Alien conspiracies, Oscar winners and hardly a superhero in sight: Marvel is taking its record-breaking franchise in a new direction with "Secret Invasion," a spy thriller starring Samuel L Jackson, Olivia Colman and Emilia Clarke.
The series, out next Wednesday on Disney+, marks Jackson's 14th Marvel film or television series, but the first time his character Nick Fury is the undisputed star.
Fury, the mysterious, sometime boss of the all-powerful Avengers, originally appeared on-screen way back in 2008's "Iron Man" -- the movie that launched the entire Marvel franchise that has come to dominate Hollywood.
But the new series "ranks number one, in terms of things I've done in the Marvel cinematic universe," Jackson told a press conference Wednesday.
"It's a story about people doing people stuff, without all those supers coming in to save you," he said, referring to superheroes.
The series finds US spy chief Fury battling shapeshifting, reptilian humanoids known as Skrulls -- introduced in previous Marvel films -- who live among us, and are intent on fomenting war between Moscow and Washington.
Fury must also contend with British spook Sonya Falsworth, played by Olivia Colman, who appears to relish her character's loose morality, including at least one shocking torture scene.
"Sonya works for MI6. She likes wearing red, she's quite funny and she's potentially a little bit not that nice sometimes," joked Colman, with plot details strictly under wraps.
The presence of Colman, a best actress Oscar-winner for 2018's "The Favourite," alongside Jackson, who was given an honorary Academy Award for his career last year, represents a casting coup for Marvel.
They are joined by "Game of Thrones" star Emilia Clarke, as a conflicted Skrull rebel, along with returning regulars such as Don Cheadle, Martin Freeman and Ben Mendelsohn.
- 'Very different' -
But "Secret Invasion" arrives at an uncertain moment for Marvel.
Since the gargantuan success of "Avengers: Endgame," which in 2019 briefly became the highest-grossing blockbuster of all time, parent company Disney has churned out a whopping 18 new Marvel films and television shows.
It has not all gone to plan.
Recent movies such as "Eternals," "Thor: Love and Thunder" and "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" have received the franchise's worst-ever reviews.
A major new villain named Kang was introduced, played by Jonathan Majors -- only for the actor to be arrested and charged with assault and harassment in March.
On Tuesday, Disney announced the release of Marvel films including "Avengers: The Kang Dynasty" will be delayed by a year.
And the pipeline of new TV shows has slowed down too, with "Secret Invasion" marking the first to premiere in nearly a year.
Still, its director Ali Selim promised the series will offer fans something fresh.
He cited espionage thrillers such as the Graham Greene-penned "The Third Man," and Francis Ford Coppola's "The Conversation," as inspirations.
"It's very different than people flying through the air," he said.