Warning: this article contains spoilers for Captain Marvel
Does Captain Marvel break the MCU’s timeline? Set in 1995, the film is essentially a prequel to the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. It features a never-before-told adventure of the young Nick Fury, and sees him encounter aliens for the first time. By the end of the movie, Carol Danvers’ example has inspired Nick Fury to propose the Avengers Initiative.
But that makes Captain Marvel a massive retcon, with a new character written into the history of the MCU. The problem with retcons is that they can cause problems with continuity; the more complex the continuity, the more likely there’ll be a problem. The MCU timeline is a complex one, involving 21 movies, a range of popular tie-in comics, and a large slate of TV shows. As a result, Captain Marvel always had the potential to seriously disrupt the timeline.
Related: How Captain Marvel Connects To Avengers: Endgame
In reality, Captain Marvel is a masterpiece of continuity, with the script carefully avoiding any major contradictions – including with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. But one specific issue has drawn a lot of criticism from fans; the use of the Tesseract. There’s a serious amount of confusion online about just how the film’s use of the Tesseract fits into the MCU’s continuity, with some claiming it’s an outright continuity error. Fortunately, that isn’t the case.
- This Page: Everything We Learn About The Tesseract In Captain Marvel
- Page 2: Why Captain Marvel Doesn’t Break The MCU Timeline
According to Captain Marvel, by the late 1980s the Tesseract was in the hands of Project P.E.G.A.S.U.S., a joint USAF/NASA operation attempting to create advanced propulsion systems and high-tech aircraft. Their experiments somehow drew the attention of the rogue Kree scientist Mar-Vell, who had grown disillusioned with her race and their warmongering ways. Mar-Vell aimed to find a way to save the Skrulls from extinction at the hands of the Kree, and decided the easiest way was to give them the technology to go so far away that they would be beyond the Kree’s reach. She believed Tesseract energy could be siphoned off to create a faster-than-light drive that would prove to be the salvation of the Skrull race.
Taking the identity of Dr. Wendy Lawson, Mar-Vell infiltrated Project P.E.G.A.S.U.S. and soon took charge of the Tesseract project. By 1989 she had developed a prototype engine, and incorporated it into a revolutionary vessel called the Asis. A blend of human and Kree science, the Asis was designed to fly faster than anything in the entire galaxy; where traditional aircraft produce contrails, the Asis generated a comet’s tail of energy waves. Unfortunately Mar-Vell’s treachery had been discovered by Starforce Commander Yon-Rogg, who had been carefully monitoring events on Earth. Yon-Rogg and Minn-Erva shot down the Asis and killed Mar-Vell, intending to take the experimental engine for the Kree. USAF pilot Carol Danvers, Mar-Vell’s pilot, intervened; she shot the engine, triggering an explosion of Tesseract energy that she absorbed. Mar-Vell’s plans were stalled, and Project P.E.G.A.S.U.S. discovered that the dead Lawson had stolen the Tesseract. Unable to work out what had happened, they did their best to bury the Tesseract experiments and pretend they’d never taken place at all.
Lawson had taken the Tesseract to her cloaked Kree ship, which was hidden in orbit around the Earth. She’d already been quietly secreting Skrull refugees there, preparing to take them somewhere they would be safe once her experiments were complete. And so the Tesseract waited, hidden, for six years – until the events of Captain Marvel, when Carol Danvers was returned to Earth and discovered the truth about the Kree and the source of her powers. Although she retrieved the Tesseract, it was swallowed by the Flerken known as Goose the cat; she coughed it up sometime later on Nick Fury’s desk.
Related: The Tesseract Has Appeared In More Marvel Movies Than Captain America
Captain Marvel adds a lot to the story of the Tesseract; but it doesn’t actually contradict the timeline at all. Putting the pieces together, the timeline looks something like this:
- The Tesseract was originally the jewel of Odin’s treasure room, and a sketch in Thor suggests that he used its power liberally.
- In 1409, the All-Father decided to hide the Tesseract away in Tønsberg, Norway. It was secreted away by a Norse sect, and became the stuff of legends on Earth.
- The Tesseract remained hidden until March 1942, when it was finally discovered by the Red Skull alongside a copy of the Book of Yggdrasil. Hydra learned how to tap into the Tesseract’s power, and used it to create a wave of advanced Hydra weapons and vehicles. Fortunately they were opposed by Captain America and the SSR.
- At the end of Captain America: The First Avenger, the Tesseract was lost in the Atlantic Ocean. shortly after, it was retrieved by Howard Stark.
