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Marvel’s Secret Invasion Continues the Franchise’s Dull Slate

The first episode of “Secret Invasion” begins with a voiceover from Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) waxing poetic about what the existence of Skrulls could mean for Earth. He brings forth the question: “What if the ones closest to us, the ones we’re trusted our whole lives, were someone else entirely. What if they weren’t even … human?” It's a fine introduction, but it would have been more impactful if audiences didn’t already know about the existence of Skrulls in the MCU, as their first appearance was in 2019 with “Captain Marvel.”

We then follow Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) as he strolls the streets of Moscow until he arrives at a base. After he’s attacked by the man working there, he’s then pursued by what we can assume to be a Skrull, until Ross is hit by a car and it's revealed that he himself is a Skrull. His body morphs and his skin peels back to reveal green scales. With this reveal, it becomes clear that viewers will have to question whether the characters they see on screen are actually who they say they are or something else entirely. 

“Secret Invasion” does a fine job setting up its initial problems, with the main one being that an abundance of Skrull refugees have made their way to Earth. After being promised a home by Nick Fury and Captain Marvel decades prior, they have finally gotten tired of waiting, forming their own organization in an attempt to seek revenge. Another main point of contention is Nick Fury’s age and mental state post-Blip. Agent Hill (Cobie Smulders) states that Fury hasn’t “been the same” since the catastrophic event, and it appears that being snapped into oblivion back in “Avengers: Infinity War” has had a major effect on Fury’s psyche. 

It’s an interesting move that we can only wish was addressed with other characters after “Avengers: Endgame.” What would happen to a person if they died for five years, only to come back during a war? Fury seems especially tired, not just because of his age but because he’s lost his edge. Without S.H.I.E.L.D., he no longer has the standing or clearance that he once had, so the life he’s previously known is gone. The problem here, though, is that the performance is lacking. Jackson is best when he’s quipping alongside Mendelsohn, but besides that, he appears to be done with Nick Fury. 

The other performances are lacking as well, with dull dialogue being uttered by tired faces, but Olivia Colman saves “Secret Invasion” from being a complete slog. Her performance as MI6 agent Sonya Falsworth adds some life to an overly tedious first two episodes, striding into rooms with an air of charisma that's lost on most recent MCU performances, acting circles around her peers without breaking a sweat. Kingsley Ben-Adir is magnetic as Skrull leader Gravik as well, though his performance is more restrained than Coleman’s. 

You can feel the hatred Gravik has for Nick Fury and the people of Earth just from a glance, but it's a controlled hatred, which makes him all the more terrifying. The direction that his character seems to be going in is worrying, though, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if his arc was marred by the MCU’s typical empathetic villain shtick relegated to the likes of “Black Panther’s” Killmonger and “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s” Karli Morgenthau. 

What the MCU needs to understand is that its audience and viewers at large are tired of contrived stories that don’t allow them to connect with any of their characters, including the villains. When the franchise began, its main villain Loki was allowed to gain momentum in “Thor'' before being revealed as the main villain in “The Avengers.” Now, villains aren’t able to gain any type of momentum but are thrown onto our screens to show us that “Hey, these guys are bad.” It doesn’t help that a lot of the time, these villains’ motivations are actually quite tame and, sometimes, correct. Instead of working with a complex Magneto-esque character, these new Disney+ shows showcase these characters bombing a group of civilians in an attempt to establish that, no, actually, these are not people you should be rooting for. 

The villain problem here just touches the surface of the many issues this franchise continues to have. If your villains aren’t interesting, you best hope your heroes are, but in “Secret Invasion,” that sadly isn’t the case either. Perhaps a show about Nick Fury would have been interesting a decade ago, but in 2023 it feels just as contrived as “Black Widow” did in 2021. The connection to these characters has waned over the years because, other than brief cameos, they aren’t central to the MCU’s narrative anymore. Now, that could change in the later episodes of the seasons, and perhaps it will be revealed that the Skrulls are integral to the future of the franchise, but for now, it doesn’t work. 

From jarring editing choices to lazy performances by a majority of its cast, the first two episodes of “Secret Invasion” don’t show much promise. Skrulls walking the earth amongst our heroes should be a thrilling plot line, but here it's contrived. Truly, there are only so many times you can wonder if a character is actually who they say they are before it becomes a tedious game of Guess Who. If this was one of the earlier Disney+ shows, its impact might have more heart, but its arrival so late in the slate of television offerings makes one yearn for earlier endeavors like “WandaVision.” At least when these shows first started coming out, they attempted to do something different. Now, they are more of the same, an overworked cog continuously turning in a withered machine.

Two episodes were screened for review. “Secret Invasion” premieres on Disney+ on June 21. 

Kaiya Shunyata

Kaiya Shunyata is a freelance pop culture writer and academic based in Canada. They have written for RogerEbert.com, Xtra, Okayplayer, The Daily Beast, AltPress and more. 

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