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Explainer TV and Movies

Captain Marvel blasts past $500 million in global earnings

Grab your pager and head back to the 1990s for a solo film about a Marvel heroine who just might save the universe.

Marvel Studios

Who's the captain now? From the moment the post-credits scene rolled in Avengers: Infinity War, it became obvious it's Captain Marvel (Brie Larson).  Spoilers ahead.

Box office

Captain Marvel opened March 8 and showed her superpowers at the box office. As of March 13, the film had blasted past $500 million globally, earning $524.2 million. That separates out to $179 million domestically, and $345.2 internationally. The film has opened in all international markets except Japan, where it opens March 15.

It claimed the second biggest global opening-weekend totals for a superhero film, trailing only Avengers: Infinity War.

The film nabbed various places on the all-time lists, including the third-biggest domestic March debut of all time and the seventh-biggest Marvel Cinematic Universe debut ever. Of the MCU films, only The Avengers films, Black PantherIron Man 3 and Captain America: Civil War have opened better.

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Here's what reviewers are saying.

Soaring tale of self-discovery
"Captain Marvel was worth the wait. It's two hours of pure female empowerment packaged with all the visual power you'd expect from a Marvel blockbuster. Brie Larson is fierce and effortlessly cool as a fighter-pilot-turned-space-warrior trying to discover who she really is. And it doesn't hurt that Hole, Elastica and Nirvana set the beat with some of the biggest hits of the '90s. Grunge looks good on Marvel."  Patricia Puentes, CNET

Right movie, wrong time
"Most of the elements introduced in Captain Marvel seem like set-up for future Captain Marvel movies, not for immediately looming events. And if Captain Marvel isn't set-up for Endgame, then why are we watching it right now?"  Michael Rougeau, GameSpot

Greatest strength is its biggest weakness
"Captain Marvel is a fine rollout for a character who will likely be dropping by many an Avengers movie for years to come. But as a film it's only halfway there, filling in nerdy details about the larger cosmic concerns of the Marvel world but failing to stage one outstanding set piece in the process."  David Sims, The Atlantic

Messy origin story with clever twists
"Captain Marvel is all over the place, careening from far-flung laser-spraying cosmos to the car-chasing streets of '90s Los Angeles. This latest Marvel Studios expansion pack stars Oscar winner Brie Larson as an amnesiac. (She's haunted by memories of Annette Bening, as all the best humans are.) So the main character doesn't know who she is, and the movie around her has a similar problem. Captain Marvel only figures itself out toward the end, when a couple twists I won't spoil sharpen the spanning saga into a motley-crew errand of mercy."  Darren Franich, Entertainment Weekly

Brie Larson packs a punch
"Captain Marvel, the first Marvel adaptation both to star a woman and to be co-directed by a woman, is an obvious, crude, and transparent film. And it's also quite enjoyable and evocative -- most of the time."  April Wolfe, The Wrap

Stan Lee tribute

Marvel Comics leader Stan Lee died in November 2018 at age 95, but he isn't forgotten in the company's films, including this one. Lee is famous for making cameo appearances in Marvel's movies, and his appearance in Captain Marvel is even more special. Not only does he make his traditional appearance during the movie, but he's honored the very second the film begins with a neat montage.

"We did want to kind of have a moment and tribute to Stan Lee in this movie, obviously," director Anna Boden told Metro. "It was something that came from Marvel and when they showed it to us, there was not a dry eye in the house. It was really emotional."

More powerful than Thanos?

Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige recently told Cosmic Book News that Captain Marvel is the most powerful character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

"She's one of the most popular characters in our comics, she's one of the most powerful characters in the comics, and will be the most powerful character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe," Feige said.

Review-bombing controversy

Even before most fans had a chance to see Captain Marvel, some people posted negative feedback on review site Rotten Tomatoes, a process some have dubbed "review-bombing." Some comments focus on Larson's remarks to Marie Claire magazine about seeking to ensure a diverse group of critics was able to see her film. "Larson has made it clear ... men need not attend this movie," said one comment. 

