WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Captain Marvel, in theaters now.
Ever since the shape-shifting alien Skrulls were confirmed as the antagonists of Captain Marvel, fans have seen the writing on the wall: A recurring threat in Marvel comics for nearly six decades, they've come into conflict with everyone from the Fantastic Four to the Avengers to the Kree.
However, despite their menacing presence in Captain Marvel's marketing, which pointed to a large-scale invasion of Earth, the actual role of the Skrulls in the story will come as a genuine surprise, especially to longtime comic book readers.
Not What They Appear To Be
The Skrulls were introduced in 1962 in Fantastic Four #2, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, making the green-skinned aliens among the oldest villains in the Marvel Universe. They've gone to war against their archenemies, the militaristic Kree, and threatened Earth on multiple occasions, through both outright force and subterfuge. They were also the architects of Secret Invasion, the 2008-2009 Marvel Comics crossover in which the shape-shifters were revealed to have replaced many of the world's superheroes as part of a long-term plan to seize control of Earth.
Their interactions with other species sometimes resulted in heroic members of the race, such as the half-Skrull Hulkling of the Young Avengers, or Xavin of the Runaways. But as a whole, the Skrulls have been some of the most world-spanning villains in the entire Marvel Universe.
Captain Marvel opens on the Kree home world of Hala, framing the narrative around their perspective. To them, the Skrulls are invaders who pose a threat to every planet through infiltration. That seems to be confirmed when the Skrulls capture Vers, better known as the Carol Danvers (Brie Larson), a purported Kree warrior with little memory of her past, and try to extract secrets from her subconscious. They then follow her to Earth, intent on locating an object they uncovered from her memories.
The Skrulls are established as searching for a dangerous tool or weapon, but in reality they're looking for something else entirely: a way to escape the Kree, not destroy them. The leader of the Skrulls, Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), reveals to Carol, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Maria Rambeau (Lashawna Lynch) that they're fleeing the Kree. The Skrull home world was destroyed, and the species has been targeted by their archenemies even since. The Skrulls Carol pursues for much of the film are refugees seeking a new home for their families, safe from the relentless Kree. Talos isn't a conqueror, but rather someone wanting to protect his wife and daughter, who are among the refugees.
Saving The Day
With that information, as well as the knowledge that she's a human the Kree captured after murdering her friend, Dr. Wendy Lawson, who's secretly the disguised Kree scientist Mar-Vell (Annette Bening), Carol finally turns on the alien race she once served as a member of Starforce. She helps Talos, Fury and Maria reach Mar-Vell's hidden lab, and reunites the former with his family. The Skrulls even reveal the Tesseract is the key to them finding a new home: Yes, they have in their possession the Space Stone, one of the fabled Infinity Stones, but they don't wish to use its power against anyone; they just want to be safe.
It's a complete reversal of the traditional depictions of the shape-shifters, making the green-skinned infiltrators not manifestations of fears about the Cold War or the War on Terror, but instead sympathetic figures. They're not an empire on the rise or a cause for paranoia ("Who do you trust?" Marvel asked in its marketing of Secret Invasion). They're refugees, desperate when pursued by a relentless, and powerful, enemy. They aren't the aggressors, even when they arrive on Earth. They didn't come to invade; they came to hide.
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 as Mar-Vell/the Supreme Intelligence.