Captain Marvel May Redefine the Skrulls' Shape-Shifting Power

Marvel Studios recently released a special look at its next blockbuster, Captain Marvel, providing fans with the most extensive look at the upcoming Marvel Cinematic Universe film yet. One of the major revelations in the advance footage was the official introduction of Skrulls into the MCU, the longtime Marvel race of shapeshifting extraterrestrials.

However, while the sneak preview confirmed that the MCU's version of the Skrulls would similarly disguise themselves among the local populace with their shapeshifting abilities, it also potentially teased that the antagonistic aliens would receive a noticeable change to this defining trait, deviating from the comic book source material.

The moment in question can be seen relatively early in the preview as the approaching Skrulls arrive on Earth after presumably landing in the sea. Upon spotting an unaware surfer, a Skrull undergoes what appears to be a painful transformation to disguise itself in the surfer's form.

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What makes this transformation potentially different from the comics is that the physical alteration appears to be powered by a mysterious purple light seen on the Skrull's shoulder. The gruesome sequence has the altered flesh seemingly emanate from the glowing light as it grows the rest of the invader's transforming form, not unlike the Venom symbiote overtaking a host entity. This suggests that the Skrulls' ability to shapeshift may not be entirely part of the alien race's natural physiology, as is the case in the comics.

Created for 1962's Fantastic Four #2 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the extraterrestrial species are originally depicted as alien invaders who can effortlessly alter their physical appearances to infiltrate native populations, all in service of their quest for galactic dominance. This transformation has always been depicted as a natural ability of Skrulls, with later incarnations of the characters being able to replicate and blend powers from the heroes and villains they impersonate.

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The glowing light seemingly powering the transformation suggests that the MCU's Skrulls may rely on some sort of embedded device to change forms. Whether this augmentation is an external device, a cybernetic implant or genetic enhancement is currently unknown, but it is strongly suggested to be located in their shoulder.

A closer look at the Skrulls in their natural state reveals their uniforms have pronounced shoulder pads that may potentially house a device enabling the transformation. Additionally, the visibly painful nature of the transformation for the shapeshifters hints that changing their physical form may actually harm the Skrulls' natural physiology, if only temporarily.

This isn't to suggest that anyone with such a theoretical device could shapeshift, though that isn't outside the realm of possibility. What it does imply is that physical transformation may not be a wholly natural trait of the Skrulls. For decades, this had been a core defining feature of the extraterrestrial race, ever since their very first appearance, and served as the driving force in the 2008 Marvel comic book crossover event Secret Invasion by Brian Michael Bendis and Leinil Yu.

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Marvel Studios has often repurposed and altered classic comic book tropes and narrative elements for the MCU to best suit the story each film is telling. The potential change in the Skrulls' trademark shapeshifting ability is one of the biggest departures to date. It makes the Skrulls more vulnerable and reliant on technology, while the painful nature of the transformation makes it harder to blend in rather than change virtually instantaneously, as they do in the comics.

It will be interesting to see if this cinematic retcon is indeed the route the studio intends to go, and how it may impact the story. The MCU has certainly earned the goodwill and trust of fans with their past successes, and the change could prove to be an inspired one, helping newcomers accept the fantastical abilities of the Skrulls in their live-action debut. And, at the very least, they kept the pointy ears and ridged chins.

Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck from a script they wrote with Liz Flahive, Carly Mensch, Meg LeFauve, Nicole Perlman and Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Captain Marvel stars Brie Larson as Carol Danvers, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Jude Law as the commander of Starforce, Clark Gregg as Phil Coulson, Lee Pace as Ronan the Accuser, Djimon Hounsou as Korath the Pursuer, Gemma Chan as Minn-Erva, Ben Mendelsohn as Talos, Lashana Lynch as Maria Rambeau, Algenis Perez Soto as Att-Lass, McKenna Grace as a young Carol Danvers and Annette Bening in an undisclosed role. The film arrives on March 8.

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