Who can you trust? That’s the central question of Secret Invasion, the latest MCU tv series on Disney Plus. Of course, Secret Invasion showrunner Kyle Bradstreet intends that question to be directed toward the characters in the show. After all, when super-spy Nick Fury learns about a terrorist cell of shape-shifting Skrulls working to conquer the earth, no one can trust their eyes. But when the series’ first episode released this morning, another type of deception upset viewers.
After a shocking cold open, Secret Invasion episode one goes into the type of opening credit sequence that we’ve grown accustomed to during the era of peak tv. Impressionistic images of humans in cities such as London and Moscow melt away into green-skinned Skrulls, while Kris Bowers’ haunting score plays. At first glance, the opening credit sequence brings a surprising amount of artistry to the sci-fi series.
Of course, it’s all a lie. In a recent conversation with Polygon, Secret Invasion director and producer Ali Selim revealed that the opening credit sequence was created by artificial intelligence. As with previous series such as Ms. Marvel and Loki, Marvel hired Method Studios to design their opening. “We would talk to them about ideas and themes and words, and then the computer would go off and do something,” Selim explained. “And then we could change it a little bit by using words, and it would change.”
For Selim, the use of AI underscores the themes of the series. “When we reached out to the AI vendors, that was part of it — it just came right out of the shape-shifting, Skrull world identity, you know? Who did this? Who is this?“
But for many others who watched the premiere of the series today, the opening credits have highlighted real-world problems facing creatives. A central tenant of the strike initiated by the WGA relates to the increased use of AI in the production of movies and television series. For executives at Netflix and Warner Brothers, AI makes production much cheaper, allowing them to keep more profits without having to pay writers and directors. However, many have also pointed out that even advanced AI needs humans to input information, as demonstrated by Selim’s description of the process with Method Studios.
The news of AI in Secret Invasion comes on the heels of revelations about Marvel’s mistreatment of artists. Not only have critics long decried MCU entries for some of their unconvincing and sloppy visual effects, but artists engaged by Marvel have shown that the multi-billion dollar studio regularly overworks and underpays them.
Perhaps the most damning aspect of Marvel’s AI use is the suggestion that the studio has no intention of becoming unique or personal. While Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, written and directed by the departed James Gunn, connected with audiences because of its personal touch, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and other entries have often felt designed by an algorithm instead of real people, leaving fans unsatisfied – a meta point weirdly addressed in last year’s She-Hulk finale.
Marvel has a strong following, thanks to its beloved characters and decades’ worth of stories to work with. But Marvel’s use of AI in Secret Invasion suggests to some that the studio isn’t necessarily trustworthy.