To keep the quadrilogy-capping Avengers: Endgame a secret — how the world goes on after the snap-fueled “Decimation”; how exactly Thanos is living it up in paradise; what the remaining Avengers will do to stop a monster wielding unlimited power (and how they’ll bring back a few of their friends in the process) — Marvel is playing the exact opposite game it did in 2012 for The Avengers. The Joss Whedon-directed crossover spammed the market to rev up hype — heck it even got a film festival premiere. In contrast, Endgame is a hush-hush event, with cryptic, sparse trailers and plot setup mostly teased out from toy descriptions. For a movie of this size, we’ll likely go in with unprecedented lack of insight into what’s to come.
Which brings us to the post-credit scene in Captain Marvel, the most obvious place for mastermind Kevin Feige and his band of Marvel lore-builders to tee up Endgame. The scene dives right into the dread-filled drama of Endgame — but not in the way anyone might expect, and not in a way that clears anything up (of course). In fact, Captain Marvel only raises more questions for where the Avengers fourquel will pick up, how it will navigate catastrophe, and how will it piggyback off Captain Marvel’s newly forged mythology. That is to say, the scene is ripe for theories, in true Marvel fashion.
[Ed. note: this post contains major spoilers for the end of Captain Marvel and the after-credit scenes that follow]
What happens in the Captain Marvel after-credits scene
Like Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain Marvel takes a giant leap in time between the conclusion of the actual movie and the after-credits scene. By the end of her cosmic journey, Carol, having learned of her true identity as a fighter pilot and awoken to the refugee crisis of the Skrull-Kree war, takes off with the Talos’ and his people towards a planet out of Kree reach. Her roots are on Earth, but her calling is among the stars, as a hero energized by the Tesseract. The decision to play guardian (...of the galaxy...?) explains why Captain Marvel doesn’t show up when Loki and the Chitauri invade Earth or when Ultron sets into motion an extinction-level event or even when Thanos descends upon Earth to collect the final Infinity Stones.
That changes in Avengers: Endgame. Captain Marvel’s post-credit scene flashes forward to a familiar, present-day setting: Captain America, Black Widow, War Machine, and Bruce Banner sizing up crisis in Avengers HQ. It’s familiar not only because we’ve seen the Avengers in crisis mode time and time again, but the moment is also one of the few scenes sliced up for use in the first Avengers: Endgame trailer. Will it even be in the completed film? Maybe not. Feige, you old dog, you!
In the trailer, a truncated version of the post-credit scene revealed some key information on who did and didn’t go out with the snap. (Please, please, please, please bring our dearly departed Shuri back soon, Marvel.) The extended version that plays in Captain Marvel reveals that at some point between the decimation of the universe’s mortal population and the death toll analysis, Steve Rogers and the gang discovered what happened in the Avengers: Infinity War post-credit scene: Nick Fury bit the dust, but not before activating a pager tethered to his old friend Carol Danvers.
The beeper bit in Captain Marvel may be one of the sweetest post-credit connect-the-dots jokes in MCU history. Fury became Carol’s one reliable friend during a murky exploration of her memories and her self-actualization as a hero. Carol returned the favor to Fury by opening his eyes (both, at this point) to a world beyond the Earthly realm, giving SHIELD greater purpose and inspiring him to begin the Avengers Initiative. (In the most Bohemian Rhapsody moment in Captain Marvel, Fury discovers that his new friend went by Carol “Avenger” Danvers while in the air force, inspiring the team moniker.) That bond imbues the beeper hand-off at the farm with weight, but for once, the foundation of a post-credit scene makes it resonate.
Back in the present, Fury’s beeper is all but busted. Banner keeps the relic of the ’90s hardwired to some supercomputers, perhaps because Carol improved the early wireless telecommunication device to fit her intergalactic needs, but probably because who the hell knows how to use a beeper at this point? As the gang stresses over how to hunt down Thanos and undo his genocidal hell, the beeper finally gives them the answer — by shutting down.
“So that thing just stopped doing whatever the hell it was doing,” Rhodey proclaims.
Why? Because Captain Marvel is back. In an entrance worthy of Batman sneakiness, Carol appears out of nowhere behind Steve Rogers. Someone activated her beeper, so she only has one question: “Where’s Fury?”
Captain Marvel in Avengers: Endgame
“Captain Marvel,” Kevin Feige said way back in 2016, “is as powerful a character as we’ve ever put in a movie. Her powers are off the charts, and when she’s introduced, she will be by far the strongest character we’ve ever had.”
In The Avengers, the team had a Hulk. In Endgame, the team has a Captain Marvel — and seemingly from the very beginning. If you want to know how essential Carol will be for the team, consider that Marvel likely erased her from several Avengers-HQ-set sequences in the Avengers: Endgame Super Bowl spot, just to keep her presence on Earth a secret. What role will she ultimately play in the battle against Thanos?
There are a few chess pieces on the board that Carol could potentially disrupt. As we’ve seen in the Endgame trailers, Tony Stark is still floating in out in space after his disastrous encounter with Thanos on the planet Titan. Without a fully operational ship, and a diminishing supply of oxygen, Iron Man needs a savior from space. A gate-jumping, space-traversing Carol could be the answer, if Tony’s distress call reaches homebase in time.
Since the power of the Space Stone literally runs through her veins, Captain Marvel could also be the answer to how the Avengers either destroy the Infinity Stones or wield Thanos’ gauntlet in order to reverse the damage done. There are pervasive theories of how pocket dimensions and time-traveling (by way of a Quantum Realm-stuck Ant-Man) could factor into the plot to take down the purple tyrant, but it’s Captain Marvel’s cosmic standing — at a time when most of our heroes are on Earth — that makes her the obvious candidate to disrupt Thanos’ R&R on a verdant planet.
Endgame is not likely to match up with the resolution of the Infinity War comics, though the logic could be consistent. Essentially, Thanos gets comfortable. His oversized ego convinces him he’s all powerful. But like so many do in Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers could go underestimated in the end. Her siphoned energy from the Tesseract could mean that Thanos technically isn’t wielding maximum power. In 1968 run of the original Captain Marvel comic, the hero defeated Thanos with a similar Infinity Stone loophole. Could the Cosmic Cube be the key to everything, has it has been for the last decade of MCU tales?
Captain Marvel’s second post-credit scene
Though the Time Stone was the ultimate McGuffin in Infinity War, the emphasis on the Space Stone’s power throughout Marvel history — and again in Captain Marvel — gives it greater narrative heft than any of its shiny companions. Phase 1 through 3 has ultimately been the Cosmic Cube saga. Captain Marvel’s second, light-weight post-credit scene only speaks to that.
In the end, we see Goose the Flerken barf up, in true cat style, the Tesseract. The weapon is now in SHIELD’s possession, but we know what happens next: Loki, the Battle of New York, an Asgardian vault, more Loki, and a deathblow by Thanos.
We’ll know the next stage in the Space Stone’s life cycle when Marvel finally reveals what’s behind the Avengers: Endgame curtain. The only twist that seems certain: Thanos’ downfall will pave the way for a new, Captain Marvel-led future.