Editor’s note: The below contains spoilers for Secret Invasion Episode 4.At the end of Episode 3, Secret Invasion teased the possibility that James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle) had been replaced with a Skrull. Episode 4 seals the deal by showing how the current Rhodey is actually being impersonated by one of the shapeshifting aliens working with Gravik (Kingsley Ben-Adir) to start World War III and turn Earth into a nuclear wasteland. Since Skrulls are immune to radioactivity, the aliens could claim the planet for themselves. All they have to do is push nations to act on their already-existing hate for each other. While not everyone may be a fan of Rhodey becoming a Skrull, it makes sense for Gravik to have a spy among the most important offices in the United States. In addition, Episode 4 has just cemented some exciting storytelling possibilities for Armor Wars, an upcoming Marvel Studios movie focused on Cheadle’s War Machine.
What Do We Know About ‘Armor Wars’ So Far?
Armor Wars was revealed in 2020 as a Disney+ series focused on War Machine, the superhero persona of Rhodey. While Marvel Studios likes to keep its secrets, the series title comes from a comic book storyline in which Tony Stark must hunt down all the supervillains who used the designs of his revolutionary armor to create dangerous weapons. Since the MCU’s Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) sacrificed himself in Avengers: Endgame, we can expect War Machine to fill up the shoes of his late friend to retrieve the Stark tech that has fallen into the wrong hands.
While we can only guess the actual plot of the MCU’s Armor Wars, last year, Marvel Studios announced it was reworking the project as a theatrical release. So, instead of a six-episode limited series, Armor Wars is now a big-budget movie, which means we can probably expect other heroes to join Rhodey in his crusade against crime. Most of the MCU’s projects after Avengers: Endgame have been ensemble movies, making it fair to assume that’s also true with War Machine’s first adventure as a leading hero. So, while everything is uncertain for now, it’s likely that Dominique Thorne will show up as Riri Williams, Stark’s successor in the comic books who recently debuted in the MCU with Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
‘Secret Invasion’s Rhodey Twist Changes the Focus of ‘Armor Wars’
While Rhodey has been part of the MCU since the release of 2008’s Iron Man, the character has stayed chiefly in Tony Stark’s shadow. As years passed, Rhodey became more of a person of his own until he finally stood up as an equal in the events of Avengers: Endgame. So, we were all expecting Armor Wars to close Rhodey’s character arc by allowing him to reflect on the destructive power of Stark Industries’ tech and the responsibility those who wear it must bear. Of course, that creates an immediate conflict with Rhodey’s position as a Lieutenant Colonel who acts under the United States military hierarchy — because, at some point, he would be forced to choose between being a hero or being a soldier.
While all of that can already feed the plot of one heck of a good MCU, Secret Invasion’s Rhodey twist has drastically shifted our expectations for Armor Wars. That’s because, now that we know a Skrull has been impersonating Rhodey, we are forced to ask where the human hero is and how long he has been trapped in one of Gravik’s mind cells. Since Skrulls are shapeshifters specialized in deception, there’s no telling if the Rhodey we’ve seen in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was already a Skrull. In fact, Rhodey could have been replaced by a Skrull way before, with the real James Rhodes missing the events of most of the Infinity Saga.
Some evidence in Secret Invasion indicates that Gravik has been playing the long game with his insurgence. For instance, in Episode 4, we learn that Nick Fury’s (Samuel L. Jackson) wife, Varra/Priscilla (Charlayne Woodard), has been working for Gravik all along. Furthermore, while Varra genuinely falls in love with Fury, she chooses to impersonate Priscilla to get closer to the spy. And since Fury and Varra have been together at least since the Invasion of New York, which happened in 2012, there’s no telling if a Skrull has impersonated Rhodey for all those years.
Regardless of when a Skrull replaced Rhodey, the actual War Machine is about to wake up in a world he doesn’t know. Maybe he’s lost a few months of his life, or perhaps even a few years. In any case, Rhodey will be confronted with the disturbing fact that another person used his face to spread chaos in the world — and if Armor Wars decides to have Rhodey clean up the mess of his Skrull self, the upcoming movie will also have a way to honor Tony Stark’s legacy.
Rhodey’s ‘Armor Wars’ Arc Can Honor Tony Stark’s Legacy
In both the comic books and the MCU, Tony Stark is introduced as a narcissist who becomes aware of the damage he has caused and decides to use his intellect for good. That’s the theme of Armor Wars, in which Stark risks his reputation to make sure no villain can use Stark tech. Similarly, once Rhodey wakes up from a deep slumber, he might realize his Skrull impersonator has used the War Machine armor to create new weapons worldwide — and if that’s the case, Rhodey will have every reason to go against the U.S. Army and retrieve the lost technology.
Since the announcement of Armor Wars, we know the story takes place after Secret Invasion, and it’s deeply connected with the Skrull insurgence. Now we have a clearer idea of how both projects might be related. Even better, the upcoming movie will have the perfect excuse to give Rhodey one of the best Iron Man stories in the comics, allowing War Machine to follow a similar path to his late friend.
As much as we enjoy the superpowers and epic fights, the best MCU productions are those with a solid emotional core. So far, Rhodey has lacked a moral challenge, and simply following military orders just isn’t interesting enough. However, thanks to this Skrull impersonator, Armor Wars can rewrite the history of the MCU and make War Machine one of its most influential heroes, ready to put his military career at risk to do what’s right.
New episodes of Secret Invasion premiere every Wednesday on Disney+.