Early in Captain Marvel, after Carol Danvers and Nick Fury have met, the Kree warrior explains that her signature photon blasts are all the proof anyone needs that she’s not a member of the Skrull race stealthily invading Earth in 1995.
Fury, understandably, has no reason to believe or doubt Carol because he has no idea what Skrulls are capable of.
The nature and origins of Carol’s awesome powers are one of the major components of Captain Marvel’s larger puzzle box of a story. But as questions about Carol’s past are answered, Captain Marvel serves as a reminder that there are still many things about already established characters within the Marvel Cinematic Universe that have yet to be explored.
In Marvel’s comics, Carol Danvers gains her immense strength and her abilities to fly and channel massive amounts of cosmic energy after she’s first caught in an accident that blends her DNA with that of the Kree hero Mar-Vell, and later undergoes drastic experiments at the hands of the parasitic Brood.
For the sake of brevity, Captain Marvel truncates Carol’s origins somewhat for the film and instead explains her abilities as being the result of exposure to the energy core of Dr. Wendy Lawson’s light-speed engine.
There are also brief mentions of Carol receiving a Kree blood transfusion (seen in trailers for the film, but not in the film’s cinematic release) as well, but it’s really the light-speed engine and what’s inside it that Captain Marvel’s chiefly concerned with.
In actuality, the core of Lawson’s engine is the Tesseract first introduced in Captain America: The First Avenger and later revealed to be a vessel containing the Space Stone. Given the role the Infinity Stones have played in setting the events of the MCU in motion, there’s a narrative neatness to connecting Carol directly to the Space Stone, especially given her canon status as a cosmically-empowered hero.
But Carol being able to just walk away from a chance explosion involving an Infinity Stone raises some interesting questions about some of the MCU’s other heroes and the roles they might play in future stories.
There are a number of characters who, like Lawson/Mar-Vell, have been able to devise ways of harnessing an Infinity Stone’s power through various means, but there are far fewer people — especially humans — who’ve been able to survive coming in direct contact with the objects.
Merely being exposed to the Reality Stone within the Aether almost killed Jane Foster, touching the Tesseract ended the Red Skull’s life on Earth and consigned him to an eternity on Vormir, and the only reason the Guardians of the Galaxy were able to grasp the Power Stone was because all of them held hands to share the burden (and Star-Lord is half Celestial). On the other hand, the Power stone made poor Carina explode when she touched it.
But people like Carol have shown that it’s possible for baseline humans to survive encounters with Infinity Stones and ultimately be able to wield a certain degree of their power with no external assistance. In the case of the Maximoff twins, Wanda and Pietro’s abilities came as the result of undisclosed experimentation by Hydra.
Just how powerful Wanda is has fluctuated depending on which film she’s appearing in, but by the end of Infinity War, we see that’s she’s perfectly capable of shattering the Mind Stone using her energy-casting abilities, which is curious considering how powerful the Stone presumably is.
While it’s doubtful that Carol’s going to singlehandedly wallop Thanos with the portion of the Space Stone’s energy that now resides within her, one imagines it’ll have something to do with the role she plays in Endgame. And that makes one wonder whether the same could end up being true of the Scarlet Witch and Vision in some capacity.
After ten years and twenty films, Marvel Studios finally—let me repeat, finally—has its first female superhero standalone film. And Carol Danvers is every bit as awesome as you had hoped.
Even if that ends up not being the case, Carol’s Space Stone empowerment works as an interesting bookend to this chapter of the MCU’s history. Her powers might represent that going forward, the Avengers and co.’s battles are going to begin centering around different MacGuffins of unimaginable power that throw the universe into peril.
Or, it could mean that the MCU’s next phase will delve deeper into what it is that’s made certain people able to become avatars of the Infinity Stones’ might, and how they’re going to become the next generation of heroes to headline Marvel’s projects.