Marvel joined the television game in January 2021 with WandaVision, bringing the MCU into a new era that exists across the big and small screen. The day of WandaVision’s premiere set in stone that audiences would now be required to show up to cinemas and tune into streaming services (Disney+) to get the full picture of what’s now going on within the universe (well, multiverse) now. Now, more than two years after the premiere of their flagship television series, Marvel is now offering a look inside the global undercover invasion by the Skrulls in a six episode limited series, Secret Invasion.
The series premise is a simple one compared to the rest of Marvel’s goings-on with the events of the past few films and shows that have kept audiences going across the multiverse in search of answers. While Secret Invasion isn’t forcing viewers to understand new questions being posed, the series also isn’t offering any answers (at least not in the first two episodes provided to critics for review). This isn’t necessarily a downfall, but a Marvel series that introduces a plethora of new characters with none of the beloved Avengers and new superheroes – save Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, of course – needs to have a more succinct narrative pathway. In the first two episodes of this six episode series, almost too many plotlines are added as the series immediately gets underway. It seems to want to discuss many things, most specifically the understanding of foreign bodies seeking inclusion amongst a new world. It hits the mark in some ways, completely missing in others.
The series immediately drops into Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) and Nick Fury having a conversation. You know the kind: cryptic, Maria tossing soft accusations at Fury about his ongoing dedication to a ridiculous amount of privacy, Fury laughing at her. The series is not shaking the table when it comes to bringing novelty to dialogue between these characters; it falls right into the same talk-track the characters are constantly in. Across the first couple of episodes, a few new characters are introduced, most notably being G’iah (Emmy nominee Emilia Clark, Game of Thrones) and Sonya Falsworth (Academy Award and Emmy Award winner Olivia Colman, The Favourite). Colman specifically brings a reliability to her role, a comfort in knowing she’ll perform well no matter what any script throws at her. She’s actually terrifying as she walks around in an emerald pantsuit, menacingly gazing at her foes in a way that might remind audiences of her turn as Queen Elizabeth in The Crown (drawing attention to the moment she tells Charles that no one wants to hear his voice).
There are interesting facets to this narrative, though, that aren’t successful solely due to the performances. The series actually provides an interesting discussion on the Skrulls impersonating humans to gain acceptance and further their claim to a role in Earth’s social ecosystem. Nick Fury teams up with Talos (Emmy winner Ben Mendelsohn, Bloodline), who audiences will remember from Captain Marvel, to stop the titular invasion that the Skrulls have enacted. Other plotlines develop but, within the first couple of episodes, aren’t immediately apparent to how they’ll pan out or how everything will come into a central focus. Colman’s character provides the most interesting new voice on the series, perhaps if for no other reason than her perfectly coiffed hair and the scowl painted on her face at the people that surround her. Colman is always fun to watch and this series allows her to be a woman who has no time for games; she almost favors Melanie Lynskey’s Kathleen in The Last of Us in attitude.
The biggest obstacle the series will have to overcome during its six episode run is the pitfall of melodrama. While the MCU is based on comic books and is usually light in tone, there are times when it’s more appropriate to include melodrama and serious line deliveries of not-so-serious lines. There’s a line of dialogue in the second episode where Samuel L. Jackson looks directly in someone’s eyes and states, “I’m Nick Fury. Even when I’m out, I’m in.” While once or twice wouldn’t be something to do a double-take about, two entire episodes of that same ultra-dramatic flair are exhausting in the expectation they set that audiences should take almost every line with the same weight as all the others. With so many “serious” moments, it can be hard to differentiate when the show is just winking at the audience to remind them the series can be playful and when it wants you to take it seriously. Perhaps if the series could decide, it would flourish instead of frustrate.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe still has the ability to produce great stories (case in point being She-Hulk, a truly unique time), but stories like this one take themselves too seriously. A series such as this one, where there are none of the traditional heroes from the other parts of the MCU, could benefit greatly from a story less convoluted that invites the performers to have more time to ground their characters. Though the episodes are slightly longer than usual MCU outings – the first two both being close to an hour – they still move quickly and don’t fixate on any one situation for too long. This helps in some ways, hurts in others, as the aforementioned characters have less time to make themselves known. Perhaps in the coming episodes, the series will bring focus to each of these characters and their motivations, which could greatly aid the episodes by having a centralized storyline to focus on. It hurts to see a great cast wasted on material that seems half-baked. Secret Invasion is a series that would benefit by being kept in the dark.
The six episode limited series Secret Invasion begins streaming exclusively on Disney+ on June 21, 2023.
Photo: Gareth Gatrell/MARVEL