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Who Are the Kree and the Skrulls? A Helpful ‘Captain Marvel’ Explainer.

Two warring alien races are at the heart of the MCU’s latest movie—here’s what you need to know

Marvel/Ringer illustration

While it seems like the Marvel Cinematic Universe has covered every inch of its expansive comic lore over the course of 20 movies (and counting), there are still important story lines that have yet to be addressed. And with Captain Marvel coming on Friday, we’ll finally get the MCU’s take on the Kree and the Skrulls. While “Kree” and “Skrull” sound like the names of two grunge bands, they’re actually two warring alien races who are key to the MCU’s main story line. Seriously.

Whether all this Kree-Skrull stuff sounds appealing to you, or whether you’re just hoping to see how Captain Marvel plays into the plot of Avengers: Endgame, these combative alien races are a big part of the movie and require a bit of context beyond this broad, one-minute explainer Marvel provided in February. So here’s a helpful primer on the Kree, the Skrulls, their centuries-long war, and how it all fits into the MCU at large. (Very light spoilers for Captain Marvel ahead. If you want to stay completely in the dark before seeing the movie, maybe stop reading. If you want to better understand what’s happening in the movie, though, keep going.)

Who Are the Kree?

The Kree are a militaristic alien race from the planet Hala, who are led by something called the Supreme Intelligence. In the comics, the Supreme Intelligence is, essentially, a giant floating head in a tank that was formed from the essence of the race’s greatest thinkers before their death. (Imagine if Socrates and his best smart boys fused together, and then became a giant head in a big jar.) In Captain Marvel, the Supreme Intelligence appears before a person in the form of someone they know; for Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers, that is a character played by Annette Bening. Because any time you can go with a four-time Oscar nominee instead of a giant CGI head floating in a jar, you gotta do it.

The Kree’s physiology resembles human physiology, with the exception of their blue skin, which means Marvel can just slap some blue paint on actors. However, not all Kree have blue skin: In the comics, the bluer the skin, the more “purebred” a Kree is, but the MCU seems to eschew that rule, if only because the studio didn’t want to cover Jude Law, who plays the Kree soldier Yon-Rogg, in blue paint for an entire movie. In part because of their hatred for the Skrulls (more on that later), the Kree were responsible for creating Inhumans—humans who were experimented on by Kree scientists, gained superpowers of their own, and lived on the moon. The Inhumans were the subject of their own eponymous television series on ABC, but lasted just a season due to poor ratings and critical derision.

In the MCU, we’ve actually met a couple of Kree on the big screen pre-Captain Marvel. Ronan the Accuser (played by Lee Pace), the main villain in Guardians of the Galaxy, was a radical Kree, along with Korath the Pursuer (Djimon Hounsou), one of Ronan’s subordinates. (It’s also worth mentioning that while Michael Rooker’s Yondu has blue skin, he is not a Kree, but a Centaurian—and neither is Karen Gillan’s Nebula, who is a Luphomoid. There are multiple blue-skinned alien species; Marvel contains multitudes.) Ronan and Korath also appear in Captain Marvel, since it’s a prequel.

As for Captain Marvel herself, Carol Danvers is a mix of Kree and human. We’re introduced to her when she’s a member of Starforce—basically, the Kree version of an elite black ops team, led by Yon-Rogg—and the crux of the movie is the character grappling with both sides of her identity and how she can be a hero for the people who most need saving. To reveal much more than that would spoil the surprise, and I’m not a monster. (I also don’t want Marvel to hunt me down like an angry Lee Pace in blue paint.)

Who Are the Skrulls?

The Skrulls have historically served as the main antagonists for the Kree, and while they have green skin and pointy, Spock-like ears, their coolest feature is the ability to shapeshift into any biological form. For MCU fans who weren’t previously aware of the Skrulls’ shapeshifting acumen, this moment from the first Captain Marvel trailer—in which Brie Larson absolutely decks a sweet-looking old lady on the subway—might’ve been very confusing. But don’t worry, she was punching a Skrull.

