I should begin by saying this will be of lasting consequence to almost no-one, but I have to get this theory off my chest, and that's one of the main reasons I keep a blog in the first place. Having said that though, there is a remote possibility that my fevered guesswork may overlap with the future unfolding of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so I guess I should say that there may be spoilers ahead. (Certainly the people behind the MCU seem to think so!)
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Still here? Good stuff!
At Comic-Con this weekend Marvel broke two very interesting pieces of news about 2019's Captain Marvel movie, featuring Brie Larson as the titular Carol Danvers. The first was that it would set in the 1990s, and the second is that she would be facing off against an established alien race from the comics: the Skrulls.
Calling the Skrull 'established' is almost understating it; these shapeshifters first appeared in the second issue of the Fantastic Four back in 1962. They have pervaded the comics ever since, and helped usher in the spacefaring or 'Cosmic' side of the Marvel Universe. They really came to the fore during an early '70s Avengers arc known as 'The Kree-Skrull War' pitting the deceptive infiltrators and saboteurs against the rival, militaristic species responsible for creating The Inhumans on Earth (and who are getting their won TV show this fall).
Because of their linkages to the Fantastic Four, many assumed that the Skrull would never appear in the MCU, as 20th Century Fox owned the rights to them, but it turns out they have arranged to 'share' the property with Marvel Studios, in a similar manner to how Quicksilver appeared in both the X-Men movies and Avengers: Age of Ultron. They are great villains with a ton of dramatic potential, and since Captain Marvel's origin has strong ties to the Kree in the comics, having the Skrull feature in her movie makes a lot of sense, while also rounding out the increasingly important Cosmic side of the MCU.
Setting it in the '90s though - that is baffling, at least to me.
As someone who lived through it, I have a hard time seeing the distinction of that time, let alone the storytelling appeal. With the exception of grunge music and the Gulf Wars, there is not a lot that defines the decade stylistically. I mean, it is not as though The Big Lebowski looks like a period movie, even though it (mostly) is one, right?
When MTV asked Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige about this choice, his answer was not only ambiguous, but intentionally cryptic as this excerpt from Screen Rant shows:
MTV: So… time period. When was that hit upon? Was that an early part of the development process, that this would seem like a good idea?
Feige: Uh… yes. Yeah. Early, early days.
Feige: Uh, well, there is an unexplored period of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that we wanted to showcase, and… almost anything else is a spoiler…
Feige: …other than to say, the 90s would be a fun period to make a superhero movie in.
Now, that's interesting. Not the part about the '90s being a fun period, that's a bunch of squid ink. Making a period film makes everything more difficult, from costuming to having appropriate cars in every single street scene, and you wouldn't do it without a solid reason. When they moved Wonder Woman's origin story from the Second World War to the First, the writers, directors, and producers all had a good, sound rationale as to why it made sense.
Feige could have said it was important for Danvers' story to take place before the internet was a big thing, or that her movie origin is tied to being a pilot in Desert Storm, but he does not. All he says is: 1) they knew early on they wanted to, 2) it fills in a gap in the history of the MCU (similar to the Cold War flashbacks in Ant-Man), and 3) anything else is a spoiler.
That is to say, 'There is a compelling reason, but I can't tell you what it is yet.'
Now, put a pin in that for just a moment, and let's take a look at The Avengers side of this equation.
Back in 2014, Marvel Studios announced a two-part sequel to Age of Ultron called Infinity War, Parts 1 & 2, scheduled for release in 2018 and 2019. Given the substantial amount of lead-up and anticipation for this (i.e. a villain teased as far back as the post-credits stinger for the first Avengers back in 2012 and an astonishing twelve films in between), it made sense to follow the lead of the Harry Potter and Hunger Games franchises and split the capping story into two parts and filming them concurrently. After all, this magnum opus would draw upon 18 other films and is rumoured to have a staggering 67 characters in it!
But then things changed.
Joss Whedon, who had guided the MCU through its fledgling stage and first two Avengers said he'd had enough, and announced he was not renewing his contract with Marvel. Anthony and Joe Russo, fresh from the acclaimed reception for their first Marvel project, Captain America: Winter Soldier, stepped into Whedon's shoes and announced in 2015 that the 4th Avengers movie would not be the second part of the Infinity War saga. They would actually be wholly separate and self-contained stories, filmed back-to-back and not concurrently as had been planned. The third Avengers movie would simply be called Avengers: Infinity War. The 4th title was not announced at that time.
Or the following year.
Just three months ago, the Russos said that the reason they were not yet revealing the title was because the name of the film was in itself a spoiler.
If you are still reading this, I will assume you are at least as curious as I am.
The internet immediately went rampant with speculation. Could the title reflect the fate of a major character in Infinity War, like "The Search for Steve Rogers", or "Revenge for Iron Man"? After all, the actors who play those particular characters are either approaching or have passed the end of their initial contracts, and the studio may want them to pass the torch on to a successor as they have in the comics. Besides, no one wants to see them in the role past their best-by date (cough - Diamonds Are Forever - cough), right?
