How does Captain Marvel fit into the larger shared universe? Spoilers for the movie ahead.
Captain Marvel is an explosive introduction to the cosmic powered “Avenger” (more on Carol Danvers’ Avenger connection later). The 1990’s set film is an unconventional origin story with plenty of captivating drama, exciting action sequences, plot twists and turns. Captain Marvel also features an abundance of nods to the other movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Some were expected because certain characters/actors whose appearances were confirmed long ago, while others are pleasantly surprising.
Young Agents of SHIELD
This is the first time we get to see SHIELD in cinematic action since Hydra tore the covert organization apart in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Up until Captain Marvel, the Captain America sequel was the MCU film with Samuel L. Jackson’s most prominent role. In the MCU prequel, Fury is in his earlier years with the agency – yes, Director Fury was once a field agent with Level 3 access.
Even at this point in his career, Fury is still the main man on the scene, bossing around rookies like Agent Coulson. And aside from his profession, throughout the movie we learn where he was born, that he avidly loves cats, and that he can’t eat toast that has been cut diagonally.
Also, Fury has both of his eyes for the majority of Captain Marvel and the legendary mystery of how he lost one is unveiled. Contrary to the gravity of Professor-X becoming paralyzed at the end of X-Men: First Class, Fury’s eye is rather playfully scratched in a seemingly innocent interaction with his feline friend.
Clark Gregg makes his movie comeback after his character’s demise in 2012’s Avengers. Of course, he has since been portraying Agent Coulson for years on the Agents of SHIELD series. After the Season 5 finale, it is unknown how much we will see of him going forward on the show, making his presence in Captain Marvel even more meaningful.
The most indelible Coulson moment in the movie is when he allows Fury to escape against orders, which lets Fury know he has a special teammate in Coulson. There is also a noteworthy link between this being the tale where Fury finds out about the alien Kree race and his decision to later use a deceased Kree body to help bring Coulson back to life (as seen in Agents of SHIELD) after he is killed by Loki.
Enemies of the Galaxy
Another connection the MCU fans were well aware of ahead of time is the attendance of a few Guardian of the Galaxy villains in Captain Marvel. Djimon Hounsou’s Korath is a member of Danvers’ Starforce unit, which turns out to be answering to Lee Pace’s Ronan. Unlike the primary antagonist, Yon-Rogg, who is apprehended by Marvel, these two make it out with their freedom.
Captain Marvel combats her former team and Korath obviously survives the fight to live another day as one of Ronan’s disciples in Guardians of the Galaxy. As for the grand accuser himself, Danvers destroys all the missiles and ships Ronan sends her way. He wisely retreats from the battle, but not before noting that he will regroup to one day come back for the “weapon” – Captain Marvel. The weapon he speaks of does require elaboration, because, even though he clarifies that he is referring to the super-powered hero herself, there is also an Infinity Stone in play in the plot.
Powered by Infinity
The Tesseract has appeared in more MCU movies than many notable superheroes, and even though it was a big reveal in Captain Marvel, it is the only Infinity Stone that could logistically fit in the setting. In chronological MCU storytelling, the last time we glimpsed the glowing blue cosmic cube was after it transported Red Skull to the other side of the universe and fell to the bottom of the ocean. We don’t know exactly what it has been doing for multiple decades, however, eventually Mar-Vell gets a hold of it and tries to harness its power, in a good way.
This competently explains why the Kree scientist came to Earth in the first place. She was attempting to develop a light speed transport engine that could provide a distant and permanent sanctuary for Skrull refugees. The Kree fight for the stone, which is ultimately claimed by Marvel and Fury. The next time the Tesseract is chronologically seen is when Fury invites Dr. Selvig to help experiment on the cube.
Fury continues the work of Mar-Vell, although not with her specific intentions, rather in general endeavors to tap into the unlimited power source. In The Avengers, Fury even uses the same name as Mar-Vell for the Tesseract experimentation, Project Pegasus. Loki intercepts the Infinity Stone to open up a portal to Earth for his own alien army, on loan from Thanos.
When the Avengers defeat Loki, Thor takes it to Odin’s vault, only to later be snatched by Loki when Asgard is about to fall. In Avengers: Infinity War, the Tesseract is the second stone that Thanos claims – he slaughters many Asgardians in the process, including the god of mischief.
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Now let’s digress back to Captain Marvel and our intrepid hero. Through flashbacks, it is revealed that Danvers destroys the Tesseract fueled engine to prevent Yon-Rogg from obtaining it. The blast causes the power of the Tesseract to wash over her; the Infinity Stone is essentially the source of her abilities, which is such a clever way to explain how she is so tremendously powerful.
At this point in the MCU franchise, audiences are distinctly familiar with the power of the Infinity Stones, in particular, the Tesseract, marking an instantaneous understanding of just what Danvers should be capable of after watching her absorb the cube’s energy signature.
The Avengers Initiative
Once Yon-Rogg is sent back home and Captain Marvel leaves Earth to help the Skrulls, Fury comes to the realization that the planet would benefit from heroes like her, and the “Protector” Initiative is born. Even if it takes him over a decade to start recruiting superheroes, at least he uses that time to propel to a top position in SHIELD with a large sphere of influence.
As for the name of the program, Fury decides to change it when looking at an old photograph of Danvers with her jet – the side of her aircraft reads Capt. Carol “Avenger” Danvers. Without even knowing it, Captain Marvel gives Earth’s mightiest heroes their team name.
And what of the communication device that stunned fans around the globe during the Avengers: Infinity War post-credits stinger? Before Danvers departs (and after Fury unknowingly pronounces Mar-Vell as Marvel), she offers the upgraded pager to Fury and tells him to call on her only in an emergency. Apparently, Fury is confident enough that his Avengers can overcome both the Chitauri and Ultron armies; it is only once the heroes lose to Thanos and Fury is about to turn to dust that he resorts to signaling for her. Captain Marvel’s mid-credits scene teases her response to Fury’s beacon in anticipation of her playing a significant part in the upcoming Avengers finale.