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Setting Captain Marvel in the '90s hints at how much she matters

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Marvel Entertainment

Captain Marvel isn’t due out in theaters until March 2019, but Marvel was quick to give the film its due during the studio’s Hall H panel at Comic-Con last night. One of the key details revealed during the presentation was that the movie will be a period piece set in the 1990s, a timeframe that will set it apart from most of the other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

It’s something of a strange move on its face, especially since one would expect to see Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) joining up with a new class of Avengers. But if the aim is to establish her as a powerful force to be reckoned with in her own right, it might just make sense.

It cannot be arbitrary that the film is essentially a prequel to the entire MCU. Storywise, anytime Marvel films spend time in the past, it’s done for either character development or world-building. Captain America: The First Avenger is rooted firmly in the 1940s. ABC’s Agent Carter series exists to deepen the importance of S.H.I.E.L.D during the Cold War. Hell, even both Guardians of the Galaxy films — while taking place in the modern era — draw from the ‘70s and ’80s to very specifically serve their stories as well as their aesthetics.

The ‘90s, however, is a cultural period we haven’t seen much of in the films. Most of the characters we know were either too young, inactive, or simply not on Earth. The move will give Marvel a fresh time period to play with, which is especially enticing at a time when ‘90s nostalgia is strong amongst its millennial fans. As Marvel continues to experiment with its moviemaking formula, that pull will help set Captain Marvel apart from every movie that came before it.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be any familiar faces, though. Samuel L. Jackson is onboard to play Nick Fury, but this time as a younger agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. who hasn’t lost his left eye yet. That alone should make for a fun film.

But Marvel also announced that the movie will see Captain Marvel facing off against the Skrulls, a pairing that likely points to Marvel’s real plans for the film. The Skrulls are a race of shapeshifters that, in the comics, have invaded and very nearly taken over Earth. They’re the kind of threat that, at the height of their powers, requires the Avengers working with other teams like the X-Men to stop, and the fact that Danvers may be fighting them off alone is a way of establishing just how powerful the character is.

That point is key. According to Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige, Carol Danvers will be the most powerful Marvel superhero put on screen, meaning she’ll has abilities well beyond the likes of Thor and Doctor Strange. Having her simply appear in the modern-day MCU timeline would make the heroes in The Avengers seem practically obsolete by comparison. However, having her face a cataclysm all on her own puts her in a class by herself. It’s the kind of introduction you’d expect for a leader, and the last time Marvel made a period-specific movie like that was Captain America: The First Avenger.

And it shouldn’t be forgotten that Captain Marvel hits screens just months before the fourth Avengers movie. Judging from what was teased last night and at D23 last week, Avengers: Infinity War will see Thanos destroying much of the known universe with the power of the Infinity Stones. Heroes as iconic as Captain America could even die, forcing a new crop of heroes to rise up against the threat. Who better to lead the charge against the Mad Titan than a hero who has already saved the world on her own?

Things have started to slowly fall into place for Captain Marvel. The movie is a big deal for Marvel Studios on multiple levels. It’s the House of Ideas’ first movie starring a female superhero, a benchmark it should never have been this late to. That matters so much more now that Wonder Woman has finally proven that not only can women lead blockbusters, but that they can break records while doing it. In letting Captain Marvel stand apart by giving her both a unique setting and the kind of threat that would give Earth’s greatest heroes the fight of their lives, it proves that Marvel takes this effort seriously. It shows that one of comics’ most important characters will not only have a chance to shine, but she’ll be set up to lead the way for an entire generation of Marvel superheroes at the movies.