Secret Invasion, the latest series from Marvel, wants us to take it seriously. That want, need even, to be seen as a credible, high-brow piece of entertainment is palpable to the point of distraction. Created by Kyle Bradstreet who previously worked on the series Mr.Robot, Secret Invasion takes pains to make sure that bullet wounds bleed and that we see it on camera. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is weary and worn in a way we’ve yet to see from him, with notable characters mentioning his obvious struggle ever since Thanos’s blip. The score by Kris Bowers is somber, ramped up only in moments of the greatest tension such as the scenes which bookend the premiere, while the direction by Ali Selim stutters and shakes in order to depict guerilla-style filmmaking to lean further into its espionage influences.
It’s fine. No worse than the lowest tiers of recent Marvel television — She-Hulk — and nowhere near the best the studio has offered — WandaVision — and hampered by the same thing that was a detriment to both. Secret Invasion would work better if not having to attach itself to 20-plus films and television series, with mythos and character beats that will only work if you’ve watched all that’s come before it in the MCU. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is forever now lugging its own baggage behind them, with each new show or film having to suffer the weight of it.
The cast and ideas behind the show make for an interesting premise. Nick Fury has been away working on an aerospace defense system for years. To some, it may have appeared to be an obvious step, when in reality it was borne from his own “crisis of faith” which jettisoned him from Earth’s gravitational pull. He’s returned though due to a call from Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) on behalf of Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), the Skrull we first met in Captain Marvel. Through the two of them, he learns that there is a secret invasion of the planet by a faction of radicalized, shapeshifting Skrulls who are tired of waiting to have a planet of their own where they won’t have to hide. Fury, along with allies, is caught up in a desperate race in order to thwart the invasion and save humanity.
What makes this more interesting than a simple alien invasion-style framework is that, as characters such as Maria Hill and Olivia Colman’s Sonya mention, Fury is not the man he used to be. It’s not just that he’s aged — though Jackson and the production make sure to highlight the stiffness in his gait and the unassured posture that makes for a striking comparison to his first appearances in the MCU. He’s older, he’s seen a lot, but more than that it comes down to his aforementioned crisis which ended up following him to space as well. Maria notes that in the past he would’ve been three steps ahead, remarking that there’s no shame in walking away.
Colman’s Sonya, in one of the strongest sequences of the premiere, since it relies on the chemistry and delivery between Colman and Jackson, calls him out as well. She believes that since Thanos, Fury has struggled because he finally came to the realization that no matter the effort he puts in, the teams he assembles, or the good he’s chasing, there will always be someone stronger who will come and steal it away. It’s a great place to put a character meant to be a hero who has worked in the field for most of his life. Who wouldn’t have a crisis if their core belief systems did nothing but push them forward while the world they were meant to fight for continued to crumble beneath them and regress?
Despite the strength of the main character and some other strong performances — Colman and Mendelsohn in particular though Kingsley Ben-Adir is also a formidable presence — the series falters under its own ambitions. The Skrull compound sequences serve little more than exposition fodder as we’re given derivative and convoluted explanations as to why Emilia Clarke isn’t buried in ten pounds of makeup.
The methodical pacing slows the proceedings down too, the espionage tone is hampered by filmmaking that lacks dynamic direction. The threat to the world is presented as an enormous threat but even with the peaks of violence it’s never truly felt, especially considering the destruction and chaos that has come before in other Marvel properties.
For now, the greatest asset is the show’s actors, as well as the truly beautiful opening credits scenes. The series needs to follow suit and lean heavily on the performances — an early sequence where Talos and Fury reunite is shocking in its tenderness, allowing male friendship a moment of real empathy and warmth rather than undercut it with quips. It also could take a page out of the opening credits and breathe further, insidious intrigue into the show by way of molting greens and colors that pop. Regardless of the cityscapes and gray settings, shows of this type deserve a level of vibrancy in their scale.
Secret Invasion delivers an intriguing premiere that falters when it tries to build up the mythos of the main threat when it should be one of the strongest elements. That said, the show allows for Samuel L. Jackson to shine bright as Fury, a character who has long been the glue that kept other Marvel teams together. The studio’s latest wants to be a mature piece of storytelling, and it possesses many of the pieces necessary, it just needs a vision behind the scenes to make them all fit into something gripping and worthwhile.
Secret Invasion premieres June 21 on Disney+
Secret Invasion delivers an intriguing premiere that falters when it tries to build up the mythos of the main threat when it should be one of the strongest elements. That said, the show allows for Samuel L. Jackson to shine bright as Fury, a character who has long been the glue that kept other Marvel teams together.