Captain Marvel spoilers ahead.
No, seriously, I’m about to spoil the whole movie.
Marvel’s grand plan for Infinity War and Endgame has only come into focus with time, and the more we learn the more we realize just how much Feige and company had riding on movies like Black Panther, Ant-Man and the Wasp, and Captain Marvel. They each introduce vital settings, concepts, and key puzzle pieces to the overall story of the Avengers eventually defeating Thanos.
Nowhere is this more true, perhaps, than in Captain Marvel. Wakanda was the site of the Avengers’ last stand and Scott Lang and his quantum realm device will be integral to undoing Thanos’ victory. However, Captain Marvel is the knockout punch. She’s the wild card Thanos won’t be able to anticipate. After all, once you’ve collected all of the Infinity Stones and powergloved reality into balance how do you prepare for a woman who is actually a walking Infinity Stone herself?
Wait, she is an Infinity Stone? Score one for all those Reddit theorizers.
In truth, I’m not entirely sure.
Let’s look at the evidence:
What Happens in the Movie
In Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers discovers she is not Kree, but human, and she had a life as a test pilot on Earth. There, she worked on a secret government project testing out groundbreaking new aircraft technology pioneered by Dr. Wendy Lawson (Annette Bening). After a disastrous test flight in 1989, Lawson died and Carol was taken in by Kree super soldiers who wiped her memory, made her one of them for 6 years, during which time she was fed propaganda about their sworn enemies, the Skrulls.
But, wait, there’s another twist.
Dr. Lawson was actually an undercover Kree agent named Mar-Vel who had sided with the Skrulls. All of her research into light speed technology was being done just to help the Skrulls find a new home after the Kree blew up their old one. Only one item on Earth was powerful enough to help her do that: the Tesseract.
That’s right – Captain Marvel’s MacGuffin turns out to be the same MacGuffin which drove Captain Marvel: The First Avenger and granted Loki his enhanced powers in The Avengers.
(OK. Maybe that’s not shocking if you were listening when Samuel L. Jackson was dropping Captain Marvel spoilers earlier this year like a man who’d finally lost patience with Marvel’s secrecy machine, but it functions as a big surprise in the context of the movie.)
More than that, though, the Tesseract is actually the source of Captain Marvel’s immense powers. As we see in a flashback, the Kree came after Mar-Vel to snuff out her research and take whatever power source she was using. They don’t realize the Tesseract was actually powering the planes remotely from a cloaked ship in Earth’s orbit.
How She Gets Her Powers
Carol Danvers certainly doesn’t know that. She just happens to be the pilot in the cockpit of an experimental ship with Dr. Lawson when the Kree arrive and shoot them down. At the crash site, Jude Law’s Yon-Rogg kills Mar-Vel and threatens to do the same to Carol. Rather than submit, she shoots the blue-colored engine of her downed aircraft, setting off a massive explosion which bathes her in a multi-colored energy ring and instantly imbues her with massive powers.
Yon-Rogg recognizes this and takes Carol with him, eventually adding her to his Starforce crew and personally training her to harness her newfound powers. The lie, though, is that they gave her those powers via a chip on the side of her neck. The chip is actually an inhibitor to keep her powers in check should she ever turn on them.
It’s all a part of the film’s larger metaphor about women learning to embrace and own their power. Carol’s alien overlords telling her what her limits are = all the men back on Earth who told her to stay in her damn lane.
But it’s also a part of Kevin Feige’s stated goal to firmly establish Captain Marvel as the most powerful Avenger in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s hard to argue with the evidence on display in the film’s finale. Once she removes her inhibitor, Captain Marvel is virtually unstoppable, stronger than The Hulk, faster than Iron Man, and glowing like a tree lit up at Christmastime:
She becomes more powerful than anything anyone in the movie has ever seen. Guardians of the Galaxy bad guy Ronan the Accuser shows up to take the Tesseract and destroy Earth. Captain Marvel, of course, decimates two-thirds of his fleet with just her fists and somehow still seems like she’s just getting started. Naturally, he instantly does the intergalactic warlord version of Louis’ “back it up” move from Ant-Man.
If The MCU Didn’t Already Have Its Own Superman, It Sure Does Now
With the bad guys vanquished, Carol names herself Captain Marvel in tribute to Mar-Vel and decides to finish the slain scientist’s work, which means helping the Skrulls find a new settlement somewhere far away from the Kree. Not only does she owe that to Mar-Vel, she owes it to the Skrulls for whatever part she played in turning them into refugees while working as a brainwashed Kree soldier. She’ll eventually deal with the Kree, of course, but first, she has to help the Skrulls.
After one last mournful glance back at Earth, Captain Marvel and the Skrulls set off at light speed for destinations unknown. She hasn’t completely abandoned us, though. Before she goes, Carol upgrades Nick Fury’s pager, promising it will be able to contact her several galaxies away. It only took the Snappening for him to finally use it.
New Avenger, Meet Old Avengers
In the mid-credits scene, the surviving Avengers on Earth puzzle over the pager. Naturally, Nick didn’t tell them anything about it, and they don’t recognize the Captain Marvel crest blaring out from the little screen. Captain America and Black Widow order Bruce Banner to continue sending out the pager’s signal to see who will respond, but he doesn’t need to anymore. They all turn around to see Captain Marvel suddenly in the room with them.
Some time has passed for her. For example, her costume is slightly different now. However, for the most part, she looks the same as she did since she left with the Skrulls back in 1995. Her question, short and sweet: “Where’s Fury?”
“Have you ever heard the song ‘Dust in the Wind’? It’s like that, but more literal,” Banner awkwardly answers.
Just kidding. He doesn’t say that. The scene ends on “Where’s Fury?”
That’s it. Despite all the internet fan theories, no time travel, time loops, or interdimensional shenanigans are overtly referenced in Captain Marvel. An Infinity Stone is encountered, but it’s one we already knew about – the Tesseract – and not something new, like the maybe the Ego Gem, which is the seventh Infinity Stone in the comics.
Or maybe not.
Since Captain Marvel actually received her powers from a Tesseract-fueled explosion, does that mean she is a walking Infinity Stone herself now? Or if not a full Infinity Stone then maybe Infinity Stone 0.5 – all the power, none of the gaudy jewelry?
Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver might beg to disagree, or at least they would if they weren’t dead. However, they also owed their powers to an Infinity Stone, one which Hydra used while experimenting on them. There, a group of scientists harnessed the power of an Infinity Stone and gave two humans special abilities. Here, an uncontrolled explosion turns Captain Marvel into the MCU’s Superman, and we end her movie with the clear sense we’ve barely glimpsed what she can actually do.
Does that mean she’s secretly the MCU’s version of a 7th Infinity Stone? Maybe not, but it does mean Thanos finally has a physical match. With all due respect to Iron Man, I’m thinking Captain Marvel’s going to be able to do a little more to Thanos than just lightly scratch his face.
We’ll find out in 7 weeks when Avengers: Endgame arrives. Captain Marvel is in theaters now.