Since Captain Marvel came out, Goose the Cat has been a huge topic of conversation. It makes sense. For one, it’s a cat. For two, the feline has major screen time in a highly anticipated Marvel movie. For three, Goose is sort of just the disguised appearance of a Cthulhu-like beast called a flerken. And for four, Goose ends up being the one who caused Nick Fury to lose his eye and need a patch.
All in all, those seem like the proper ingredients for a breakout character. But there’s actually something sneaky Marvel did to ensure fans fell in love with Goose. It’s the same thing they did in Avengers. Then again in Guardians of the Galaxy. A maneuver I like to call, “The surprise smash.”
The original “surprise smash”
It’s 2012. May 4th. People are packed in theaters across the country because it’s the opening night of The Avengers. An unprecedented cinematic spectacle where the heroes of various single movies come together in an epic that would change the superhero genre forever.
You may remember that at that time, casting wise, the consensus was Marvel had hit it out of the park. Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man. Chris Hemsworth as Thor. Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow. Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye. And Chris Evans as Captain America. Even if the Thor and Captain America movies had been shaky, fans pretty much universally loved the actors.
But then there was Hulk. The Edward Norton-led movie from 2008 had done okay. But the response was lukewarm compared to the insanity that had surrounded Iron Man. Not what Marvel had hoped for, especially with the hate the Ang Lee/Eric Bana Hulk from 2003 had garnered. Throw in creative differences with Norton that eventually would lead to him abandoning the character…and the momentum Hulk had kind of died. By the time Avengers came out in 2012, it had been 4 years since anyone had seen the character…and with less popular Mark Ruffalo as the new Bruce Banner…there was some skepticism. To the point where people wondered if Marvel would actually kick The Incredible Hulk out of canon and treat this as a “first appearance”.
The Avengers premiered and things went better than most people ever could have expected or hoped for. The action was pretty great. The characters endearing and dynamic. It had a grand scope. Downey, Hemsworth, Johansson, and Evans were charming as can be. Tom Hiddleston as Loki was a revelation. But there was one scene that made audiences the world over laugh and applaud and take to social media to gleefully revel in the surprise and joy and perfection of that moment.
Hulk smashes Loki. The reason it was so satisfying is because Loki had spent the entire movie a step ahead of the heroes. Even when he was captured early on, he did so on purpose. Dude has magical powers. And is the god of mischief. He’d manipulate and avoid and just make you really want to punch him in the face. Until this point, everything had pretty much gone his way. You can see it at the start of this video, when Hawkeye shoots the arrow and Loki catches it all smug. When the arrow explodes, it’s the first time we see this god caught off guard.
Then Black Widow is on the roof with Loki. It’s just the two of them, and we know Loki’s more powerful than any individual Avenger. So there’s this moment of, “Uh oh.” Before Hulk jumps up. At this point, Hulk had had a few badass moments that had endeared him to the audience. But this was so out of nowhere…and Loki’s in the middle of this huge speech that’s so snobbish and pretentious. For Hulk to just cut it short by slamming Loki into the ground over and over…that was catharsis. That Asgardian asshole finally got what was coming to him. THANK. YOU. HULK.
And that was how Marvel got everyone to fall in love with Hulk 3.0. The response was everything they could have hoped for and then some. Ever since, there’s been demand for another solo Hulk movie (which we haven’t gotten because Universal has distribution rights).
It’d take a couple years, but Marvel would use this trick again.
How you make everyone fall in love with a tree
So Guardians of the Galaxy was a movie even die-hard Marvel fans were pretty shocked by when it was announced. Guardians had never been popular. And the team consisted of a lot of aliens, including a talking Raccoon and a humanoid plant. It made sense why everyone was skeptical. The solution, it turned out, was to get really infectious personalities and let them steal the scene. Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bautista, Bradley Cooper, and Vin Diesel. I mean, with that cast, how could you really go wrong?
There was just one problem—all Groot said was, “I am Groot.” All the other characters had outrageous personalities and loads of charm. It was easy to like them. But Groot was Groot and was just kind of there, being a tree-person that couldn’t say much and didn’t really do much. He was more a mascot than a character. But then, out of nowhere, Groot had his moment!
It’s hard to see that and not think about Hulk and Loki, right? The difference is Groot’s smashing a bunch of random soldiers. But it’s still excessive smashing, and it comes in the middle of a tense climactic fight and is played for laughs. We even get the cut to Star-Lord and Drax for comedic effect. Then Groot’s goofy-ass smile as a punctuation. If your theater was like mine, everyone burst into laughter and cheered. Just like that, Groot tipped from the most awkward character of the group to another lovable goofball.
The reason they gave Groot this moment becomes clear soon after—he sacrifices himself to save everyone. If they didn’t let him have a big moment, then most people wouldn’t have cared about his death. By keeping him pretty lowkey throughout the movie then having him breakout only a few minutes before his death…it made the audience go from uncaring to caring to most caring. And also set up a compassion for Groot 2.0 in the sequel.
You’d think having done this twice, Marvel would worry about people catching on. That could be why they let the joke go for five years. But then they had a problem—how do we make everyone in the theater love a cat?
I wish there were video of the scene. Or even pictures. The best picture available is this:
You may remember the scene. It’s a hallway. Maria and Fury are on the run, Goose in hand. Enemy Kree show up, armed! Maria’s gun just happens to run out of ammo. Oh no! The soldiers approach, weapons ready. What will our heroes do?! Is this the end?! To the rescue is Goose! The cat mouth opens and out come the Flerken tentacles of hell and horror. They seize the Kree and smash the daylights out of these dudes. Then Goose swallows them whole. Yeesh.
It’s nearly the exact same thing as Groot and Hulk. This is Marvel’s go-to move. And while it is amusing (though maybe losing some of its charm?), the purpose isn’t necessarily all comedy. The goal is to endear us to the characters because these characters are important to the stories being told. Hulk and Groot aren’t some throwaways, right? Which begs the question…is Goose the cat really that important?
The expectation would be that there’s more in store for Goose in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
There are theories Goose will be vital to Avengers: Endgame as as a kind of “living suitcase” for the Infinity Stones the heroes collect from different timelines. Beyond that, the comic version of Goose, Chewie, is Carol’s cat. And has a history with Rocket Raccoon. So there’s the potential for more Goose in future Captain Marvel movies. Not only getting us used to the weirdness of the Flerken but making it endearing would be a smart call.
Also, the Marvel universe is weird in general. For such mainstream movies, they have to be aware of asking general audiences to buy into bizarre creatures. One way of accomplishing that is good ol fashioned slapstick humor. Which is why it’s been done by the big green monster, the tree, and now a cat. “It’s weird, we know it’s weird, but it’s lovable, right? Right?”
Anyway, here’s a 52 minute video of Goose just hanging out in a studio.