How Captain Marvel fits into the Marvel Cinematic Universe
The Carol Connection
You don’t need to binge all 20 movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to watch Captain Marvel. Most of the heroes haven’t even strapped on their first exoskeleton yet. But if you’re looking to get a better understanding of what happened when (and who knows who), here are the key takeaways.
On paper the skinny kid from Brooklyn named Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) has a lot in common with Carol Danvers. Both underwent experiments that changed them into supersoldiers (Rogers, at least, voluntarily), both served in the military, and (at least in the comics) both found positions of leadership within S.H.I.E.L.D. But that’s where their similarities end.
Captain America may have been the first superhero in the MCU to catch the attention of human authorities, but something different happened with Captain Marvel: She stayed under the radar. Cap became a public-facing propaganda icon, while Carol’s existence was kept secret even from other superheroes. Nevertheless, her experiences helped influence S.H.I.E.L.D.’s attitude toward aliens, shaping the organization that would eventually wake Rogers from his nap in the Arctic ice.
TAKEAWAY: When these two heroes meet, their shared military background should help them get along. Plus neither has any qualms about telling their superiors when they think they’re wrong. Captain Marvel might be doing just that when she learns the Kree aren’t quite the “noble warrior-heroes” she had believed them to be.
Agent Peggy Carter
As the only female founder of S.H.I.E.L.D., which came to be after World War II, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) faced plenty of sexism. The resourceful agent was no doubt responsible for breaking the glass ceiling and paving the way to allow for Carol’s future service as a female fighter pilot in the Air Force.
Ever since ushering in the modern age of superheroes from a cave in Afghanistan, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has had a contentious relationship with S.H.I.E.L.D. and its director Nick Fury. This billionaire playboy industrialist hates nothing so much as following orders, which definitely delayed his entry to the nascent Avengers program. But when Stark did come on board, he did so as leader and took a primary role in fighting off Loki’s Chitauri invasion. As the CEO of his company and a perennial magazine cover star, Stark is used to being celebrated as a leader and a genius. Is he ready to be eclipsed? When he meets Captain Marvel, who doesn’t need a robotic suit to fly in outer space, Stark might find himself firmly seated in second place.
TAKEAWAY: When Stark flew a nuke through the Chitauri portal, he became the first human Avenger (though not the last) to make it into space. That’s also where he ends up in the wake of Infinity War, waiting for someone to rescue him as his ship runs out of power on the way back from Titan. If only there were someone with the ability to fly through space, who had just gotten an emergency signal from Earth....
He should have aimed for the head. Thor (Chris Hemsworth), one of the mightiest heroes in the universe and a literal Norse god capable of channeling lightning and thunder, manifestly failed to take down Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War even after assembling his new hammer Stormbreaker. It was a bitter conclusion to a tidal wave of loss that’s swept over the thunder god lately. Even before half of the universe was snapped out of existence, Thor had lost many of the people closest to him in the rampages of his sister Hela, the destruction of Asgard by the fire demon Surtur, and Thanos’ massacre of Asgardians aboard the refugee vessel. Thor’s now at the lowest point he’s ever been, but when your back’s against the wall, you have nothing to lose.
TAKEAWAY: Thor knows more about the cosmos than any of his Avengers brethren (and most of the Guardians of the Galaxy). Not only does he literally hail from the celestial skies of Asgard, he also spent time before Infinity War scouring the universe for signs of the Infinity Stones. He didn’t find any, but Thor’s space travels make him the Avenger most prepared to deal with the eventual arrival of Captain Marvel.
The very first time the Avengers, well, assembled was during the battle for New York City. When Loki and Thanos set their sights on Earth, only Nick Fury’s contact list stood in their way. Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor teamed up with S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), plus an unhappy gamma-irradiated scientist named Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), to defeat the Chitauri army. But though their efforts were successful, their alliance was tenuous at best. The very first thing that Cap, Thor, and Iron Man did upon meeting was fight one another, and Loki’s Mind Stone-fueled manipulations involved turning agents like Hawkeye against the others. Though they were able to put aside their differences long enough to repel the aliens, the team members still split up and went their separate ways at the end of the invasion.
TAKEAWAY: Only Nick Fury had the vision to assemble a ragtag group of superheroes into a fighting force capable of protecting Earth from alien invasion. The endgame of the struggle against Thanos will test his legacy one final time — especially given the involvement of Carol, his original superhero collaborator.
Guardians of the Galaxy
It took a while for the Guardians of the Galaxy to become a team. After all, the space scavenger Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), the assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the unstoppable destroyer Drax (Dave Bautista), and bounty hunters Rocket and Groot all joined together for the first time in prison. After escaping their jail, they held their own against Ronan the Accuser, at the time an agent of Thanos. Eventually they became a makeshift family and even earned the respect of the Nova Corps of Xandar. In the process they managed to recruit another member into their fold: the empathic alien Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Yet they all have long memories — and Ronan made an impression.
TAKEAWAY: The Guardians have been our guide to the Marvel cosmos beyond Earth, and they might not think too highly of Carol. For one thing, her adherence to rules and protocol clashes with their irreverent attitudes and criminal backgrounds. For another, Carol gained her powers from the Kree. No matter how noble and heroic some might think the Kree are, the Guardians know firsthand from Ronan how that imperial race contains plenty of bloodthirsty psychopaths.