What did Larson actually say? She said she's noted that press covering her films were "overwhelmingly white male." After that was confirmed by a USC study, she said "moving forward, I decided to make sure my press days were more inclusive." She's also spoken out to support underprivileged girls seeing the film.

Larson was asked about the reaction to her statement after the review-bombing started and told FOX 5 in Washington, DC, that she wasn't trying to take away access, only to give more of it.

"What I'm looking for is to bring more seats up to the table," Larson said. "No one is getting their chair taken away. There's not less seats at the table, there's just more seats at the table."

On Feb. 25, Rotten Tomatoes changed its site so that readers could no longer leave comments on a movie before the film was showing in theaters, but the company president told CNET the changes were not solely spurred by the Captain Marvel controversy.

Once the film did open, the audience score swerved up and down as some of those review-bombers likely returned to post amidst honest reviews that were both negative and positive. But less than a week after the film opened, the audience score sat at 63 percent liking the film, while the Tomatometer, which summarizes critics' reviews, was at 79 percent.

How to watch

If you miss seeing Captain Marvel in theaters, don't expect to watch it at home on Netflix. On Feb. 6, Disney CEO Bob Iger noted it'll be the company's first film to skip Netflix and instead head to Disney's own Disney+ streaming service. Iger shared that news in a conference call with Wall Street analysts, Deadline reported. (More info on Disney+ is here, but if you love Marvel and Star Wars movies, better rejigger the budget to soon include another subscription fee, whatever it may be.)

In its first 24 hours of sales, the film moved into Fandango's top three best-selling Marvel Cinematic Universe movies as far as presales go, alongside Avengers: Infinity War and Black Panther.

In the wake of reports that Avengers: Endgame could be three hours long, it was kind of comforting to learn that Captain Marvel isn't pushing fans' bladders to such an extent. It's just 2 hours, 5 minutes long. The film is rated PG-13 (no surprise), for "sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive language."

And don't miss the DVD. According to co-director Anna Boden, one particularly odd scene didn't make the cut, but should end up as extra footage on the home video edition. "There's a really kind of fascinating, bizarre, fun scene that didn't make it into the final film, but yeah, you'll have to wait for the DVD extras," she said. 

Connection to Avengers: Endgame

Why does Captain Marvel matter so much? It all goes back to that Infinity War scene.

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In the scene, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) find themselves in the middle of the Thanos-sparked chaos as half the universe's population disappears. Fury manages to use his pager and apparently sends a message to Captain Marvel just as he, too, disappears into dust. Since her film arrives before the next Avengers films, it would seem she's got an important role to play in Avengers: Endgame, possibly saving the universe from an invasion of the Skrulls.

Marvel Studios

One rumor claims that it's Captain Marvel herself who saves Tony "Iron Man" Stark from his adrift spaceship, as seen in the Endgame trailer. She's got space commander experience, after all. If NASA can't get to him, maybe she can.

And when Infinity War was released on digital in August, a keen-eyed Reddit user pointed out that one of Thanos' children, Cull Obsidian, was seen wearing a piece of cloth with Captain Marvel's colors and design on it. What that means is yet uncertain, but it adds even more anticipation to the mix.

Who is Captain Marvel?

Captain Marvel? Not exactly the best-known superhero ever. But her film is the 21st in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and if she's going to get that kind of post-credits attention, fans had best brush up on her dossier. 

You can dive deep into her background and history with this explainer. A short version: This iteration of the character, Carol Danvers, was created in 1968, and was an Air Force pilot, CIA agent, security director for NASA and writer. She's also struggled with alcohol, like Iron Man Tony Stark, and her personal battles were depicted in numerous comic book issues.


Captain Marvel may not be as well-known as some superheroes, but the film has given her new attention.

Marvel Studios

Her superpowers came from a Kree alien named Mar-vell, the original Captain Marvel, and include flight, super strength, the ability to absorb and use energy, and to shoot energy blasts and lasers from her hands.

And -- spoiler ahead -- she has an extra power that could be a game-changer, co-star Samuel L. Jackson revealed. Stop reading here if you don't want to know...

