There have been, in terms of taking genuine risks with the MCU, few examples greater than Captain America: The Winter Soldier. At a time when Marvel was especially prone to formulaic, homogenous superhero stuff, here came along this paranoia-fueled thriller about a massive government conspiracy.
It was goddamn fantastic.
Secret Invasion is probably the closest we’ll get to Marvel returning to that genre anytime soon after Falcon & the Winter Soldier, and it does so by picking up on a major loose thread from 2019’s Captain Marvel. That film saw Samuel L. Jackson’s youthful Nick Fury helping to save the alien Skrulls from annihilation from the Kree. When it was all over, Skrull refugees remained here on Earth. But that was more than three decades ago. What have they been doing since? And how did “The Blip”, the five-year disappearance of millions when Thanos infamously snapped his fingers, affect all of them?
Fury was seen way off-planet, hiding out on a SWORD space station working on some mysterious project. What Secret Invasion shows us is that Fury’s absence, and The Blip, have had serious consequences for the Skrulls. With The Avengers seemingly MIA, and Fury having not lived up to his promise to help them find a new home, Skrull forces led by Gravik (Kingsley Ben-Adir) have decided to take Earth for themselves. Also on the enemy side is G’iah (Emilia Clarke), who has a connection to Fury’s friend, the Skrull known as Talos (Ben Mendelsohn).
The first two episodes provided to press totally orient around Fury. Looking haggard and broken, this is unlike any version of Fury we’ve seen before. Sure, he’s still the coolest guy in the room, but he also looks like a defeated man, haunched from the weight of the world on his shoulders. He used to carry it standing upright so easily. But we see how this broken promise to the Skrulls has haunted him, and how he knows this coming fight is all his fault. Jackson has always been so in-tune with this character that Marvel Comics creatively bent over backwards to make their version of Nick Fury like his. He embodies the character and his burden magnificently here. Jackson makes us feel the pressure Fury is under, and the depth of his loneliness so that a twist conclusion to the second episode makes all of the sense in the world.
So there isn’t a ton of action on display early on, and who knows? Secret Invasion might not have much for the long haul, as it’s a show where characters exist in the margins, lurking in shadows and acting in moral shades of gray. The execution can be a bit clunky, as well, with loads of characters to keep track of including Martin Freeman’s Everett K. Ross, Cobie Smulders who returns as Maria Hill, and there’s also Oscar-winner Olivia Colman as MI6 leader Sonya Falsworth. Falsworth gets the most disturbing scene of the opening episodes, revealing her to be brutally and gleefully efficient at getting what she wants. Even Don Cheadle shows up, reprising his role as James “War Machine” Rhodes, to throw his weight around and cause problems for Fury.
Secret Invasion sets you up for a slow burn series, but what it doesn’t do at this early stage is live-up to the promise of using the Skrulls as villains. As they infiltrate the world’s power structures by impersonating key political figures, we’re meant to wonder if anybody is who they say they are. But that mystery is largely left dormant, the intrigue left aside for now and that’s disappointing. Other than a pair of shock conclusions at the end of the first two episodes (One I saw coming and am furious over!), Secret Invasion is light on surprises and thrills. This is a laying of groundwork stretch, and it doesn’t feel like it’s quite over. Our investment in Fury is the thing that grabs us, but soon this series will need to fully take shape and reveal its true form.
Secret Invasion launches on Disney+ beginning June 21st and runs for six episodes.