[WARNING: This post contains mild plot spoilers for “Captain Marvel” and other Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films.]
The hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts went to see “Captain Marvel” last weekend. I would not add it to the necessary films to see before the next Avengers film, but Brie Larson sure knows how to arch an eyebrow.
One oddity of the film is that although it’s designed to introduce Captain Marvel, who will definitely appear in “Avengers: Endgame,” it works far better as the backstory for Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury. It definitely provides the context for the after-credits scene in “Avengers: Infinity War.”
What we learn in “Captain Marvel” is that Carol Danvers tricked out Fury’s 1990s pager with some Kree technology to function as a galactic 911 for Danvers. She cautions that Fury should only use it to contact her in case “Earth is suddenly at critical crisis.” Danvers then departs with some space refugees, and the next time we see this pager is this scene:
Something kept gnawing at me about this interstellar pager, and I think Entertainment Weekly correspondent Dana Schwartz captured it perfectly with this tweet:
Hey, I write about international relations, including the international relations of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Schwartz’s question is worth pondering. Fury’s threat assessment skills were so poor in “Captain Marvel” that he let a Flerken blind him in one eye. He offered up the Tesseract to a scientist possessed by Loki. Over the course of the MCU, does Nick Fury accurately assess dangers to the Earth?
Watch that after-credits scene in “Infinity War” again: Fury acts pretty quickly to activate that pager despite never having seen or heard a word about Thanos. Were there previous threats that should have caused Fury to page Captain Marvel?
Let’s give Fury the benefit of the doubt and assume that between him being named director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the dawn of Iron Man, nothing happened that was literally Earth-shattering. Let us further assume that Fury should be expected to respond only to threats that he was informed of before they were neutralized. One cannot blame Fury for not paging Captain Marvel while Harlem is being ripped up or someone is trying to hijack a plane full of Stark tech.
Based on my count, Fury encounters the following threats in the MCU: Whiplash (from “Iron Man 2”), Loki (from “The Avengers”), Hydra (from “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”), and Ultron (from “Avengers: Age of Ultron”). Let’s dispatch with Whiplash quickly: as MCU threats go, Ivan Vanko was not a significant one. There was no reason for Fury to page Danvers in that film.
Loki was a real threat, and one from outer space no less. Still, in fairness to Fury, that’s why he pursued the Avengers Initiative in the first place. It would have been bizarre for him to put together his response team and then call for Captain Marvel when a few helicarrier props get sabotaged. Fury did not think Loki’s threat was world-ending, and went so far as to disobey orders from his superiors to nuke New York because he was confident in the Avengers. Perhaps Fury overestimated the capabilities of Avengers, but he was proved right in the end.
Fury’s sense of threat perception was acute enough to be aware of a possible Hydra problem in S.H.I.E.L.D., and to prepare a variety of weapons caches and hideouts in case his fears came to pass. And it’s a credit to him that he did not page Captain Marvel when he was personally imperiled.
To be honest, however, both the Hydra and Ultron threats would have been extremely tricky to explain to Danvers, and they raise an awkward point: these dangers were endogenously created. Hydra grew within S.H.I.E.L.D. Ultron was a brainchild of some of the Avengers. Imagine paging Danvers and then having to explain to Captain Marvel that the threat to Earth was midwifed by the people who swore to defend the planet.
I did not expect this to be my conclusion when I started writing this column, but Nick Fury appears to have saved his magic pager for the right occasion. He encountered serious threats before Thanos, but he also had other resources to deploy. Many of the serious threats were created by the very organizations that Fury built. After an initially wobbly assessment of threats, Fury appears to have moved down the learning curve into a doctrine of proportionate response. Danvers was right to trust him.