Secret Invasion: Nearly Good

Hello Interwebs! Secret Invasion disappointed most Marvel fans (who still care enough to watch the shows). I’m among their ranks. Though I think this series has more to offer than you may have heard.

Nick Fury once promised The Skrulls– a refugee species fleeing persecution– that he would find them a new home. Yet he left his promise unfulfilled for 30 years. A new generation of Skrulls grows impatient with Fury and decide to claim Earth for their own (violently), while the elders preach restraint. A Secret Invasion brews beyond the purview of our world’s spy agencies. And only Nick Fury has the means to stop it. But who can he trust, when anyone and everyone might be a Skrull in disguise?

Episode 1’s first sequence left me suitably intrigued by this premise. A conspiracy-minded character lays out the key problem concisely, and forces you to feel the situation’s gravity. And we even get a cool reveal, which reinforces the belief that Skrulls are embedded more deeply in the MCU than we previously believed.

This cool premise, unfortunately, is wasted for a run-of-the mill spy drama. It’s basically Falcon and the Winter Soldier all over again– but mildly better (I went WAY too easy on that show at the time). The first few episodes are, in fact, so generic and over-played that I wondered if this series had ANYTHING worth showing us.

Short answer: not really. But it’s not an outright trainwreck. The series actually picks up in its back half if you can get that far. ‘Cause that’s where we FINALLY learn the badguy’s master plan! The plot begins to move in earnest and gets a clear trajectory. I just wish we’d received these developments up top.

‘Cause, as it stands, the first few episodes are pointless filler, and the last half is where they fit all the good stuff, and then it ends on a freaking cliffhanger! That cliffhanger ought to have been the middle of the show. The story wasn’t even close to over; it was at a big turning point.

And that’s the problem I’ve had with MCU properties for some time: they aren’t content with making good, stand-alone stories with basic storytelling (beginning, middle, end). Most of the movies and shows we’ve received are beginning and/ or middle with no conceivable ending– just “wait for the epic conclusion sometime in the next few years”. Yet I keep falling for the bait… Well joke’s on them, ’cause I’m probably not gonna stick around long enough to see the “real” ending to this story. I’ll be burnt out on the MCU by then. I’m most of the way there now.

Let’s discuss Nick Fury’s arc now, speaking of burnt out. The idea of a worn, world-weary Fury is great on paper. He’s past his prime, and is constantly reminded of the fact. But he’s still got his moral code and the skills which served him all his life. It’s interesting to have an older protagonist in the MCU than usual. ‘Cause that opens up lots of avenues for a more mature story than usual.

Yet Secret Invasion fails to put any meat on those bones to create anything meaningful. Fury never changes– not even a bit. He remains steadfast in his beliefs, when everyone tells him to quit; he suffers tragedies and coldly pushes forward; he regrets his past yet half-asses attempts at amends; and he somehow makes everything WORSE before season’s end without a shred of self-awareness!

Any of these elements might have made for a compelling story if told well. But Secret Invasion seems to do most of these things by accident, without a clear vision for the Fury character. His motivations are clear at first, then devolve to the point where I didn’t understand his purpose. The plot of Secret Invasion might easily have occurred if Fury wasn’t even there, come to think of it! The writing is amateurish…

At least Samuel L. Jackson is awesome as ever! This is his best performance in the MCU to date. Jackson effectively showcases the burden which such a man as Fury would face (unimaginable secrets, responsibilities, and failures)– in addition to the subtle glimmers of joy which peak through his gloom.

Secret Invasion pissed me off with its handling of Maria Hill. I don’t even wanna talk about it, ’cause this is a spoiler-free review, but suffice it to say they disrespected Cobie Smulders’ 11-year stint in the MCU. Hill’s story is contrived in the worst way: she exists to be a plot device which motivates Nick Fury. And I doubt she’ll get another opportunity like this to escape from Fury’s shadow.

G’iah (Emilia Clarke) was OK. I liked her story’s set-up, and there was a twist with her which even shocked me… until the writers walked it back instantly. G’iah, from that moment forward, became boring and predictable. Emilia Clarke is serviceable, but her material doesn’t let her talents shine.

I’m shocked how much I enjoyed Secret Invasion‘s villain, Gravik. Kingsley Ben-Adir stole the show with this baddie! His every scene prompted an increase in my attention. Gravik was intimidating, charismatic, clever, deadly and even sorta sympathetic. He’s far from an all-time great villain, but he’s the most memorable aspect of Secret Invasion.

Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) was great too! He’s arguably the only character in this series for whom we should root. Literally everyone else’s flaws are frustratingly deep. But Talos is merely a good Skrull who wants a home, and wishes it received with a minimum of bloodshed. Too bad nobody else in his life shares his optimism.

