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Captain Marvel's ending explained

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has just gotten a lot bigger, and a whole lot weirder, in all the best possible ways. Captain Marvel, starring Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, and Jude Law, managed to burn through a bunch of story in a fun, fast-paced adventure that sets up some exciting things for Avengers: Endgame. Not only that, it plumbed the depths of Marvel Comics lore, bringing the long-awaited Skrull aliens into the MCU, along with the legendary Kree-Skrull War that comics fans have been reading about for decades.

But a movie jam-packed with this much awesome stuff might be a little tough to follow from start to finish. In the course of two hours, we visit three different planets, several different spaceships, meet various alien species, and unpack a ton of pseudo-scientific technobabble while trying to figure out just who the heck this Captain Marvel lady really is. If you're looking to make sense of it all, look no further: let's photon blast our way through the plot of Captain Marvel and explain just what the ending might mean.

Strap in: major spoilers ahead.

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Best Vers-ion of yourself

Captain Marvel begins on Hala, the Kree homeworld. We meet Vers, a member of the planet's group of Starforce warriors, and she's been having nightmares. During training sessions with her mentor and commander, Yon-Rogg, we learn that Vers is being trained to suppress her emotions, stop questioning her mysterious past, and fight without using her powers, which seem to consist of having super-hot hands. But Vers sucks at emotion suppressing, and she loves her whole hot-hand thing, so after a few too many photon blasts, she's sent to be admonished by the Supreme Intelligence, the AI leader of the Kree on Hala. The Supreme Intelligence appears differently to everyone, and in Vers' case, it appears as a mysterious woman. Good thing, too, because the Supreme Intelligence is butt ugly and also supremely gross.

Soon, Vers, Yon-Rogg, and the rest of Starforce head off on a mission to rescue an undercover Kree operative. But the whole thing turns out to be a Skrull ambush, and Vers is captured and interrogated with a mind-scanning machine. That's where we conveniently catch more glimpses of Vers' hidden memories, and the life she used to live as an Air Force pilot on Earth. After mustering every ounce of willpower, Vers escapes captivity, busts up a Skrull ship, and zips down to Earth in an escape pod, followed by a squad of Skrull warriors led by a guy named Talos. Their mission: find a hidden lightspeed engine developed by scientist Doctor Wendy Lawson.

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Wild Goose chases

After crash-landing into a Blockbuster Video, Vers finds herself stuck on Earth, a wasteland of flannel, Radio Shacks, and pay phones. With the help of the latter two, she places a long-distance call to her Starforce buddies to tell them she's going after the Skrulls. It isn't long before Vers encounters the local law enforcement in the form of Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD. Just as Fury and his partner, Agent Phil Coulson, are about to arrest her for the crime of busting holes into video stores, she's attacked by a Skrull sniper and gives chase. Fury and Coulson likewise chase the chaser, and soon Los Angeles has its most dramatic vehicular action since that whole white Ford Bronco thing you may have heard about.

Once the chase ends, Vers seeks answers from her recently unlocked memories, while Fury joins her in her quest to discover the location of Doctor Lawson's engine. Meanwhile, SHIELD has been infiltrated with at least one Skrull operative — Talos — who's impersonating Fury's boss, Agent Keller. Fury and Vers head to Project Pegasus to learn about Lawson's work. There they encounter Lawson's cat — named Goose — a photo of Vers as a human fighter pilot, and also those darned Skrulls. A fight ensues, and Vers and Fury steal an experimental flight craft and head to Louisiana, where they hope to get more answers about Vers' former life from Maria Rambeau, who was the last person to see Lawson — and Vers — alive on Earth.

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Mar-Vell-ous memories

The reunion with Rambeau and her daughter Monica is bittersweet, as Vers learns her true identity is Carol Danvers, a test pilot who was presumed dead six years ago after a flight with Lawson's special project went wrong. But even as Rambeau fills in the gaps about her life as Danvers, Carol is unable to remember as much about her past as she'd like — she can only retain glimpses of her memories, and many of them are memories of various failures, like crashing a go-kart or falling from the ropes course during her time in basic training. While they're gathering more memories, the house is infiltrated by Talos and another Skrull — but this time, instead of threatening Danvers and her friends, Talos offers a truce, and an audio recording of Danvers' "death."

Here's were we learn the truth: Danvers and Lawson were shot down by a Kree spacecraft, piloted by none other than Yon-Rogg. Yon-Rogg killed Lawson — a secret Kree operative named Mar-Vell who'd gone rogue, and whose experimental project was meant to peacefully end the Kree-Skrull war. Danvers realizes she's been fighting for the wrong side, and the Kree had erased her memories and abducted her from Earth after she gained her powers, a side effect of her decision to blow up the engine of Lawson's experimental craft to keep it out of Yon-Rogg's hands. Danvers and the Skrulls strike a truce, and they fly off to find Mar-Vell's power source before the Kree can snatch it away.

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For a Supreme Intelligence, you're pretty dumb

Once aboard Mar-Vell's orbiting space lab, Danvers, Fury, Rambeau, Talos, and Goose find her power source: the Tesseract, which houses the Space Stone. But that isn't the only secret the lab holds, as Talos' family and a bunch of other Skrull refugees are aboard, having lived there for the last six years. The reunion is interrupted by Yon-Rogg and the rest of Starforce.

Danvers is captured and plugged into the Supreme Intelligence, who taunts Danvers about her rediscovered humanity — saying that being human sucks. Wrong move! Danvers overcomes the Supreme Intelligence and breaks free of the Kree's suppression of her superpowers. Meanwhile, Fury and Talos beat back some crappier Kree warriors and make their escape from the lab. In the process, Goose reveals himself to be not a cat, but rather a Flerken, an alien sight gag able to swallow magical MacGuffins with the help of CGI tentacles. The Tesseract is safe within his belly, and the gang leaves the lab to head back to Earth.

