The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Dangerous Love of Easter Eggs

Are they a Skrull? Is that a Skrull? IS THE CAT A SKRULL?! Captain Marvel opened last weekend to massive box office numbers and mostly great reviews. In its wake, the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe has been thrown into a panic with the introduction of the shapeshifting alien race. But have they been here all along? Maybe! Maybe not!

Buzzfeed found a curious Reddit thread that implies the answer may have already been teased in a forgotten snippet from Avengers: Age Of Ultron. In the scene, we see Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) cut toast diagonally, something he emphatically says he can’t eat in Captain Marvel. So, is Fury a Skrull? Or dead? Or a dead Skrull? Or… something?

At first glance, this is probably a stretch. Is it likely that Marvel inserted a throwaway scene of Fury in 2015 just to pay it off a half dozen films later? Of course not. But this could just be another example of Marvel’s tendency to reverse engineer the MCU to fit plot needs, storylines, and cover fan service. It’s possible they could have done exactly what this Reddit user did; scan through all the previous MCU films, look for opportunities to tie things together, and run with it. They’ve done it before.

The interwoven stories and interconnected characters of The Marvel Cinematic Universe are game-changing for superhero and franchise films. With the incoming Avengers: Endgame, the end is nigh for Phase 3, concluding two decades of storylines. Implications of an over-arching plot, namely Thanos and his search for the Infinity Stones, has loomed over all but the very earliest installments. This means Easter eggs and inter-film continuity have been buried in most of the films, both intentionally preconceived and lazily reverse engineered (cough Spiderman: Homecoming cough).

One can see the benefit of this approach to a connected film universe; building a basic framework for your plot without committing too much too early has a lot of advantages, but it also means blithe references for fan service can quickly become complicated.

Most viewers have caught the obvious Easter eggs but some evidently still lurk undiscovered, as James Gunn still insists there’s one in Guardians of the Galaxy no one has caught. Then of course, sometimes, the viewers are just crazy wrong. The theories break down into a few categories.

Red Herrings

Despite a few examples of seemingly obvious nods to the shared continuity of the MCU, many have led to a dead end or retcon.

The biggest of these, of course, is the Infinity Gauntlet seen in Odin’s trophy hall in Thor. It was put there to excite the masses in the infant days of the MCU, but as the storylines progressed, it didn’t make any sense and was ignored until Hela’s one-liner in Thor: Ragnarok dismissed it altogether.

In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, there was Agent Jasper Sitwell’s description of known targets of Project Insight, including Stephen Strange. Yet according to the MCU timeline, during the events of Winter Soldier, Strange was a normal, albeit brilliant, neurosurgeon. This one, much like the continuity for Spiderman: Homecoming, has mostly been tacitly admitted as a mistake.

And of course, The Incredible Hulk. Where to even start? Probably best to ignore most of the implications of this film altogether, particularly Tim Blake Nelson being set up as the super intelligent gamma mutated villain The Leader in a plotline that went nowhere.

Striking Gold

Of course, there were instances where the breadcrumbs left for viewers, both overt and subtle, eventually paid off in big ways in the series. Some of these are less Easter eggs than fully developed plot lines, such as the Tesseract in Captain America: The First Avenger later revealed as the vessel that contains the Space Stone.

Others, like the surprise return of the Red Skull in Avengers: Infinity War, were surprising in their execution but not in their broad strokes. Such a towering figure in Marvel Comics, the Red Skull’s return was always expected at some point. Hugo Weaving‘s bad experience on The First Avenger seemed to leave the character in limbo, but it was eventually sorted out behind the scenes, and Ross Marquand stepped in with a pitch-perfect Weaving impression for one of the best surprises in the MCU.

Similar is the reveal in Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 that Peter Quill’s father is Ego the Living Planet. It pays off a line of dialogue from Quill’s mother in Vol. 1 that had fans guessing if Peter’s father was anyone from the Silver Surfer to Adam Warlock.

Tinfoil Hat Zone

There are a lot of films in the MCU. A lot of time has spanned. And there are a lot of people, like us, who spend too much time looking too deeply into the implications of superhero movies largely intended for children. Because it’s fun as hell! As long as you aren’t an asshole about it.

With the ever-expanding reach of Marvel Studios, the possibilities of who or what will show up in any given movie is nearly endless, though there is still room for absolutely inane fan theories.

The late Stan Lee being Uatu the Watcher is probably the silliest. The all-seeing, all-knowing, all-bald cosmic being looks over everything that happens on the MCU but never intervenes. Lee has cameos in every MCU film, performing a variety of jobs in a variety of time periods and cosmic locations. Marvel even leaned into this, including a throwaway gag in Guardians 2 that shows Lee in space talking to other Watchers. It sort of works, too, if you ignore a bunch of stuff, like how Stan Lee doesn’t look anything like the other Watchers, and that his cameos were always meant to be tongue in cheek. Taking them as canon really complicates things.

This section likely includes the above mentioned Nick Fury is a Skrull theory, but maybe not. It’s only a loony theory until the minute it pays off on screen. One of the most entertaining things about these films is speculating on what will happen, when, and how. Now that Captain Marvel has introduced us to the Skrulls, those theories can get even more convoluted and strange, but hopefully, Marvel avoids using the Skrulls to fix every continuity and casting problem.

Easter eggs and superhero movies have always gone together. As early as Tim Burton‘s Batman, in which  Billy Dee Williams‘ Harvey Dent implied a future appearance by Two-Face, easter eggs, and references not only provide fan-service, they can also imply an extended scope to the universe of the film. Marvel took this to its ultimate conclusion with its shared cinematic universe. With the Skrulls loose in the Marvel timeline, every little detail in past films can be scrutinized. Much like the Nick Fury scene in Ultron, nothing is too trivial to overlook, and Marvel will likely use these reverse engineered references to write their way out of inevitable story problems like, say, killing half their heroes or losing two of their biggest actors.

So far, Marvel has walked the razor’s edge with their universe and have managed to keep their ever-expanding number of spinning plates from crashing all around them. Now, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is approaching a fork in the road, where some of our beloved characters and the actors who play them will be riding off into the sunset like Shane, never to be heard from again. As we get closer to Avengers 4, look for more Easter eggs and references, both planned and tacked on, to be paid off as heroes have their last shot at immortality. After all, we’re in the Endgame now.

M.G McIntyre: @mattmcdiz Actor of little renown, writer of none, jack of exactly three trades