Since Skrulls aren’t as powerful as the Kree, shapeshifting is a huge advantage for evading and deceiving their enemies—and it’s pretty tricky to know who could be a secret Skrull. As Carol explains in the movie, one way to tell if you’re dealing with a Skrull impersonating someone you know is to ask them questions about their background. For whatever reason, the Skrull can only acquire recent memories of the people they morph into. It’s certainly a smarter, less dramatic tactic than just punching every senior citizen. The Skrulls introduced in Captain Marvel are led by Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), who vacillates between an American accent when he’s posing as a Ben Mendelsohn–looking human and the actor’s natural Aussie accent when he’s in his base Skrull form. (This didn’t seem completely necessary, but if Ben Mendelsohn wants to mess around with multiple accents, you gotta let him.)

Because the Skrulls can transform into anyone, they’ve been subject to some conspiracy-laden comics story lines such as 2008’s “Secret Invasion” series, in which it’s revealed that gradually several Marvel heroes have been replaced by Skrulls. It’s the kind of fun, tinfoil-hat stuff that made Captain America: The Winter Soldier and its “Nazis have secretly overtaken S.H.I.E.L.D. and the late Garry Shandling is saying shit like ‘Hail Hydra’ in public” plot feel like a paranoiac, conspiracy-thriller throwback. Suffice it to say that the Skrulls will be impersonating people in Captain Marvel, which only adds to the intrigue.

So What About This Kree-Skrull War?

There are technically two Kree-Skrull wars—the first of which was introduced in 1971 in Marvel’s initial run of Avengers comics. The Kree-Skrull war was thrust into a narrative that also involved the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, as well as the powerful Kree warrior Mar-Vell. (Mar-Vell was the original Captain Marvel, while Carol Danvers was his partner, though she’d eventually take the Captain Marvel mantle for herself.) In this war, the Skrulls even impersonated humans in strong positions of power in government—including a senator who was overseeing an “Alien Activities Commission”—to sway public opinion against the Kree, and aliens in general. This is how Mar-Vell was exposed as a Kree to the world, and partly why Ronan the Accuser wanted Earth to serve as the setting for a Kree-Skrull battle.

It was a fun story line that was met with plenty of acclaim. And because of that, the Kree-Skrull mythology was expanded in the following years, detailing how the alien races’ conflict spanned thousands of years and directly affected Marvel’s world. The TL;DR version is: the Skrulls were traveling across galaxies introducing advanced technology to other alien lifeforms. When they arrived on Hala, the planet had two species: the Kree and the Cotati. The Skrulls decided to hold a competition between the two species to see which would earn the right to their fancy technology—when the Kree “lost,” they wiped out the Cotati in retaliation and swore vengeance against the Skrulls.

Captain Marvel hews closer to the Kree-Skrull mythology from post-1971 Marvel comics, probably because it’s easier to explain in vague expository dialogue for audiences who don’t know much about these alien races, and also because the initial Kree-Skrull conflict from the Avengers comics doesn’t exactly fit into how the MCU slowly introduced Earth’s mightiest heroes. (Not to mention the fact the Fantastic Four are not yet part of the MCU.) Rest assured, there are some specifics from this conflict in the film—including the first meeting between the races, and how they became mortal enemies, which differs from the set mythology around the aliens—but these details are, obviously, not worth spoiling.

Is There Anything Else I Should Know?

Captain Marvel is a superhero origin story much more than an alien war history lesson, but it is important to know that Captain Marvel will introduce audiences to a third alien species. Goose, Carol’s pet cat, is not, in fact, a cat. Goose is a Flerken, an alien species that just to happens to look like a normal domestic cat. You will immediately fall in love with Goose—and that’s all you need to know.

Otherwise, while the minutiae of the Kree-Skrull conflict might not be translated to the big screen—the nitty-gritty details of Marvel comics rarely are—the Kree, the Skrulls, and Captain Marvel will likely factor into Endgame and the MCU’s “Phase 4” plans. If Captain Marvel is going to be part of the Avengers and save Earth from threats across the world and the galaxy, surely the Kree-Skrull conflict will come into play once again. And though this alien mythology might seem esoteric and unnecessary now, it may become more crucial as we move forward. Aside from the Thor, Doctor Strange, and Guardians franchises, Marvel has managed to keep things rather grounded so far, but now that blue-colored, Spartan-like alien warriors and shapeshifting, Spock-looking cosplayers have been formally introduced, the studio has the opportunity to expand the MCU’s scale even further, and get a little more cosmic and a lot weirder.