Captain Marvel's casting announcement has revealed some key details about the plot and key characters in the movie, and in doing so may be providing hints that the Earth-cosmic mashup will be more than just a period entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Captain Marvel could be unfolding in an alternate timeline of the MCU.
Set in the 1990s, Captain Marvel is bringing back a lot of key MCU figures in a younger guise. A two-eyed Nick Fury was confirmed back at SDCC 2017, and the start of filming has brought with it confirmation that Clark Gregg, Lee Pace and Djimon Hounsou are all returning. It's not been explicitly confirmed, but it's widely assumed the trio will be reprising the roles of Agent Phil Coulson, Ronan and Korath respectively. This revealed an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.-ignoring return for Gregg and hints Captain Marvel is a stealth Guardians of the Galaxy prequel, but the balance may say more.
In a broad sense, it makes sense for these characters to appear. They're all alive and active in the timeline, and as we're dealing with Fury's first brush with the "bigger universe" and the Kree-Skrull war, every one fits by themselves. But all of them together poses big questions.
This Page: Does Captain Marvel's Casting Create A Timeline Problem?
Does SHIELD's Involvement In The Kree-Skrull War Create A Plot Hole?
The 1990s setting for Captain Marvel may feel recent, but it's relatively untouched by the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Ant-Man's pre-logo opening showed older S.H.I.E.L.D. creators in the late-1980s, then Captain America: Civil War detailed the Winter Soldier's murder of Howard and Maria Stark in 1991 and Black Panther the stranding of Erik Killmonger in 1992. After that, the next event seen in the movies chronologically is New Year's Eve 1999 in Iron Man 3, where a now-adult and very successful Tony Stark shafts Aldrich Killian. Most events later center on the late-2000s when Phase 1 begins.
There's a gap here, specifically in how S.H.I.E.L.D.'s understanding of the world changes and it evolves into its modern guise. By the end of Iron Man, Nick Fury's teasing to Tony Stark that he's "become part of a bigger universe, you just don't know it yet", indicating some understanding of the cosmic side that is becoming key to the franchise. Context for that is surely coming in Captain Marvel, but the manner of which now raises some questions; how much knowledge is too much? By The Avengers, S.H.I.E.L.D. (under control of Hydra) is just starting to play with Tesseract energy for weapons, which seems ignorant of alien contact decades before.
Before going too deep, it's worth clarifying the situation with Marvel plot holes. When you're dealing with a movie franchise this big - Black Panther was the eighteenth entry - some contradictions and slight retcons are only to be expected (and this is before addressing the various TV shows and other spinoffs, which aren't typically taken with the same rigidity of canon). What makes the MCU impressive is how coherent it is for the most part. The biggest flubs tend to come from the placement of movies in the timeline (see Spider-Man: Homecoming saying it was eight years after The Avengers when all signs point to it being only four) rather than actual plot holes. The scant cases of this - such Tony Stark's unclear relationship with S.H.I.E.L.D. in Phase 1 or the Infinity Gauntlet in Odin's vault - are usually explained via cheeky in-universe tweaks (in the cited cases, One-Shot The Consultant and Thor: Ragnarok's dismissal of the golden glove respectively). Essentially, Marvel is aware of making sure overall cohesion works.
So we're left asking how S.H.I.E.L.D. can be involved, at the very least indirectly, with the Kree-Skrull war that forms the backdrop to Captain Marvel's origin story. Even with a firm delineation and Carol Danvers as the bridge between worlds, there's a greater sense of understanding there that would seem to bring in a far greater cosmic knowledge than we expect Fury and co. to have at that point. Essentially, we have the potential groundwork for a more advanced past. And, while that could all be carefully handled in the film, it opens up potential for a plot hole - and a very interesting possibility.
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 02, 2019
- Captain Marvel (2019) release date: Mar 08, 2019
- The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019
- Avengers: Infinity War / The Avengers 3 (2018) release date: Apr 27, 2018
- Ant-Man & The Wasp (2018) release date: Jul 06, 2018