the Captain Marvel trailer that dropped a few days ago, the imagery of the film directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck packs on the '90s nostalgia. A pager/beeper, aviator sunglasses and locations such as Blockbuster Video, a chain that went bankrupt in 2010 besides a hat tip to Top Gun (1986), one of the biggest cultural phenomena of the period, makes for a striking ode to the nineties.
In a heady mix of retro, future, and retro-futurism, Carol Danvers (Brie Larson), a former Air Force pilot arrives on Earth as Captain Marvel and becomes a major player in saving the blue planet after it gets entangled in an intergalactic war between two alien worlds. We also get to see a young Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), who isn’t expecting someone like Danvers to show up. While the entire Marvel universe fan base was debating about the long in making Black Widow film, Captain Marvel debuted as Marvel Studios’ first standalone super-heroine film.
Why is it that the '90s have become the new go-to place for nostalgia? There is usually a 20-year lag between films and themes to make a comeback, such as the revival of the 1950s with films like Grease (1978) and with much of the 1990s already being rehashed in The Mummy (1999), and Jurassic Park (1993) besides Disney’s live-action films of The Lion King (1994), Mulan (1998) and Aladdin (1992). Interestingly, many of cultural icons of the 1990s such as Donald J Trump, Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky and the ilk are back in the news and even bands from the decade like Pearl Jam and The Backstreet Boys (yes!) are touring.
The last couple of years have seen Stranger Things create some of the most poignant moments on television, where the '80s vibe is felt not just in the visuals or one-liners, but is also used as a plot device. With the '90s however, one would have hardly thought the decade would rekindle not just memories but also become a hit with the younger generation. Two things seem to work their magic when it comes to reviving the said period. For starters, there is just the ideal passage of time between then and now where one can remember enough for comparison but not end up being too sentimental about it (case in point: What Mad Men did for the '60s). Secondly, the 1990s was a period when both Generations X and Y came of age and it’s they who form one of the biggest audience bases today.
In that aspect, the setting of Captain Marvel in the 1990s would also do The Avengers a great favour as it is the period before The Avengers assembled for the first time. With a certain phase in their trajectory coming to an end with Infinity War, the series could also get a reboot of sorts with Captain Marvel. One could also believe that the decision to base Captain Marvel in the said era is a smart ploy to make the viewer believe that the studios, in some way, are also trying to make up for lost time. Considering that female superheroes have inundated the Marvel Universe for so long and fans crying hoarse for female superhero representation in films starting from characters such as Sue Storm, Rogue, Jean Grey, Agent Carter or the Black Widow, setting the films nearly two decades in the past would somewhere make it seem as though the films were always there.
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