"Now we know that we need something that's as powerful as Thanos," Jackson told Entertainment Tonight. "And at some point, we'll find out how powerful she is and all the things that she's capable of. She's one of the few people in the Marvel universe that can time travel, so..."

Yep, time travel, which is something those Avengers from Infinity War could sure use about now. 

Numerous characters have taken on the Captain Marvel name, and even DC Comics has had an (unrelated) Captain Marvel character (aka Shazam), though to date the Marvel universe doesn't have a "Captain DC."

Plot details

Larson described her character to EW: "She can be aggressive, and she can have a temper, and she can be a little invasive and in your face. She's also quick to jump to things, which makes her amazing in battle because she's the first one out there and doesn't always wait for orders. But the (not) waiting for orders is, to some, a character flaw."

The film begins with Danvers as a part of the elite Kree military team Starforce, which is led by Jude Law's enigmatic commander. Ben Mendelsohn plays Talos, leader of the Skrulls, and to say much more about the two groups would spoil the fun.


Talos (Mendelsohn, far left) leads the Skrulls.

Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios

The film is set in the 1990s, which may explain why in that post-credits Infinity War scene, Nick Fury is reaching out to her on a pager, not a smartphone. (Speaking of the 1990s, star Brie Larson was almost born in that decade -- Oct. 1, 1989 -- which makes some of us feel as ancient as an unopened bottle of Zima.)

Why the 1990s? Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige says all will be revealed in the story, but also told the Toronto Sun the time period would feel fresh. "It allows us to play in an area that we have never played in before, and tapping into a '90s action genre was fun for us," Feige said.

Even the movie's website is decked out in all the 1990s web craziness we used to see online, with rainbow text and random flashes and more.

And Captain Marvel executive producer Jonathan Schwartz told that the 1990s-set film pays homage to other 1990s action films. "If you think about movies like RoboCop or Total Recall or Terminator 2 or Independence Day I think there are common action movie threads you can tease through those movies which are what we're trying to pick up on in this movie," he said.

As for Captain Marvel herself, you may know star Larson best from her Oscar-winning role as a kidnap victim forced to bear and raise her son in captivity in 2015's Room. She also starred in 2017's Kong: Skull Island.

Two-eyed Nick Fury (Jackson) is staring someone down. 

Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios

Backing her up in the film are some familiar faces for Marvel fans, and a few new ones.

  • Samuel L. Jackson will play a young (pre-eye patch) Nick Fury (as you saw above). Producer Jonathan Schwartz told Mashable that the film is "almost a two-hander" between the Captain and Fury. And don't call him Nick. "Everybody calls him Fury, even his mother," Jackson told Mashable.
  • Clark Gregg is returning as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson, who's dead in the modern Marvel movie timeline, but alive in the 1990s-set film. 
  • Lee Pace returns as Ronan the Accuser, a fanatical member of the Kree alien race last seen in Guardians of the Galaxy. (In August 2018, Pace posted what appears to be a vacation video where he's wearing a Captain Marvel hat and sporting a cute, scruffy vacation beard.)

Director Anna Borden (right) shows off her moves to Law (left) and Pace as Ronan (center).

Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios
  • Djimon Hounsou returns as Korath, a Kree ally of Ronan and feared intergalactic hunter, who also appeared in Guardians of the Galaxy. 
  • Gemma Chan plays Minn-Erva, a Kree geneticist. She's not super-fond of Carol.

From left to right: Leader of Starforce (Law), Ronan (Pace), Korath (Djimon Hounsou), Att-Lass (Algenis Perez Soto), Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), Bron-Char (Rune Temte) and Minn-Erva (Gemma Chan).

Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios
  • Jude Law plays the commander of Starforce and Danvers' mentor. He and Mendelsohn aren't quite as they seem.
  • Ben Mendelsohn plays Talos, the leader of the Skrulls
  • Annette Bening plays Dr. Wendy Lawson, who passes on something very special to Carol.
  • Carol also has a cat, named Goose (a change from the Chewie name of the comics). Her purr-fect pal turns out to be something special beneath that soft fur coat.
Marvel Studios


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This article was first published May 1, 2018, and is frequently updated as new information is released.