Brie Larson, who plays superhero Carol Danvers in the upcoming movie Captain Marvel, promoted the U.S. Air Force in a behind-the-scenes featurette released by Marvel Entertainment this week, a new addition to the long history of Marvel and other superhero movies collaborating with the U.S. military.
In the video, released Monday, Larson defined her Captain Marvel character by Danvers' military past. "The core of her is the Air Force," Larson says, before footage of her climbing into an F-16 fighter aircraft for a demo flight.
"It's a great honor for the men and women of the 57th wing to be able to share this thing that is the Air Force," Brigadier General Jeannie Leavitt says in the featurette.
"You're so cool," Larson replies.
"The Air Force was welcoming and amazing," Captain Marvel co-director Anna Boden says in the featurette.
Task & Purpose, a news and culture site focusing on military and veterans' issues, describes Captain Marvel as "the recruiting tool of the Air Force's dreams," outlining how marketing for the movie emulated military recruitment ads in its depiction of a young woman's transformation from new recruit to warrior.
The video is the latest in an ongoing and often cozy collaboration between superhero movies and the Department of Defense. In exchange for the use of military personnel, equipment and locations, the Pentagon not only burnishes the military's pop culture image and drives recruitment, but can also wield significant influence over the movie's content.
During the filming of 2008's Iron Man, the military liaison to the production successfully pushed director Jon Favreau to rewrite a line during filming, from an off-the-cuff reference to someone willing to "kill themselves" for an opportunity, to someone walking over "hot coals" for the opportunity.
But that's just a minor example. The Pentagon developed a whole new character for a movie released that same year—the techno-thriller Eagle Eye—adding Special Agent Zoe Perez (played by Rosario Dawson) to, "depict the Air Force as being on the front lines of the war on terrorism," Colonel Francisco Hamm told Wired.
Hundreds of movies have run through the Pentagon's Entertainment Liaison Office, including entries in the Transformers, Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan, James Bond and Jurassic Park series. The mutually-beneficial relationship between Hollywood and the Pentagon stretches back decades and plays a substantial role in public perception of the military.
In a document obtained by military/media research site Spy Culture, the Department of Defense describes the military's collaboration with Top Gun in glowing terms: "Film completed rehabilitation of the military's image, which had been savaged by the Vietnam War."
In a license agreement with the Department of Defense for Iron Man, Marvel Studios agreed—in exchange for military support—to conform to the "DoD-Approved" draft of the screenplay, loop the Pentagon into the editing process and cast only actors in compliance with "U.S. military physical, age, and grooming standards." After the movie's release, Marvel Studios agreed to "mutually beneficial marketing initiatives," including "encouraging the involvement of recruiters."
The Pentagon has partnered with Marvel Studios several times since, including on Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Iron Man 2, which included scenes shot on-location at Edwards Air Force Base in California, just like Captain Marvel. For Iron Man 2, the military provided technical advice, locations and up to 60 military personnel to appear in the movie as background extras.
"The amount of gear that the DoD put on that flight line was mind-boggling," producer Jeremy Latcham says in a behind-the-scenes video for Iron Man 2. "B-2, C-17's, and F-22s and F-35s. I mean, you could literally pause the screen and tally it up and it would probably come out to a billion and a half dollars."
Marvel's ongoing collaboration with the military goes deeper than Marvel Studios superhero movies, instead originating in the comics, such as Captain America's famous 1941 cover debut, in which he's depicted punching Adolf Hitler.
In 2017, Marvel planned a partnership with defense contractor Northrop Grumman, which included a comic in which The Avengers partner up with superheroic Northrop Grumman characters. Marvel cancelled the crossover after a backlash from fans, many of whom pointed out that Iron Man himself stopped developing weapons for the military, originally in opposition to the destruction caused by the U.S. invasion of Vietnam.
The ongoing relationship between Marvel and the Pentagon hasn't been without its hiccups, however. The military ultimately refused to support 2012's The Avengers, citing ambiguity around the fictional S.H.I.E.L.D.'s place in the military hierarchy, particularly since the in-universe intelligence agency orders the nuclear destruction of New York City to avert Loki's alien invasion of Earth.
U.S. Air Force Public Affairs and Marvel Studios did not respond to request for comment in time for publication.