Marvel Studios’ attempt to diversify its offering across mediums and genres post-Infinity Saga has been admirable, even if critical reception has been mixed. Hard-hitting entries such as Spider-Man: No Way Home have been coupled with feel-good offerings like Ms Marvel and experimental pieces like What If…?, and there’s plenty more promised across the coming years. The big screen, too, has no longer proven the limit; the studio’s release schedule on Disney+ has been prolific.
The internet seems content to squabble over which television series is the best so far. Many will say Loki is the cream of the crop; others will vouch for the relative merits of She-Hulk: Attorney at Law; others yet got behind the first series, Wandavision, when it was released in early 2021 and haven’t backed down since. Secret Invasion, a murky thriller where allegiance and threat are the name of the game, is the latest instalment.
The story picks up some decades after Captain Marvel, when the shapeshifting alien Skrulls first came to Earth, and sees Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), who has been off-world since the Blip, called back home to deal with the possibility of simmering tensions within the Skrull refugee populace boiling over into outright war. The series, in exploring the repercussions of promises not kept, sees warring factions of humans and Skrulls attempt to exert their influence and gain political leverage.
Jackson is the star of the show in a way he hasn’t yet been across 15 years and a dozen-plus appearances as Fury. His relationship with Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), with whom he originally butted heads and has since become a close friend, sparkles. Scenes shared with Olivia Colman’s Sonya Falsworth, an MI6 operative and sometime-ally of Fury’s, are few but also a highlight.
Fury and Talos alike share a complex bond with Gravik (Kingsley Ben-Adir), the leader of a rebel terrorist faction seeking to restore the Skrull homeworld and take vengeance on Fury for not having fulfilled his promise to find them a home on Earth. The latter is as desperate and rattled as Fury, having been kicked off the Skrull Council and missing the companionship of his deceased partner Soren.
Throw into this mix Talos’ estranged daughter Gi’ah (Emilia Clarke), who is working for Gravik and willing to support the leader’s violence for the rebel Skrull cause, and it’s a very bleak world of grey motivations and a very little levity outside the interplay between Fury and Talos. All are weary with the world, and it is a world of extreme desperation; there is minimal respite from hardship or struggle for all involved.
The series connects with the wider MCU in significant ways, with appearances from Martin Freeman as CIA agent Everett Ross and Don Cheadle as James Rhodes, now an advisor to the President. Latter episodes introduce the concept of Gravik undergoing genetic mutations using DNA harvested from the blood of the Avengers – making the presence of characters from the wider MCU keenly felt even as they remain unseen.
Creator Kyle Bradstreet makes some bold narrative choices, killing off both Talos and Fury’s long-time number two Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) within the first four episodes. Those decisions are certainly interesting; but the revelation that the real Rhodey has been replaced by a Skrull imitator since the events of Captain America: Civil War provides an strong setup for Armor Wars – imagine Rhodey’s reaction to everything he’s missed in the meantime.
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There are some key highlights to Secret Invasion – such as the intimate lens on Fury and a rather rousing score – alongside less inspiring creative decisions – such as the at times overwrought dialogue and uneven pacing. But it cannot be faulted for deliberately and significantly shifting characters on from where they were before; not every MCU property can attest to doing that.
More than anything, this is a show for Samuel L Jackson and for Nick Fury, who even after 15 years is as central to the progression of this long-running narrative as he was at the beginning.
Secret Invasion is now streaming on Disney+.