Considering that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier ranks low on most lists of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s weird to see the studio take a turn back in that direction.
Then again, it’s also weird to adapt a major superhero comic storyline… then subtract all the superheroes from it. Weirder still is the choice to center it on Samuel L. Jackson‘s Nick Fury and have him be the opposite of a badass. There’s a whole lot about Secret Invasion that shouldn’t work at all, and honestly, some of it doesn’t.
However, it’s too early to judge the whole series. After all, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier only really whiffed the ending after a strong start.
Secret Invasion plainly would like to be the MCU’s Andor. The “mature,” “serious” show for people who generally bash the rest of the franchise for its CG and whimsy. Just as Captain America: The Winter Soldier practically begged everyone to compare it to ’70s political thrillers, Secret Invasion seems to seek comparisons to John le Carre and similar Cold War spy dramas. (Prefer James Bond? Rewatch Black Widow instead.)
It’s set in the “present day” — which, in the MCU, is actually still five years from now, no? — but at least in the first two episodes, much of the action takes place in Russia and involves the threat of nuclear war.
The Themes Are The Main Suspect
Here’s the big difference with Andor — while that show offered an allegory for liberal resistance to rising fascism, Secret Invasion feels like a take on several fringe right-wing conspiracies. It’s the Deep State meets the New World Order, plus UFOs, all for the benefit of literal illegal aliens. And its take on world events feels like plot convenience over parable. It’s hard to believe even Vladimir Putin would go to war with the U.S, over the actions of terrorists unaffiliated with the government.
Nick Fury returns to Earth a changed man, riddled with PTSD from the snap. He tried to cope by going straight into space and throwing himself into his work with SWORD. But this behavior led to broken promises and unintended consequences, like more Skrulls on Earth than everyone previously thought — including some who don’t want to share it with humans.
Conveniently, Skrulls are unaffected by radiation, so nukes sound good to them. Some humans seem to be equally immune, surviving the fallout of a supposed dirty bomb just fine.
Has He Had It With These MF’ing Skrulls?
Fury is still a Jackson special; slow-talking around an interrogation and yelling while enunciating. But between those moments, we see the toll that takes. Fury has to catch a breath for once, unable to be “on” all the time anymore.
Jackson is 74 years old, and carries the weight of someone who can’t be that bad MF everyone remembers all the time. Life’s catching up to him, but he still has his wits and a better mind than the youngsters in the game. (Though “youngster” is relative when it comes to Skrull lifespans.)
Secret Invasion works best when it gives Jackson one-on-one scenes with other actors of his caliber and lets them play it out. Ben Mendelsohn as his exasperated Skrull ally Talos, for one, or Olivia Colman as his British counterpart. Or Don Cheadle, when Fury finds his former War Machine pal in an adversarial position and tries to bargain with him.
Candy Everybody Wants
These are some all-time great MCU scenes, but they feel like the candy crunch bits in an otherwise generic cookie. It’s a piecemeal story, even if it is brought to life by such A-listers. The beat-by-beat action is less interesting overall than when the now-decanonized Agents of SHIELD had Fury’s team dealing with the Skrulls’ archrivals, the Kree.
Unable to rely on star power, that show had to rely on good scripts. Sadly, nobody who originated on Agents shows up here — at least so far. Mention of a significant husband and wife team had me hoping for Fitz-Simmons, but ’twas not to be. The only team returnees are movie-verse Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders). With the occasional flashback to fill in what the Skrulls have been doing since the events of Captain Marvel, it’s also always possible Coulson could cameo still.
Cast and occasional Skrull morphing effect aside, this feels less like Agents of SHIELD and more like a lot of streaming spy shows. Requisite slow chases down Eastern European alleys, random gunshots from secret snipers, and sudden but inevitable betrayals, spiced up with the periodic capital-A acting moments. Oh, and each episode has to end on a cliffhanger — naturally. It’s an established formula at play, and lacks the dazzling hero powers to distract us from it. Moon Knight did both the spy stuff and the distracting effects much better.
Old Man Fury
Much as we may wish for the version of Jackson who yelled profanities at snakes on his plane, he’s not eternally young. Secret Invasion feels like it could become his Logan, one final old-man hurrah before retiring this version of the character. (Obviously he’s in The Marvels too, but that could be a flashback.) Here’s hoping the story rises to the challenge of being a worthy Nick Fury story, because right now, it’s a mess. A mess that will no doubt be excessively praised for going “dark” and “mature,” while forgetting about “coherence” and “fun.”
Secret Invasion premieres exclusively on Disney+ on June 21, 2023.