Captain Marvel features the long awaited live action debut of Carol Danvers; a spectacularly de-aged, two-eyed Nick Fury; and a cat named Goose everyone couldn’t help but love. It also features the first ever MCU appearance of an alien race known as the Skrulls, one of Marvel’s most well known cosmic threats.
The Skrulls have been stirring up trouble for comic book fans since the early ’60s with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four #2. They’re a shapeshifting race of invaders who infiltrate and destabilize any planet in their crosshairs by disguising themselves as friend and foe alike, turning allies against one another. They’ve been the central antagonist of countless event stories, seeding paranoia and fear throughout the Marvel universe one stolen identity at a time.
But now that they’ve finally made landfall in Captain Marvel, we’re left wondering: Can these new Skrulls be the brand new Marvel Universe big-bads we’ve been anxiously awaiting?
[Ed. Note: This post will contain spoilers for Captain Marvel.]
A Skrull identity crisis
Captain Marvel has thrown down the gauntlet with a total overhaul of the Skrull way of life for the big screen, transforming them from devious and deadly invaders to cosmic refugees and victims of the violent and genocidal Kree. The Skrulls and the Kree have been at war with one another in the comics for ages, and the lines between the “good guys” and the “bad guys” are rarely clearly drawn between them. But in the MCU, the Skrulls are revealed to be downright sympathetic, searching for a new home for their families and children rather than any sort of megalomaniacal interplanetary rule.
Captain Marvel’s update to the Skrull moral compass isn’t exactly brand new; Marvel comics have a rich history of heroic — or, at the very least, morally gray — Skrulls to lean into. But they’ve never been the victims quite this clearly before. Talos and his family aren’t interested in invading Earth at all. They’d much rather just get out of Dodge entirely than cause any problems for anyone, a goal which Carol is more than willing to help them achieve.
So, Skrulls are good now? That’s it?
It certainly seems that way! Even if we don’t agree with Carol’s choice to help them, we have to acknowledge that it wouldn’t make much sense for Talos and company to escape Earth only to come back some fifteen-plus years later to take it over.
That doesn’t mean there couldn’t still be Skrulls hiding as humans on Earth that didn’t make their escape with Talos and Carol. But the prospect of a full scale invasion conspiracy helmed by double agents that have existed under our nose since Iron Man seems a lot less likely. If there are still Skrulls hanging around, the reveal of their identities would be less a mind-blowing, earth-shattering betrayal and more an expository flavor.
So, what happens next?
There’s one key line of dialogue in Captain Marvel that could leave room for a villainous Skrull turn of events somewhere down the line. Talos explains that there are “thousands of us separated from each other, scattered throughout the galaxy.” An objective fact, but also a potential clue.
With their civilization in shambles, it could be possible for a group of Skrulls somewhere out there to still be in full-on war mode. After all, escaping the Kree and finding a new home didn’t exactly fix the problem as much as it temporarily mitigated it. The Kree still have an endless appetite for zealous expansion and supremacist persecution. Thanks to Ronan the Accuser’s presence in Guardians of the Galaxy, we’re well aware that the Kree Empire persists for well after Carol leaves Earth in 1995. And though we don’t get to see much of them in Guardians, it doesn’t seem like they’ve had a major change of heart.
So, the potential for another group of Skrull refugees to be after their (admittedly pretty justifiable) revenge on the Kree is on the table — which could put Carol, and maybe even the Avengers, in their crosshairs.
Open battle with Skrulls would still be a departure from the threat that fans have been anticipating, however. Skrull stories are usually slow burning, paranoia-laden conspiracies about who is actually who they say they are, rather than more traditional sci-fi alien invasions.
And there’s nothing wrong with traditional sci-fi alien invasions, but we now know that the MCU’s Skrulls may never be exactly what we thought — or exactly what they are in the comics.
So who (or what) could take Thanos’ role after Avengers: Endgame?
While the imminent threat of a covert Skrull attack is assuaged, Marvel still has a sizable roster of other cosmic bad guys to draw from for future MCU phases.
The first and most obvious replacement is the Sovereign, otherwise remembered as “those golden people from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” Ayesha and her crew of nearly identical cronies may have largely been a punchline to the Guardians, but the post-credits scene teased some major developments — specifically about the potential entrance of Adam Warlock into the MCU.
The Sovereign don’t technically exist in the comics universe, at least not as such, but they borrow from a group of renegade scientists known as the Enclave who were introduced back in the late 60s. This would give the MCU plenty of source material to lightly skim from, without having to be too beholden to any one particular incarnation, making them a pretty obvious candidate for next big-bad.
With the Fox/Disney merger in play, the Shi’Ar — an alien race set to make their big screen debut in X-Men: Dark Phoenix this summer — are also a distant possibility. They’ve long been considered out of bounds for the MCU thanks to the same rights and licensing issues that have kept the X-Men out of the MCU all together. But with the brave new frontier of Disney’s acquisition of Fox on the horizon, anything is possible. Depending on how things play out in Dark Phoenix, they could even form the perfect bridge between the X-Men franchise and the MCU proper somewhere down the line.
Another alien race that could come into play are the Builders, a relatively recent addition to the Marvel pantheon with a first appearance in 2013. Basically, they were a race of cosmic creatures who designed and curated all of space and time, with the help of some other alien races they created called the Aleph, the Gardeners, the Caretakers, and the Abyss.
If that sounds a little high concept, don’t worry, it is — the Builders were responsible for seeding whole worlds into existence and, when the time came, destroying them, which became a problem when Earth was put in their crosshairs. It would take a little doing to translate them into the MCU properly, but if the next phase of movies needs to finds something bigger and badder than the decimation of the entire universe at the hands of Thanos, the Builders would be a great — if mind-bending — choice.
Interestingly, a major element of Marvel’s 2014 Infinity also featured the Kree being forced to team up with the Avengers to fight the Builders. Infinity was the source of a significant amount of set dressing for Avengers: Infinity War, including the Children of Thanos and the Outriders. A Kree-Avengers team-up could possibly feel like a thematically organic next step after Captain Marvel — that is, assuming there‘s even a team of Avengers left to fight after Endgame.
Meg Downey is a freelance pop culture journalist who specializes in superheroes and fan culture. She loves sidekicks, giant robots, and weirdly specific comics history. When she’s not frantically trying to wrangle her deadlines, you can find her on twitter @rustypolished, where’s she probably having a very public meltdown about something embarrassing.