All right, back to Captain Marvel; what do we know? We know her movie comes out in March of 2019, almost a year after Infinity War, and a mere two months before Avengers 4. We know part of it will take place in space, and that they are setting her up to be the most powerful character in the MCU, even more so than Thor. Oh, and we now know that Samuel L. Jackson will appear as a younger, two-eyed Nicholas J. Fury, which is probably the best way to link it to the pre-existing universe.
We know it is set in the 1990s, but it seems pretty unlikely they will age Brie Larson twenty-odd years before she shows up in the continuity of the current films. There are tons of ways around that besides freezing her like Captain America though, they just have to pick one and hey, presto- 'let's do the Time Warp agaaaaaiin..."
And we know the Skrull are the villains, which is great from a dramatic perspective because their shapeshifting ability means that one of their favourite tactics is abducting or killing someone and replacing them with a nearly indistinguishable duplicate.
Okay, sidebar - in fact, there was a major comics cross-over event featuring the Skrull back in 2008 that was reminiscent of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It was called Secret Invasion, and it was revealed that the Skrull had replaced many well-established Marvel characters over the years, including Elektra, Black Bolt, and Henry Pym (Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Yellowjacket, et al), and not making it terribly clear exactly when they had been replaced.
It was an intriguingly subversive idea, introducing a degree of paranoia and suspicion to the Marvel Universe reminiscent of John Carpenter's The Thing, or the Red Scare of the 1950s which inspired it and Body Snatchers.
In true comics fashion, most, if not all, of these characters have subsequently been returned to some approximation of their status quo, but at the time, this storyline was a major assault on convention. Secret Invasion was never considered to be in-play for the MCU though, because they were hands-off so that Fox could do something probably terrible with them in a Fantastic Four threeboot. Now that the MCU can use the Skrull, they still couldn't really do Secret Invasion without basically doing a hand-wavey retcon and saying "Oh, yeah, shapeshifting aliens have been on Earth since before the formative days of the MCU", especially after establishing that the Chitauri invasion from The Avengers was a planetary game-changer.
Unless they introduced them in a movie set, say, twenty-odd years ago.
In case you aren't seeing it yet, here is my bold prediction, which will probably be debunked or otherwise discredited inside of 72 hours: the title of the 4th Avengers movie will be Avengers: Secret Invasion.
During Infinity War, which the Russos have stressed 'will have stakes', implying death or other far-reaching consequences for some characters, I further predict that someone fairly major will die or switch sides. Maybe even both! And maybe even more than one. They will eventually be revealed to be a Skrull, either in Avengers 4 or even in Infinity War itself, perhaps in the post-credit sequence. Heck, maybe Nick Fury himself is a Skrull, replaced way back when! Either way, the Skrull would go a long way to explaining his trust issues, come to think of it.
Captain Marvel, who owes her powers to the Kree, will begin her movie on Earth in the 1990s before being drawn into deep, deep space to battle the Skrull. Her debut movie will end with her on the far side of our neck of the galaxy, maybe twenty light-years away, beginning a voyage which will take over twenty years to complete, but with very little elapsed time and no visible aging on her part. This will be accomplished either by relativistic time-dilation incurred by Col. Danvers flying home under her own power at close to the speed of light (which, sidebar: wow), or by space-time complications encountered while navigating an Einstein-Rosen bridge or wormhole.
How? It doesn't matter, and I don't actually understand this kind of stuff; I'm a liberal arts grad. Look, it's comics, no one wants to actually do the math, all right? Just trust me on this. Maybe it's neither of those things, but if you think for even one minute that they are going to make-up Brie Larson so she looks like she is pushing 50 when she comes in to bail out the Avengers in their 4th movie, you need to lay off the pipe, son.
Most importantly, setting the movie in the 1990s gives those fiendish Skrull two decades to get their ducks in a row. Who knows what machinations they can put into effect in that time?
Now, to be fair, there are lots of other spoilery titles and storylines that could prompt the Russos to keep a lid on the title for Avengers 4, but Secret Invasion makes a compelling amount of sense, at least to me, in light of the information we have so far. And to be clear, I am completely okay with being proven wrong on this one, whenever they get around to revealing the actual title, whenever that ends up being.
Last August, Joe Russo said that the reveal would not be 'for quite some time', which makes me wonder: if I do happen to be right, when would they announce the title? Before Infinity War comes out? Shortly after it hits theaters and a sufficient number of fans have a chance to learn that, my gosh, the Skrull have been among us for years? How does Marvel maintain the secret with so many people and so much money involved? (The combined budget for the two Avengers movies is estimated to be over one billion (with a b) dollars.)
Furthermore - whoa, this nerd-hole is pretty deep, and it is time to head back for the surface. Tell you what though, as long as I am down here anyways, let me make one more prediction: Steve Rogers will be the one to die in Infinity War. He's the nicest guy in the MCU, it already happened in the comics, and Sebastian Stan, the actor who plays his likely successor, Bucky Barnes, took a 7-picture deal when he signed on to Winter Soldier, but is currently (and literally) cooling his heels in a Wakandan deep-freeze.
There. At least I know when that prognostication will be proven or disproven: May 4, 2018. See you there, True Believers!