Under the Radar

Why 'Captain Marvel' is a Recruiting Win for the Air Force

Since "Captain Marvel" is set in the 1990s, Brie Larson just had to rock a Nine Inch Nails t-shirt. (Marvel)

The United States Air Force made a big bet with its unprecedented support for "Captain Marvel." Would a movie about intergalactic warriors portray the service in a good light? Would audiences even go to see a movie fronted by a female superhero, especially one who's one of the least famous Marvel characters?

The movie has been a monster hit, surpassing everyone's box office predictions. After twelve days in theaters, "Captain Marvel" had earned $266.2 million in North America. Far more surprising has been its success overseas. Adding in the rest of the world, we're looking at a $760.2 million global gross so far.

The film is certain to be only the eighth comic book movie to reach a billion-dollar gross, joining the three "Avengers" movies, "Iron Man 3," "Captain America: Civil War," "Black Panther" and "Aquaman."

"Captain Marvel" is set in the 1990s, back in the day when women pilots weren't yet allowed to fly in combat. Carol Danvers (played by Brie Larson) is a young woman who wants to fly "higher, further, faster" alongside her fellow female pilot Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch). After an encounter with an otherworldly force, she disappears from the planet for half-a-decade and returns to Earth under the impression that she's Vers, an unstoppable Kree fighter.

Not exactly "Top Gun" or "Black Hawk Down."

And yet the Air Force went out of its way to help Marvel get the details right. Maj Stephen "Cajun" Del Bagno from the Thunderbirds demonstration squadron worked with the production and the actors on set. Unfortunately, he didn't live to see the movie. Del Bagno was killed in a training accident in 2018. Marvel dedicated "Captain Marvel" to his memory in the movie's closing credits.

The USAF committed substantial resources in aiding Marvel with this film. As we reported earlier, the filmmakers credited the 412th Test Wing at Edwards Air Force Base, California; the 144th Fighter Wing at Fresno Air National Guard Base, California; the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (the Air Force's "Boneyard") at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base; and the 57th Wing and 56th Fighter Wing at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, for aiding in production and training for Larson's character.

RELATED: Air Force Hails Women's Achievements at 'Captain Marvel' Premiere

Talk to Navy veterans of a certain age and a surprising number will tell you that seeing "Top Gun" was a big part of the reason they signed up in the first place. The service took a shot at making submariners look sexy this past year with its extensive support of "Hunter Killer" (success TBD).

Related: US Navy Vet George Wallace Wrote the Book That Inspired the Movie 'Hunter Killer'

If the Air Force is flooded with talented pilots (both male and female) over the next decade, will we look back at "Captain Marvel" as one of its major recruiting tools? The service may not technically be able to promise infinite intergalactic power to its recruits, but that tiny detail doesn't make the actual flying in the movie any less spectacular.

Kids all over the world are watching, and loving, a movie in which Air Force pilots help save the planet. Someone at the Pentagon is smiling.

 

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