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Captain Marvel and the future of the Avengers, explained

Captain Marvel isn’t going to fix the fallout from Avengers: Infinity War right away.

Captain Marvel Marvel
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

This post contains spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War.

At the tail end of Avengers: Infinity War’s post-credits scene, the camera focuses in on a star, flanked by stripes. It’s a Marvel riff on the iconic Bat Signal that alerts Batman that Gotham needs him. It tells us that the world is in dire need of help, and there’s only one person who can handle the job.

In this case, it’s Carol Danvers, a.k.a. Captain Marvel.

On Tuesday, the world got to see Carol Danvers in action for the very first time, as Marvel revealed the first trailer for, and first live action look at, Brie Larson zipping around the galaxy and firing photon beams in Captain Marvel.

In Marvel comics, the photon-firing, supersonic-flying Captain Marvel has become a high-profile Avenger, leading Earth’s Mightiest Heroes into galactic battles on more than one occasion — she even went face to face with Thanos and his Black Order and lived to tell the tale. But we’ll have to wait until Captain Marvel arrives in March 2019 to see her command her own movie.

As revealed at the end of Infinity War, Captain Marvel represents Nick Fury’s ace in the hole and the last hope against Thanos and his universe-shattering cull. But her existence in Marvel’s extremely popular and lucrative cinematic universe is important for another reason: There have been 20 Marvel movies (including Spider-Man: Homecoming, Marvel’s joint venture with Sony), and no female superhero has ever had one to herself. (Even Evangeline Lilly’s Hope Van Dyne had to share top billing, despite being the clear star of Ant-Man and the Wasp.) So on top of saving the world and being Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’ best chance to reverse Thanos’s destruction, Captain Marvel could also help change the way we think about superheroes. Again.

Who is Captain Marvel?

Captain Marvel
Captain Marvel.
Marvel Comics/Dexter Soy

The Captain Marvel title has been applied to several Marvel Comics superheroes over the years, but when people talk about Captain Marvel in the context of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they’re referring to Carol Danvers, a character introduced to Marvel comic books in 1968.

Due to a freak accident involving an exploding alien device, Danvers is granted powers like super strength and flight. (From the trailer, it appears this origin story may be slightly tweaked for the film.) And in another arc in Uncanny X-Men no. 164, she gets a power upgrade — basically energy manipulation and projection on a cosmic scale — and becomes the being known as “Binary.” Both Captain Marvel and Carol Danvers have been through a lot in the comic books; depending on who’s writing Danvers, she retains her initial powers and some iteration of the powers she inherited from going Binary.

However, the upcoming movie references a specific 2012 comic book arc centered on the revamp of Carol Danvers. Penned by Kelly Sue DeConnick and drawn by Dexter Soy with an assist from artist Jamie McKelvie, it finds Carol, previously known as Ms. Marvel, taking on the mantle of Captain Marvel and getting a Rocketeer-like costume change in the process. (Carol would end up passing the Ms. Marvel moniker to Kamala Khan, star of the current Ms. Marvel comics.)

While Danvers’s Air Force background and thirst for space exploration were introduced in past issues, these facets of her personality weren’t really explored, even though she had become a leader on the Avengers roster. In the first arc of Captain Marvel, DeConnick and Soy clarify the character’s long and often messy history by grounding each issue in different aspects of Danvers’s life: her time in the Air Force, her dreams of exploring space, and what the title Captain Marvel means to her. Given that the Captain Marvel film will be the character’s introduction to a much wider audience, it’s safe to assume it will use a similar blueprint to help translate Carol’s convoluted superhero origin story to the big screen.

But Marvel’s decision to make Captain Marvel the first solo female superhero movie in its cinematic universe isn’t just because she’s a powerful superhero with a great storyline. She also has a vocal and influential fandom.

Under DeConnick and Soy’s run, a fandom called the “Carol Corps” emerged. Their enthusiasm for DeConnick’s story was huge and outspoken and is largely seen as the beginning of a bigger movement to get women and girls more interested in comic books, and for companies like Marvel to think harder about representation in comics and superhero stories.

