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Captain Marvel Ending Explained: Upending a Major Comics Storyline

Note: With Avengers: Endgame in theaters this weekend, we’re making it easy on you to catch up with the last Marvel film before the big one. So if you need a quick refresher on what went down in Captain Marvel, we’ve got you covered.

Spoilers ahead for Captain Marvel.

When the plot for Captain Marvel was revealed to involve the Kree-Skrull War, comics fans thought they knew the next “Big Bad” for the Marvel Cinematic Universe after Thanos. In the comics, there’s a 2008 storyline called Secret Invasion where the Skrull, a shapeshifting race of aliens, infiltrates Earth and various organization, causing mass havoc and bringing down S.H.I.E.L.D. Fans assumed that introducing the Skrull in Captain Marvel would pave the way for the movies to do their own spin on Secret Invasion just as they had done their own approaches to The Winter Soldier, Civil War, and Infinity Gauntlet. But it turns out that, as they often do, Marvel has no problem upending the comics when it suits their needs.

Halfway through Captain Marvel we discover that the presumed villain, Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), is not the antagonist but simply a refugee looking for a new home for his people. The true villain has been the Kree Empire, who want to exterminate the Skrulls, and that Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), the mentor of Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), has been working to coverup plans that would help the Skrulls while using Captain Marvel as a weapon for the Kree. When Captain Marvel learns of this betrayal, she leaves the Kree Starforce, defeats her former comrades, and resolves to help the Skrull find a new home. The film ends with Captain Marvel leading the Skrull refugees in a quest to find a new home world.

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In the comics, it makes sense that the Skrulls are bad guys because their superpower is tied into duplicity. They can shapeshift and gain the trust of others for their own ends. When Captain Marvel introduces them as the antagonist, you don’t really need to tell us anything other than their power and that they’re on the opposite side of the hero. But when the film shows that the Skrulls are on the run and that they’re not interested in defeating the Kree but simply finding a new home, that’s when they become sympathetic and far more interesting.

Aside from being a potent political metaphor for current events, making the Skrulls into a sympathetic race of aliens upends expectations for Secret Invasion. You could still do that storyline, but then you would need more layers of explanation. You would need to explain that not all Skrulls (#NotAllSkrulls) are good, and that some had designs on taking over Earth. You would also possibly turn everything in the MCU on its head as viewers wonder if the actions of their favorite characters are really that person or just a Skrull doing a long-term impersonation. You’d also need an explanation on the Skrull’s long-term goals, and what they’ve been doing since they first came to Earth in 1995.

If Talos had just been a conventional bad guy, you’d have a pretty straight line from Captain Marvel to Secret Invasion, but as it stands, now there’s a curveball where you can’t simply paint the Skrulls with a broad brush, and that’s good! But by the same token, saying “There’s an evil race of shapeshifters among us,” now feels a bit reductive and uninteresting. Yes, it would upend the MCU in a big way, but to what end? And is that goal—there are enemies hiding among us—really the message Marvel wants to hit right now when anti-immigration and anti-refugee fervor is being stoked by xenophobic forces in power?

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I don’t know what comes after Avengers: Endgame. I don’t know what the next big plan is for Marvel after Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet. Secret Invasion was a good guess, but the plot of Captain Marvel seriously throws that into doubt. I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, but Marvel has now made it a much tougher effort, which I respect. They don’t treat the comics as holy writ or a blueprint that must be followed. If they do end up adapting Secret Invasion, I suspect it will be a much different kind of story than anyone expects.

For more on Captain Marvel click here, for our thoughts on the post-credits scenes, and if you want to dive down the Endgame rabbit hole, check out our ongoing coverage in the links below.

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