Ever since Kevin Feige and the thousands of people who work at Marvel brought the Infinity Saga to an end, they’ve been on a downward slide. Given the franchise’s popularity, the box-office returns didn’t reflect that decline in quality. But as soon as they started to oscillate between the OTT space and the theater, the fact that they were trying to do too much in order to have a monopoly on the market became evident. The box-office flop of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania proved that the MCU had lost its power to put anything out there in theaters and make a killing. Meanwhile, James Gunn’s last hurrah with the Guardians of the Galaxy and Across the Spider-Verse (which isn’t technically in the MCU) showed that people are willing to celebrate quality stuff even if the cinematic landscape is oversaturated with superhero films, shows, and miniseries. Well, the makers of Secret Invasion clearly didn’t get the memo. So, they have put out some more of that same old boring stuff for people to consume.
Disclaimer: This review is based on Secret Invasion Episode 1 And Episode 2 provided by Disney+ Hotstar.
Secret Invasion opens with a Skrull posing as Everett K. Ross, who is trying to extract information about a Skrull invasion that’s going on from Agent Prescod. Once he’s done, he kills Prescod and makes a run for it. He is chased by Talos and Maria Hill, who accidentally kill him in the process. Nick Fury makes his much-awaited return to Earth after spending most of his time in outer space building a space station that would protect humans from external, Thanos-level threats. Fury learns that the Skrulls are planning to take over Earth because he didn’t take them to a separate world, like he had promised all the way back in the 90s, as per Captain Marvel. And they’re being led by an extremist named Gravik. Talos has been branded a traitor because he didn’t agree to this course of action, and he believed in Fury, while his daughter, G’iah, has chosen to be on Gravik’s side because she feels betrayed by Fury. The war against Skrulls features MI6’s Sonya Falsworth and the USA government’s James “Rhodey” Rhodes, too, because they have their respective countries’ best interests at heart.
From the get-go, Secret Invasion runs into a major issue by asking viewers to take it very seriously because the characters are having conversations about politics, race, and power in dimly lit alleyways and rooms, and that too in very somber voices. I don’t know if creator Kyle Bradstreet and director Ali Selim are aware of the fact that it’s a miniseries about shapeshifting aliens taking over the planet, not an actual Cold War conspiracy thriller. If they did, they wouldn’t have spent so much time expounding on what happened right after Captain Marvel and trying to echo the vibes of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Where is the momentum? Where is the tension? Where is the drama? Marvel is famous for subtly and not-so-subtly doing army and government propaganda throughout their movies and shows. Hence, why should I be listening to them when it comes to commentaries about diplomatic ties, systemic oppression, and anti-immigrant policies? The miniseries even falters when it comes to the personal stuff because everyone talks in this language called “backstories” and “explaining the plot.” Barring one bit from Fury and his mother, which eventually turns into an expository conversation anyway, there aren’t any organic dialogues. Therefore, any character-based revelations and twists just fall flat on their faces.
Coming to the overall look and feel of Secret Invasion, well, it’s competent. But, eventually, you start to notice a kind of emptiness that isn’t literal but more metaphorical in nature. For example, there’s a scene in a Russian bar where Fury meets an old associate of his and then chats with Hill. The lack of noise, the way the background characters are framed, and just the general atmosphere seem hollow. When the scene shifts to a torture chamber, you don’t feel, even for a second, that you’re in there with those characters in that cold, stinky room. New Skrullos is meant to be this dingy, barely sustainable place. However, it’s shot in such an impersonal fashion that the Skrulls’ need to move out of there and make a new home doesn’t have any urgency. I think the word that I’m looking for is “sanitized,” and it ties in perfectly with my problems regarding the plot of the miniseries. Marvel wants to be taken seriously but is too afraid to get down and dirty. It wants to cater to adults while also keeping its core demographic (the kids) entertained. In doing so, it keeps going in circles in this bland space which can’t be salvaged by the unimaginative background score and choppy action where the switches between the actors and their stunt doubles are extremely noticeable.
As a side note, I want to point to the animated opening credits of Secret Invasion because they seemed A.I.-generated to me. I’ve seen too many A.I.-generated videos with weirdly drawn hands, warped faces, and shifty cityscapes to be suspicious. If it’s the work of an actual artist, then they should be explicitly credited. If it’s not the work of an actual artist and involves any kind of AI-generated nonsense, then this is deplorable.
The performances aren’t particularly impressive. Samuel L. Jackson is clearly trying to convince everyone that Nick Fury is very invested in saving the planet. But it always seems like he’s too self-aware that he’s playing a character who is in a Marvel miniseries and talking about aliens. When he talked about the Avengers Initiative in his first-ever on-screen appearance as Fury, he had a sense of gravitas and humor. That’s all gone in this flimsy attempt to give him an Old Man Logan arc. Ben Mendelsohn is not fully present as well. Cobie Smulders is okay, given her limited screen time. Kingsley Ben-Adir is supposed to be imposing and intimidating, I guess, but that’s not apparent at all. I have no clue what Emilia Clarke is doing. And Don Cheadle is also there. The only actor who is having fun and is fun to look at is the ever-dependable Olivia Colman. Her shades of charm, terror, and intelligence actually reminded me of Dolores Umbridge, as Sonya derived so much pleasure from partaking in extrajudicial practices. Every scene that she is in becomes instantly watchable. In fact, she is the only reason why I’ll try to get to the end of Secret Invasion.
Throughout these two episodes of Secret Invasion, several characters keep reminding Nick Fury that he has lost a step, that he isn’t fit for the job, and that he hasn’t been the same since The Blip. But I think that sentiment is applicable to the MCU in general. The franchise clearly can’t seem to find its footing after Avengers: Endgame because it’s trying too hard to fit everything into its four-quadrant mold, thereby making them all feel generic. Stories about the multiverse, commentaries about consumerism, and political thrillers need to have their own flavors. They need to look, sound, and move in their own distinctive ways. Everyone needs to have the creative liberty that James Gunn and his team got with Guardians of the Galaxy 3 so that the final product can be a perfect marriage of plot and emotions. As mentioned before, Secret Invasion is too concerned with looking like The Winter Soldier and explaining the story instead of letting it unfold organically, which undermines its potential emotional weight. I don’t know when Kevin Feige and the MCU are going to learn their lesson, but I hope it happens soon.