Warning: This post contains spoilers for Captain Marvel. Read at your own risk.
As the first Marvel Cinematic Universe film to be released after Stan Lee’s death, Captain Marvel is paying special tribute to the late comics legend.
Lee — who died in November at the age of 95 — makes not one but two appearances in Captain Marvel, honoring how his contributions to Marvel Comics have helped shape pop culture for decades.
First, there’s the traditional cameo appearance by Lee himself, continuing his long run of appearing on screen in Marvel films. It comes fairly early in Captain Marvel, when Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) has crash landed on Earth and is pursuing a Skrull shapeshifter across Los Angeles. She tracks the Skrull onto a train and slowly makes her way through each car, searching for the passenger who’s secretly an alien in disguise.
On the train, she makes eye contact with a familiar old man in glasses, who’s reading a script for Kevin Smith’s Mallrats. As he’s rehearsing his lines to himself — “Trust me, true believer” — Carol gives him a smile and a nod.
It’s a sweet tribute that fits right in with the film’s 1995 setting: Mallrats was released the same year and featured Lee popping up to offer romantic advice to Brodie (Jason Lee). Lee himself said Mallrats was one of his all-time favorite cameos to film, so Captain Marvel directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck decided that was the perfect way to honor him — by depicting exactly what he would have actually been doing in ’95.
“That was obviously before his passing, and even though we didn’t know the weight of that being the last time we would see him, it was still just such a reverential moment on set,” Boden tells EW. “[It was] a moment where everybody stops and gets quiet and pays their respects to this icon.”
The cameo was filmed about a year before the movie hit theaters, and it means Captain Marvel is also the rare movie to cast Lee as himself. Over the years, he’s made literally dozens of appearances as security guards, aliens, delivery men, and even a strip club DJ, but it’s particularly special to see him on screen delivering one of his own catchphrases.
“It became, after he passed away, all the more poignant,” Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige says. “And that’s also when we decided to dedicate the entire Marvel Studios opening logo to him.”
Which brings us to the second way Captain Marvel honors Lee: by recutting the traditional Marvel Studios opening and interspersing it with footage from Lee’s cameos over the years. Before the film even begins, the opening underscores just how much Lee influenced the MCU, and it ends with a simple black screen reading, “Thank you, Stan.”
“It felt like the first film to be released after his passing needed to recognize him right off the bat,” Feige explains. “Not in a mournful way, but in a celebratory way, right at the start of the film.”