Dream of the '90s Is Alive on the 'Captain Marvel' Website

Retro Site Captain Marvel - H - 2019
Disney reaches into the wayback machine for a throwback site that matches the movie’s setting.

It’s not uncommon for studios to create web experiences for their movies that attempt to take the audience into the world of the movie. Universal's Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom campaign featured a site as well as social profiles for a dinosaur conservation group. Right now the studio is running the @MonarchSciences Twitter account and site to catalog monster sightings in advance of Godzilla: King of Monsters.

But many of these in-world promotional campaigns often fall victim to the tendency to Always Be Marketing. Those afflicted by it, in comedy vernacular, never commit to the bit. The Dinosaur Protection Group’s video, for instance, includes Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom in the title, so the illusion that this is actually coming from within the world of the movie is broken. So, too, any supposed character Twitter account that includes a link to buy tickets.

Marvel Studios’ retro website for the upcoming Captain Marvel commits to the bit.

The story is set in the 1990s, some 20 years before the emergence of Iron Man and the rest of the Avengers in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So it’s only fitting that Marvel has created a site that not only evokes that era, but also re-creates it in glorious, Trumpet Winsock fashion familiar to anyone who ever waited for a site to finish loading while hoping their roommate didn’t pick up the phone and kill the 14.4 mbs Internet connection. 

All the usual website information is there — a story synopsis, photo gallery and more — but it’s all presented in exactly the fashion it would have been as if someone had built it in 1995 on Geocities. The bright backgrounds, the liberal use of pixelated GIFs for both images and words, the way a TV spot is presented in a faux Real Player (renamed Kree Player) box.

All of the detail expected is there: When you click “Info” or one of the other links at the top of the page you shoot down to that section instead of being taken there leisurely and confidently. That hyperlink *works.* There’s even a site counter and a fake “Guest Book” where the first comment someone leaves is, “All your base are belong to us.”

Modern movie audiences may only have the still-functional site for Space Jam as a reference point for how the web looked two decades ago, before WordPress, Tumblr, SquareSpace and other tools made creating your own site an afternoon project, not something spent months hand-coding and customizing. For those without that experience themselves, the size of the video in the player at the bottom is spot-on and was considered cutting edge at the time.

Unlike some other efforts, the Captain Marvel site does not purport to come from within the world of the story, it merely seeks to hearken back to that time and create a feeling of that era, which it accomplishes. The main goal Marvel Studios seems to have is to get people’s attention with a site that’s unique and says something about the movie being promoted.

Few movie websites from the last several years do anything close to that. Many now are based on templates each studio uses that contain as little information as possible along with a link to buy tickets. It’s a reflection of how the marketing purpose of the stand-alone, owned website has changed in a time where social media profiles are the primary touchpoint for the audience to encounter the movie. (Netflix, for instance, doesn’t create sites for most of its movies, often simply having a URL resolve to the on-site listing for the movie so subscribers can start watching immediately and signed-out visitors can be prompted to subscribe.)

So what Marvel has done is unique on a number of fronts, but mostly in how it uses technology from the past to sell a story set in that time period. Oh, and there *might* be a spoiler hiding in the source code of the site. At the very least there appears to be a nod to a popular theory about the movie’s true villain.