The following is a review of the first two episodes of Secret Invasion.
Marvel Studios was once the biggest franchise juggernaut in the world. Over the past few years, the once untouchable cinematic universe – which initially started with a man in a cave using a box of scraps – has slowly morphed into their convoluted and problematic competitor: The DCEU. When the MCU’s fifth phase began Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantamania, most fans were underwhelmed with what they got: the movie was messy, generic, visually unappealing, and now one of the film’s stars is in serious legal trouble. Sound familiar?
Rest assured, MCU fans can finally get excited again. At least with its first two episodes, Secret Invasion is what they know, love, and have missed dearly about this franchise. The 6-episode Disney+ event finds Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) back on Earth from his space vacation to stop a Skrull invasion that may have already begun taking shape. Introduced in Marvel’s ’90s-set Captain Marvel, Skrulls are an alien race of shapeshifters who, when audiences last left them, lost their home planet and desperately needed a new one. Early in Secret Invasion, it is revealed that Nick Fury and Carol Danvers never followed through on their promise to find the Skrulls a new home and, safe to say, some of them aren’t happy about it.
Right off the bat, the best thing about Secret Invasion is that it feels like what Marvel fans have been longing for since Phase 3: something grounded in character and realism, even though the plot revolves around something out of this world. Like Captain America: The Winter Solider, Secret Invasion is a spy thriller with an MCU backdrop. However, unlike Winter Solider, show creator Kyle Bradstreet dials its grittier tone up to 11. Every character has a lot of dramatic weight, and the little humour that is present feels natural to the characters’ situations.
Samuel L. Jackson is still outstanding in his fourteenth Marvel project because he continues to find and emphasize new layers within Nick Fury. The writers strategically place him in an emotionally high-stakes time in his life. Turning the Secret Invasion comic book storyline into a semi-Old Man Fury character study is a great way to ground material that could feel outlandish; this is especially true since Secret Invasion is a Disney+ show and not a big-screen Avengers-level event. However, while Jackson is great, the standout is easily Marvel newcomer Olivia Colman, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. Colman plays the calculating MI6 leader Sonya Falsworth, whose scenes are particularly maniacal. Seeing her get material she’s worthy of is a relief.
Another aspect of the show that deserves applause is its commitment to stakes and lasting consequences. Even within the first two episodes, events happen that feel much riskier than the not-so-creative choices Marvel has been making recently. The first episode is slower out of the gate as Fury reunites with Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) and catches up on everything that has happened on Earth post-Blip. It is an interesting set-up, but too stretched thin to pad out the runtime. It points to something that most Marvel shows suffer from; writers use an A, B, and C plot structure in television to keep episodes well-paced, but MCU shows are often six-hour movies that feel aimless for at least half of them. The first two episodes will act as set up, the next two meander, the fifth episode uses flashbacks to explore the main character’s past, and the sixth has your trademark third act battle. The format has become predictable and boring.
Although Episode Two doesn’t flip this outline on its head, it does cement Secret Invasion as must-watch Marvel television, primarily thanks to a riveting scene between Rhodey (Don Cheadle) and Fury. Cheadle is another veteran Marvel actor, but he’s only now getting material worthy of his capabilities. Their conversation deals with pretty mature topics that echo similar themes from The Falcon and the Winter Soldier but don’t feel as heavy-handed here. The scene seemingly sets up the stirring twists and turns likely to come in Secret Invasion’s next four episodes.
The first episode of Secret Invasion is now streaming exclusively on Disney+, with new episodes airing every Wednesday.