Further supporting cast, such as Charlayne Woodard as Varra/ Priscilla and Don Cheadle (Rhodey) are serviceable. I just wish they got more to do. Their plots, like G’iah’s, were too predictable.

Olivia Coleman’s character was useless– cool, but useless. I don’t think the show changes whatsoever if you remove her. But, on second thought, Coleman is the only character who offers the least bit of levity. Though said levity is often presented while she tortures people… I’ll take what I can get though. Secret Invasion would be too dour without her.

NOTE: The reason for her inclusion becomes *obvious* by the end. It’s the classic Marvel tradition: introduce a supporting character with sole intent to give them a spin-off (or be more important later).

I wanna talk some more about the aforementioned torture scenes on this series. They’re surprisingly brutal for a Marvel property. I give Secret Invasion credit for announcing to Marvel’s audience that it will no longer skimp on violence. They will now let brutal people be brutal on screen. I’m all for leaving certain things to the imagination, but I also hate to feel like stuff gets unnecessarily censored.

I appreciated that Secret Invasion restrained itself from over-the-top action for most of the series. This is, afterall, more of a spy thriller than a traditional “superhero show”. Most of the action was hand-to-hand combat, gun-play, or tension-filled stand-offs. Most of it isn’t too inventive, but it’s generally competent.

NOTE: Someone still chose to end the series with a VFX-heavy battle, even though it didn’t fit the show’s tone.

The fight choreography on this series was a mixed bag. Some episodes featured tense and gripping combat, while others were duller than sitting through Falcon and the Winter Soldier (more shots fired)… The fights proved shockingly inconsistent.

At least the CGI was decent. Anything to do with skrulls or de-aging technologies were handled great! A few scattered elements looked like cheap, generic assets (the helicopters for instance) but even those things were passable.

Remi Adefarasin Cinematography was a highlight of the project, with his high-contrast, harsh lighting, which made the characters look older and worn out. Details pop with every scene. The general visual style of Secret Invasion is more impressive than I expected (my expectations for these things are generally low).

I’d also like to shout out the colour grade, with its green-ish tint. Nice touch!

Errors regarding shot-to-shot consistency were shockingly bad for production of this high a value. One scene near the end was particularly eggregious because it audaciously cut from one shot to another with a continuity error, then RETURNED to the previous set-up as if nothing happened. I can’t imagine why a mistake like this wasn’t fixed with re-shoots.

What of Secret Invasion‘s primary themes? The series’ exploration of xenophobia and refugees is timely and necessary in these tenuous political times. There was adequate set-up for something good here… but Secret Invasion failed its execution. Or maybe it did exactly what it wanted to do? I actually can’t tell. ‘Cause the show seems to advocate for the more severe and cruel philosophies of human intolerance. That outlook, firstly, doesn’t sit right with me as a viewer and– secondly– feels at odds with the story they TRIED to tell. So I’m inclined to believe the writers accidentally undermined their own message.

I should probably also address the controversy regarding this show’s AI title sequence. It’s comical to me how Disney, when forced to pay actual artists, cuts its introductory sequences to little more than a title card; yet they let THIS intro run a full 2 minutes every episode! They really get a three-for-one deal: pad the run-time, a cool-looking sequence, and expend next to no effort or money to get them.

Secret Invasion‘s primary issue: too much padding on a decent concept. This would have made a good movie, with its 200 million dollar budget and a few more high profile cameos. The show’s other issue: it fails to fully explore its premise– ending just when things get interesting.

Secret Invasion isn’t without merit, but it’s more a show for If You’re Bored.

NOTE: I just want to shout out these ridiculously awful episode descriptions from Disney+:
Nick Fury learns of a clandestine invasion of Earth by Skrulls;
Fury grapples with past and present.;
Fury uncovers a rebel Skrull plot;
Fury must make some hard sacrifices;
Fury gathers his allies. Gravik deals with unrest;
All hope for humanity rests on Fury’s shoulders.



Do you still care about the MCU? What did you think of Secret Invasion? Please share your thoughts in the comments (no spoilers please). If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know.

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Till next time,

Joe Morin

By Joseph Morin

Joe's passion for film and entertainment began at 7 years old when his younger brother demanded to watch Duel of the Fates every day for weeks (on DVD). Joe admired the sequence so much, he decided to dedicate his life to film-making and storytelling. He has a degree in Cinema and Media Studies from York University. Joe loves DC superheroes (especially Superman), the first six Star Wars movies, and arguing about media with anyone who will listen.

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