Having seen the previous Marvel Studios’ Disney+ MCU series with ‘WandaVision’ off to a good start, the subsequent ones are best described as mixed results. This is especially true with disappointing series like ‘Hawkeye’ and ‘She-Hulk: Attorney at Law,’ taking the once-interesting interconnected storytelling into a mostly jokey affair, complete with drawn-out narratives and unnecessary fillers. This is why I had little expectations when ‘Secret Invasion,’ the 9th MCU series so far, arrived on Disney+ this year.
The series, however, boasts a better-than-expected pilot episode as series creator Kyle Bradstreet of ‘Mr. Robot’ fame and director Ali Selim (‘The Looming Tower’, ‘The Calling’) begins with a thought-provoking voiceover narration:
“Imagine a world where information can’t be trusted. Not very hard, is it? News service says one thing, website says another. Society starts to fray. All we can turn to are the people we care about. But what if those people weren’t who we thought they were? What if the ones closest to us, the ones we’ve trusted our whole lives… …were someone else entirely? What if they weren’t even human?“
With that, ‘Secret Invasion’ made good use of the Skrulls, the green-faced reptilian humanoids who first appeared in ‘Captain Marvel.’ Their prominent shapeshifting abilities allow them to physically mimic any human. And the series gamely explored the Skrulls’ abilities to its advantage, manipulating and misleading the viewers with the recurring themes of paranoia and trust issues.
The series shows how the Skrulls can replicate and blend seamlessly with the human population, making it an intriguing watch.
The story focuses on the former S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury’s (Samuel L. Jackson) return to Earth, looking older and more jaded than ever after a long period of self-imposed exile in space or more specifically, the S.A.B.E.R. Space Station.
Remember the time when Fury and Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) used to give them their words they would find the Skrulls a new home planet? Well, that didn’t happen in ‘Captain Marvel,’ and the Skrulls have since remained refugees on Earth. They become increasingly lost and disillusioned, leading to the events of the clandestine invasion in this series.
The invasion is led by Gravik (Kingsley Ben-Adir, who imbues sinister charm into his antagonist role) and his army of rebels. Their plan? Instigate the U.S. and Russia to start a nuclear war against each other. If humanity perished during the nuclear attack, they could finally make Earth their new home since the Skrulls are immune to radiation.
Viewers will never know whether the human characters are actually who they are or simply a Skrull rebel in disguise. The first episode already demonstrated the level of threat of how a shapeshifting Skrull can lead to imminent danger and casualty. Until, of course, they revealed their true selves at the end of the day. These shocking reveals work well from the first episode, resulting in some unexpected moments I didn’t see coming.
Over the course of the six-episode series, we see Fury and his allies (including Ben Mendelsohn’s Talos and Cobie Smulders’ Maria Hill) working together to stop the invasion. The story also introduced Sonya Falsworth, an MI6 agent and an old friend of Nick Fury.
Olivia Colman, who plays the role, impresses with her delightful comedic charm, making her among the funniest MCU characters to date. But she is far from mere comic relief as Colman’s Sonya Falsworth subsequently reveals her true nature, which has something to do with getting her hands dirty whenever necessary. This makes her character all the more interesting.
‘Secret Invasion’ draws inspiration heavily from the 1970s thrillers dealing with the trust-no-one angle and the ominous tone of fear and deceit. Notable movies like ‘The Parallax View,’ ‘All the President’s Men’ and even Don Siegel’s 1978 remake of ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ come to mind. Not to mention other like-minded releases such as ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ and ‘Mission: Impossible.’
The series also doesn’t shy away from the matter-of-fact nature of mortality. In other words, ‘Secret Invasion’ isn’t afraid of killing off a character when you are least expecting it to happen. This is something that more earthbound-based MCU series should take note of — adding a palpable sense of real-world stakes and proving that anything can happen.
Another thing I noticed the most is the series not falling the same old prey of piling up more jokes just to lighten up the story. I’m glad this MCU manages to come to its senses by forgoing the types of characters who can’t help themselves cracking jokes every now and then, regardless of any situation.
Selim does the right thing by keeping the series consistent in its tone — somber and violent as it should be for a series heavy on political intrigue and terrorism. It’s not like the series is totally devoid of a sense of humor, but at least Selim does it in a subtle way.
As much as I enjoyed the bleak and serious tone of the series, ‘Secret Invasion’ still partially feels like a missed opportunity. I’m surprised this series cost a whopping $212 million budget to make, considering the story’s largely grounded approach of a Cold War-style, spy-thriller formula. Major action sequences are few and far between, even though I like the episode where Gravik and the Skrulls in disguise ambushed the U.S. President Ritson’s (Dermot Mulroney) motorcade.
For all the Gravik’s elaborate scheme and threat that will bring more chaos to the world, the eventual payoff towards the sixth and final episode of ‘Secret Invasion’ first season is… sadly underwhelming. There’s a clever bait-and-switch storyline here and a reasonably thrilling effect-laden duel between the two opposing rivals, where the latter showcases each of their varied strength.
But then, I wish the series could do more than just settle down with the kind of closure that doesn’t justify the promising build-up, the huge budget, and the fact that the series is tied directly to the upcoming feature of ‘The Marvels’ this November.
Several flaws aside, ‘Secret Invasion’ benefits from an overall stellar cast, beginning with Samuel L. Jackson’s world-weary turn as Nick Fury. He also shared great buddy-movie (series) chemistry with Ben Mendelsohn, who delivers solid support as Talos. Apart from franchise newcomers Kingsley Ben-Adir and Olivia Colman, Emilia Clarke equally excels as Talos’s brooding and conflicted daughter, G’iah.
All six episodes of ‘Secret Invasion’ are now streaming on Disney+. Have something to add? Let us know in the comments!