A rather interesting angle on an otherwsie superhero-filled arc
Fury's back, baby!
Story feels a little draggy, and the script doesn't help
Ben-Adir's chief antagonist isn't very strong
Maybe this should have been a movie?
With Secret Invasion kicking off the first of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase 5 Disney+ shows, it also is the second phase of the MCU’s content made for Disney+. And much like the MCU’s Phase 2, this new phase of TV shows is starting things with less of a superhero approach, and more of a superhero adjacent one.
Not that this is anything particularly new for the Disney+ MCU shows of the last couple of years–after all, WandaVision, Loki, and She-Hulk all explored genres somewhat non-superhero. Even specials such as Werewolf by Night and The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special strayed away from your typical superhero narratives–and they’ve proven to be pretty great efforts.
So it’s no surprise that Secret Invasion boldly takes its cues from Phase 2–arguably the boldest phase thus far–and doubles down on the superhero-adjacent tonality of those films.
A quick recap, Phase 2 consists of Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Ant-Man. A brief look at these films would quickly expose the lack of traditional superhero narratives and highlight other genres’ prominence. Even Age of Ultron, featuring the teaming up of most of the protagonists of the films mentioned above, wasn’t entirely the superhero film you’d have expected it to be.
Secret Invasion dives straight down the espionage route, adapting one of the more iconic arcs in recent years. Written by Brian Michael Bendis with art from Leinil Yu, the Secret Invasion comic event followed the invasion of Earth by the shape-shifting Skrulls–many of whom having masqueraded as Earth’s mightiest heroes.
The series sticks to the basic premise, picking up from Captain Marvel and Spider-Man: Far From Home, but does away with much of the superhero action. Shifting the focus to former agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury and Maria Hill take centre stage with Skrull ally Talos. In the vein of The Winter Soldier, Secret Invasion goes for a gritty approach, driven by intrigue and good ol’, unfancy hand-to-hand action.
And it’s kinda boring.
The MCU, and comic book movies as a whole, haven’t had a great track record at adapting the source materials’ namesakes. But, for the most part, they’ve remained interesting and often present interesting alternate depictions of similar themes. Coupled with the return of Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, and a stacked cast including Cobie Smulders, Martin Freeman, Ben Mendelsohn, and Don Cheadle, as well as new faces Emilia Clarke, Olivia Colman, and Kingsley Ben-Adir, you’d think the series would be off to a strong start. But it just isn’t.
Perhaps it’s the complication of pacing something meant to be tight and intense for television instead of a movie, but Secret Invasion’s slow revelations followed by big ending moments each episode is less “oh damn!” and more “why does it feel like we’re watching Lost?”
Of course, much of the weakness in writing could (hopefully) be explained off with the usual “slow burn” jutification by the end of the 6-episode run. But if that is going to be the recurrent, go-to excuse for the MCU’s Disney+ shows, then they should either reassess their approach to serialised content or simply transition back to being entirely feature-length films.
Very little of the script and pacing are salvaged by the otherwise remarkable acting from most of the MCU veterans. There is a fair bit of twist and play on the familiarity the audience is sure to have with these established characters, but in a show where the crux of it all is shapeshifting and identity theft, it’s a little harder than usual for these to have their maximum impact at the point of delivery.
While Ben Mendlesohn’s and Emilia Clarke’s performances as the Skrull father-daughter pair are highlights, there isn’t quite enough from the other characters to push Secret Invasion any further from being a slight misfire of an adaptation.
The weakest acting link, done no favours by a very middling script, is Kingsley Ben-Adir’s Gravik–a radicalised Skrull tired of the unending failure of humanity and carrying a very personal vendetta against Fury.
Perhaps it’s the obvious attempt to restore the Skrulls to their villainous status quo from the comics, or Marvel Studios is truly bent on re-visiting the post-Blip theme of displacement, but Gravik’s mission is nowhere as nearly engaging as it should be.
It also doesn’t help that Ben-Adir’s performance is sorely lacking in charisma, failing to breathe life into what should have been a self-righteous villain whose menace is only amplified by his understated presence.
But, sadly, very little of that comes across in the early episodes of Secret Invasion, leaving audiences to only hope that the series picks up.