Marvel’s ‘Secret Invasion’ AI Scandal Is Strangely Hopeful

Like many fans this week, you may have noticed something odd about the opening credits of Secret Invasion, Marvel’s new show. Amidst all the Skrull green, there is something very … Midjourney about the whole thing. If you got that sense, you weren’t wrong: Those credits were made with the help of artificial intelligence.

The idea, Secret Invasion’s executive producer Ali Selim told Polygon this week, was to make something that reflected the show’s theme of aliens hiding among us. “When we reached out to the AI vendors, that was part of it—it just came right out of shape-shifting, Skrull-world identity, you know? Who did this? Who is this?” Selim said.

On its face, this logic makes sense. But in the real world of 2023, where TV writers are currently on strike to ensure AI isn’t used to replace them, it came off as woefully cringe. Method Studios, the company that made the credits sequence, piped up after the Polygon report, telling The Hollywood Reporter that the AI was “just one tool” used and that “no artists’ jobs were replaced.” But to the culture-consuming public, that didn’t matter. After the show premiered on Disney+ yesterday, fans took to social media to decry the new credits: “gross,” “unethical,” “SO fucking disappointing,” “this is the worst intro for any TV show ever.”

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Having already droned on about the grueling nature of the AI hype cycle, I’ll instead take this opportunity to say that something about this feels hopeful. It means that some folks, fans in particular, are paying attention to this stuff, and perhaps won’t blindly accept the work of nonhuman creators—or even the work of humans augmented by AI. A few tweets don’t a revolution make, but at a time when tech geniuses seem inclined to offer an AI solution for everything, the reaction to Marvel’s Secret Invasion shows Hollywood can’t mission-creep machine learning into movies and TV shows without facing criticism.

That’s not to say that all uses of AI deserve criticism. As WIRED writer Marah Eakin wrote just last week, Pixar was able to use AI tools from a Disney lab to make the flames in Elemental look more real—with the help of lots of human illustrators. And while it seems as though Method Studios used humans for Secret Invasion’s credits, when folks like Selim tell Polygon “we would talk to them about ideas and themes and words, and then the computer would go off and do something,” that’s less inspiring. And viewers see it.

It’s only slightly coincidental that news of AI in Secret Invasion came a day after star Samuel L. Jackson told Rolling Stone that he’s long been cautious of studios wanting to use his likeness in perpetuity, saying when he encounters those clauses in contracts “I cross that shit out.” A few months ago, Keanu Reeves told me that he’s long had a clause in his contracts saying that his performances can’t be digitally altered without his approval. Actors, and their lawyers, have been wary of the implications of technology and AI for a while. So have writers. Now, as AI infiltrates everyone’s daily lives, fans are monitoring the invasion.

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