It’s all about the Quantum Realm. The adventures of one of the tiniest Marvel superheros left him stranded in another place at the moment Thanos snapped his gloved fingers. Given Scott Lang’s (Paul Rudd) lack of a military or scientific background, it’s unclear how he will help — but underestimate him at your peril. Just ask Darren Cross.
Avengers: Age of Ultron
In the process of repelling the Chitauri invasion, the Avengers had encountered two of the Infinity Stones, but it wasn’t until the latter supercharged Tony Stark’s AI experiments that the heroes became aware of that fact. The android Ultron (James Spader) came into being by the Mind Stone but also by Stark’s desire to stop an invasion from happening again. In Ultron’s view the best way to protect the planet was to kill all the humans; though he failed, he left lasting scars on the nations of Wakanda and Sokovia. Ultron was eventually defeated not just by the Avengers but also by his own creation: Vision (Paul Bettany), intended to be Ultron’s perfect body but granted self-consciousness by the Mind Stone. Vision’s connection to the stone was the key to victory but also left Earth exposed to anyone who might want to assemble all six Infinity Stones.
TAKEAWAY: With Ultron, Stark wanted to create “a suit of armor around the world.” In the comics this goal was better accomplished by the formation of S.W.O.R.D., a S.H.I.E.L.D.-adjacent agency that protects the Earth from extraterrestrial attack—and one that has often been led by Carol Danvers.
Captain America: Civil War
In the wake of Ultron’s devastation, the United Nations agreed on a new international law known as the Sokovia Accords, requiring that all superhuman beings either register with their respective governments or be outlawed. Now doubting himself after the Ultron failure, Tony Stark took the government’s side, but Captain America resisted — not least so he could help his old friend Bucky Barnes, who went on the run after being framed for the assassination of King T’Chaka of Wakanda. Each of these titans assembled his own Avengers factions — while Cap called on Ant-Man and the Falcon, Stark recruited the young hero Spider-Man from Queens. Even after the new Wakandan king T’Challa exposed Helmut Zemo as the manipulator behind this factionalism, the revelation that Bucky (as the Winter Soldier) had killed Stark’s parents prevented the two from reaching reconciliation.
TAKEAWAY: The new heroes introduced during the civil war were wiped out by Thanos. It now falls to the original Avengers to set aside their differences and secure a future for the next generation of heroes. They’ll need Carol’s help to do it. Hopefully her introduction isn’t as bumpy.
The Sorcerer Supreme is a title granted to the dimension’s most powerful practitioner of magic. It is a role that has passed down through the generations in order to protect the universe from mystical attack. When Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) started seeking out mystical treatments for his shattered hands, the title of Sorcerer Supreme was held by the Ancient One, who taught Strange magic. But soon his mentor was killed by her former student Kaecilius, who sought to fuse Earth with the Dark Dimension ruled by the cosmic entity Dormammu. With the help of the Time Stone, Strange was able to repel Dormammu, becoming the new Sorcerer Supreme in the process. He was less successful at stopping Thanos, whose attack on Earth was catalyzed by both the Ancient One’s death and Strange’s use of the stone.
TAKEAWAY: Strange failed in his responsibility as Sorcerer Supreme to stop Thanos from reshaping the universe. Now that he’s dust, the task falls to people like Captain Marvel—who, in her comic duties as leader of S.W.O.R.D., is similarly accustomed to protecting the world from extraterrestrial invasion.
T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) may be — hopefully temporarily — dust, but Wakanda lives on. With Asgard gone, the high-tech African kingdom now stands as one of the last bastions of heroism. T’Challa’s decision to “open up” the country was key to fighting off Thanos’ army and might prove just as integral to the endgame.
Avengers: Infinity War
Spoiler: Thanos (Josh Brolin) succeeded. After gathering all six Infinity Stones in his custom gauntlet, he wiped out half of the universe’s population with a snap of his fingers. It wasn’t meant to end this way (and, more spoilers, maybe it won’t; we haven’t yet reached the endgame). The last scene of Infinity War, while showcasing the devastation wrought by Thanos’ act, also left one small way out. In the moments before Nick Fury turned to dust, the S.H.I.E.L.D. director managed to make a last-ditch call to Captain Marvel, and the call connected.
TAKEAWAY: Carol Danvers’ power could be exactly what the Avengers need to turn the tide, but if and when she does make her return to Earth, she’ll find the superheroes in rough shape. Iron Man and Nebula managed to survive the snap but were left stranded on Thanos’ home planet of Titan. Stark’s fellow Avengers founders Captain America, Thor, and Banner are all still alive, though the latter has found himself unable to summon the Hulk after getting a beatdown from Thanos. Captain America is still missing his trademark shield, and while Thor has a new hammer in Stormbreaker, the loss of Asgard and his people is catching up with him. Rocket is the last member of the Guardians. Hope may lie with the reserve Avengers like Hawkeye and Ant-Man who also survived the snap, though they weren’t powerful enough to summon during the original fight against Thanos. Then again, defeating a being with infinite power will require some unorthodox strategies. Before Doctor Strange died, he told Iron Man that giving Thanos the Time Stone had been the only way to make an unlikely victory possible. Perhaps Thanos’ self-satisfaction will be his undoing.
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