Danvers, now more powerful than ever, beats up Starforce, blasts Yon-Rogg, and explodes some super-bombs deployed by Ronan the Accuser. The Kree leave Earth, and Danvers does likewise to help the Skrull refugees find a new home — and end the Kree-Skrull war for good. She leaves Fury a souped-up pager to be used only for emergencies. Finally, in the mid-credits scene, we see her appearing at Avengers headquarters in the aftermath of Avengers: Infinity War, returning to Earth to answer the call Fury put in from the pager before he was dusted during Thanos' Gauntlet-fueled snap.

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Not just a girl

So what's it all mean? During the beginning of the film, Yon-Rogg tells Danvers she needs to dampen her emotions and control herself and her powers. He tells her she needs to be the best version of herself — but the best version by his standards. As we see memories of her past, we see others telling Danvers what she must do — or what she can't do. She needs to slow down her go-kart. She needs to quit basic training. She needs to accept that flying is for men, not women. And finally, during her last confrontation with the Supreme Intelligence, she needs to accept that without the Kree, she's only human, and that's not enough to succeed.

Naturally, Danvers realizes that everyone's been dead wrong. Being a woman never stopped her from being a kick-ass pilot, while being an emotional human helped her beat all of Starforce single-handedly. If you didn't catch the intended theme of the film by that point, No Doubt's "I'm Just a Girl" playing during the fight scene with her former teammates might have driven the point of the movie home.

And by finally letting loose and embracing her humanity — emotions and all — Danvers discovers she can literally fly, no plane or spaceship required. In short, the ending of the movie proves that you shouldn't let anyone tell you that you need to fight against your nature to be your best self — your best self might be exactly who you already were all along.

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What the Flerk?

With six Infinity Stones floating around the edges of 21 different movies, no one would blame you for having a hard time keeping track of all of them. As such, you probably weren't the only one to gasp in recognition — and confusion — when the Tesseract showed up in Mar-Vell's secret floating space lab. The last time we saw that thing, it was sitting pretty on Thanos' Infinity Gauntlet, having been liberated from Loki's possession at the beginning of Avengers: Infinity War. And before that, it played important roles in the first Captain America and Avengers movies. So how'd it end up in Mar-Vell's possession… only to later be swallowed and coughed up by an alien space cat?

For those who don't recall, the Tesseract zapped Red Skull into space at the end of Captain America: The First Avenger. Later, Howard Stark recovered the Tesseract on the bottom of the ocean while searching for the lost Steve Rogers, and eventually it was given to SHIELD for safekeeping. The next time the Tesseract appears is in the Avengers film, when Loki breaks into SHIELD headquarters to steal it. Its appearance in Captain Marvel fills in some blanks in terms of the Tesseract's importance in shaping the MCU's future. However, it does raise some questions about what kind of paperwork Doctor Lawson had to fill out in order to gain access to the Tesseract for her experiments. No one at SHIELD wondered where the glowing blue space-cube had disappeared to?

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Making a difference...or not

Captain Marvel does a pretty good job of ensuring that little — if anything — happening in this film contradicts any of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies that take place after it. That's a feat many prequels attempt and at which only a few really succeed.

For instance, we now know how Fury lost his eye, as it falls victim to a nasty scratch from Goose. The injury provides a funny solution to a longtime MCU mystery, while also helping us understand how and why Fury is able to cope with all the weirdness of super-people without breaking a sweat. He lost his eye to an alien tentacle-cat while escaping a bunch of murderous Kree soldiers. He can handle a few Norse gods.

We also learn that the name for the Avengers Initiative was inspired by Carol Danvers, whose call sign as a pilot was "Avenger." Fury's super-pager, which he used to contact Captain Marvel at the end of Avengers: Infinity War, gets an origin story, too. In all, Danvers and her quest had a definitive impact on Fury personally and the larger unfolding of the MCU.

And yet, the pager still raises at least one huge question about what defines an "emergency" to Nick Fury. In Avengers, for instance, a wormhole opened over Manhattan and a bunch of aliens invaded. The second Avengers movie featured a super-evil robot attempt a world takeover and an entire city floating in the sky. Those weren't emergencies?

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Danvers' Marvelous Future

The mid-credits scene in Captain Marvel gives us a preview of Avengers: Endgame. Danvers swoops into Avengers HQ in response to Fury's pager, which has been sending its signal into space since Infinity War's end. It confirms that Captain Marvel will have a significant role in the restoration of half the universe's population. Good thing she wasn't dusted, too!

Beyond that, it's likely we'll get more adventures with Captain Marvel on Earth once Endgame's credits roll. While she's unlocked most if not all of her pre-Kree memories, she still hasn't spent time actually reacclimating to life on her homeworld. The events of Captain Marvel take place in 1995, six years after her abduction. Now she's returned home after more than 20 years, though she still looks as young as ever, thanks to her superpowered Kree blood. And just like Captain America before her, Danvers is out of her own time, and we'll probably see her struggling to reconnect after over a quarter century away from home.

Additionally, Monica Rambeau, Maria's daughter, probably has a role to play, based on the character's history from the comics. In 1982, she made her debut as a hero named Captain Marvel, only her origin story didn't really have anything to do with Danvers, Mar-Vell, or the Kree. In the MCU, though, she'll be 20 years older… and probably ready to either join Captain Marvel on her next adventure, or become her own Captain Marvel further down the line.