- The timeline is a little unclear at this point, but according to Iron Man 2 Howard Stark worked with Project P.E.G.A.S.U.S.. Presumably he was part of the Tesseract research group, and the notes Tony Stark flicked through in Iron Man 2 – which featured a sketch of the Tesseract – were from that period.
- The Kree scientist Mar-Vell infiltrated P.E.G.A.S.U.S., and by 1989 had taken charge of the Tesseract project. It’s possible that Howard Stark was aware of Mar-Vell’s true identity and purpose, given Mar-Vell managed to steal the Tesseract and take it to her ship.
- The Tesseract was rediscovered in 1995, but was swallowed by a Flerken. Goose eventually coughed it up on Nick Fury’s desk.
- Nick Fury sent the Tesseract back to P.E.G.A.S.U.S., but once he became Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. he pushed for S.H.I.E.L.D. to establish a presence at what had previously been a USAF/NASA facility.
- In 2011, Thor arrived on Earth, a being from Asgard – the place S.H.I.E.L.D. believed the Tesseract came from. In the post-credits scene of Thor, Fury recruited Erik Selvig into Project P.E.G.A.S.U.S. to lead the Tesseract experiments.
- In The Avengers, Loki successfully stole the Tesseract from Project P.E.G.A.S.U.S., and used it to help the Chitauri invade Earth. The invasion was stopped, and Thor used the Tesseract to return to Asgard. According to the Thor: The Dark World Prelude, Odin used it to restore the Bifrost.
- The Tesseract remained in Odin’s Vault until Thor: Ragnarok, when Loki secretly retrieved it. Loki was forced to hand the Tesseract over to Thanos at the beginning of Avengers: Infinity War; the Mad Titan broke it open to retrieve the Space Stone, which he placed within the Infinity Gauntlet. Its power – along with the power of the other five Infinity Stones – was ultimately used by Thanos to erase half the life in the universe.
Related: Marvel Movie Timeline: A Complete History Of The MCU
Page 2: Why Captain Marvel Doesn’t Break The MCU Timeline
In truth, the timeline fits together perfectly; Captain Marvel complicates it a little, but that’s about it. Howard Stark is already associated with Project P.E.G.A.S.U.S. thanks to Iron Man 2, so it makes sense that P.E.G.A.S.U.S. had been experimenting with the Tesseract since before Howard died in 1991. What’s more, given the Red Skull had used the Tesseract’s energy to power his Valkyrie bombers, it’s hardly surprising that NASA and the USAF believed it could create a whole new wave of advanced vehicles.
The Avengers showed one phase of Tesseract experiments. But that doesn’t mean there were no earlier phases, nor does it indicate that earlier experiments had seen absolutely no success. Captain Marvel doesn’t break the timeline at all; yes, it’s a surprise retcon, but it actually fits rather logically with the established continuity.
Surprisingly, the MCU’s continuity survives Captain Marvel pretty much intact. There are only a handful of real continuity issues, the most prominent of which lies with a photograph of Nick Fury shown in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The photo clearly shows Nick Fury being sworn in – most likely as director of S.H.I.E.L.D. – by Alexander Pierce. According to Pierce, he first met Fury when he was further on in his S.H.I.E.L.D. career, and was chief of Bogota Station. And, crucially, in the photograph Nick Fury clearly has both eyes intact. That photo suggested Nick shouldn’t have lost his eye so early on in his time at S.H.I.E.L.D..
Other minor continuity issues – such as the question of how Nick Fury could know Howard Stark so well in Iron Man 2, or his claim in The Avengers that Asgardians were the first aliens S.H.I.E.L.D. had encountered – aren’t too difficult to explain. As Tony Stark explained in The Avengers, “[Fury’s] a spy, Captain. He’s the spy. Even his secrets have secrets.” All these other continuity issues rest solely on the idea that Nick Fury was telling the truth, but he’s never been a particularly honest and up-front man, so presumably, he was lying on both occasions. The first lie would have been informed by Howard Stark’s recordings, and was necessary to get Tony to listen to him; the second was an attempt to defuse an argument that was increasingly out of control and risked causing Bruce Banner to Hulk out on a S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier. In both circumstances, Fury would have considered himself wise not to tell the truth.
Then, of course, there’s the matter of how Fury lost his eye – an event he told Steve Rogers happened “the last time I trusted someone” during the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Of course, leave it to Nick Fury to lie about the fact a cat scratched his eye out and instead use the injury as a way to motivate someone to do what he wants.
More: Captain Marvel: EVERY Easter Egg & Secret Reference