Thanks to DeConnick and Soy’s run and the enthusiasm it generated, Captain Marvel — like Black Panther and Wonder Woman represents so much more than a superhero blockbuster. Like a tale of an African king who commands the most advanced and technologically superior country in the world, or an Amazonian princess tasked with defeating the god of war, a female space commander shooting photon beams from her palms, taking down aliens with her megaton shoulder, and ripping through the galaxy is the sort of fantasy that Marvel hadn’t really made room for before, and neither had cinema. Captain Marvel looks to change that.

Captain Marvel isn’t going to fix the aftermath of Avengers: Infinity War all at once

Captain Marvel.

In the comic books, Carol and the Avengers have saved the universe on multiple occasions. And in 2015, Carol teamed up with Black Panther and a few other superheroes as the Ultimates, a team tasked with eliminating cosmic threats — basically an outfit seemingly designed in a lab specifically to take on Thanos. So there’s plenty of comics precedent for Carol Danvers facing the sort of situation at the end of Infinity War.

But Marvel has been very coy about the Captain Marvel movie.

The trailer sets the table for a basic origin story — a woman who was in the Air Force but then spirited away to an alien civilization where she’s experimented on and ostensibly given super powers. However, there’s still a lot to be learned, as Marvel didn’t really reveal the villains, their motivations, or Captain Marvel’s mission in the teaser.

That said, we also know that it’s set in the 1990s and and will deal with Marvel’s cosmic universe. Marvel said in March:

Based on the Marvel comic character first appearing in 1968, the story follows Carol Danvers as she becomes one of the universe’s most powerful heroes when Earth is caught in the middle of a galactic war between two alien races. Set in the 1990s, “Captain Marvel” is an all-new adventure from a previously unseen period in the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

In May, The Hollywood Reporter confirmed that Annette Bening is joining the film, joining Djimon Hounsou and Lee Pace, who will reprise the characters they played in Guardians of the Galaxy.

Setting the movie in the ’90s and placing Carol Danvers in the middle of a galactic conflict neatly avoids some glaring plot holes her sudden presence could introduce into the established Marvel Cinematic Universe. If a powerful superhero like Captain Marvel showed up on Earth in the ’90s, people might be asking where she went and why she wasn’t around for the Chitauri invasion in The Avengers or fighting Ultron in Age of Ultron. If she’s dealing with problems in the cosmos, it takes her out of the equation. It also allows Marvel the space to tell an origin story that would otherwise be impossible to tell within the current Thanos-amped stakes of the MCU.

The important thing to note about the Captain Marvel movie is that it won’t see Captain Marvel resetting the events of Infinity War. As my colleague Todd VanDerWerff pointed out, Marvel’s recent films, like Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and Black Panther, function primarily as isolated stories, as opposed to stories that moved the needle in the broader MCU, like Captain America: Civil War. Thor: Ragnarok reintroducing us to Hulk and setting the table for Thor and Thanos was the exception.

Captain Marvel looks like it will fit into that holding pattern because it’s set in the ’90s, well before the events of Infinity War (and almost all of the MCU films preceding it — save Captain America: The First Avenger — for that matter). Paired with the onscreen promise at the end of Infinity War that “Thanos will return,” it seems Captain Marvel won’t be brought into the fold to address the fallout of Thanos’s destruction until next year’s still-untitled Avengers 4.

A feeling of urgency to see Captain Marvel and the rest of the Avengers right Thanos’s decimation is understandable because so many beloved characters bit the dust in Infinity War. But Carol getting her own movie first will allow fans to get to know the character — her strengths, weaknesses, and spirit — beyond being the magic bullet to defeat Thanos. No doubt Carol and her super strength and photon beams will be an asset against the biggest and baddest villain in the Marvel Universe. But it will be even more satisfying to see her save the day (again) after getting to know her on her own terms first.

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