Some Secrets Aren't Worth Keeping
Secret Invasion: Series Review
Let's be clear, Marvel has been in a tough spot for a couple of years now, and it's only partially a trouble of their own making. After Avengers: Endgame the company had a number of stumbles that came from multiple directions. First, of course, was the fact that COVID-19 struck and caused a massive shake up to the release calendar for all their projects. That meant resources had to be shared around different, productions had to be reconceived, and everything go more expensive in the process. This was on top of the fact that the higher-ups in Disney pushed the studio to release more product more often, leading to a glut of TV projects, most of which didn't get the time or care they needed to rise to the high level Marvel has set for themselves. By the end of Phase IV, most fans were feeling the fatigue, in large part because what Marvel had been cranking out (outside of a couple of gems) hadn't been very good.
Phase V, by many, has seen as a time to retool and refocus, to give us what we wanted at a reasonable pace. It was the period where Marvel could prove they knew how to recalibrate and rise back to their own high bar. And then we got Ant-man and Wasp: Quantumania, which was not a great way to start the new Phase V. Sure, this was followed by Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, which was great. It showed Marvel could still crank out good stuff when it lets its creatives have free rein. Was that going to be the norm or was the weak-sauce product of Phase V going to be the new normal going forward. Well, if Secret Invasion is anything to go by, we should expect much more trash in our future.
Much has been said Online already about Secret Invasion (we're getting to it three months after it debuted due to the Writers' and Actors' strike, which we are supporting by not reporting on new media when it immediately comes out), so I don't feel like we need to kick a poorly reviewed project while it's down. We will go over what doesn't work about this mini-series, which is... well... everything. But I'm more interested in trying to figure out how this could have worked. Is there a version of Secret Invasion in here that could have been successful? Is there a Nick FuryIn Marvel's history there have been two characters to bear the name Nick Fury, father and son, both of whom fought for their coutry to protect the world. But it's the second, Nick Fury, Jr., who is famous as the head of SHIELD and backer of the Avengers. adventure that could have worked? Sure. So let's see what could have been.
As it aired, Secret Invasion is about the Skrulls, the alien race of shape-shifting, green skinned humanoids we last saw in Captain Marvel. Since the 1990s (when, chronologically, they were introduced into the Marvel Cinematic UniverseWhen it first began in 2008 with a little film called Iron Man no one suspected the empire that would follow. Superhero movies in the past, especially those not featuring either Batman or Superman, were usually terrible. And yet, Iron Man would lead to a long series of successful films, launching the most successful cinema brand in history: the Marvel Cinematic Universe.), the Skrulls have been coming to Earth, working as agents for Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) while he battled all kinds of threats (foreign, domestic, and super-powered). In exchange, Fury promised to find them a new planet they could colonize so they didn't have to fight the people of Earth for this one.
Well, that search didn't go well and Fury was unable to find any other suitable planet for the Skrulls. Feeling like Fury betrayed them, one Skrull in particular, Gravik (Kingsley Ben-Adir), has decided that if they can't have another planet they'll take this one. Setting up in the Chernobyl irradiated zone, Gravik has gathered a group of Skrulls to fight a secret war against humanity, stealing away powerful figures in every government and replacing them with Skrull agents. It's up to Nick, along with the help of a friendly Skrull, Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), to stop Gravik and his bad Skrulls from starting a war that would wipe away all of humanity and make this a planet of Skrulls.
So let's get the obvious issue with this setup out of the way right up front: the Secret Invasion of the MCU bears little resemblance to the comic series of the same name. Here we have Skrulls we don't know replacing humans we don't know for a story we can barely care about. In the comics the Skrulls copied superheroes, characters we'd been following for years who, with a big twist, were revealed to be Skrulls all along. The shock and horror of it guided a pretty solid mini-series event, but the show can't do the same thing. That's largely because the series couldn't afford to get all the stars of those heroes back to do this story right.
How could they have done Secret Invasion the way it needed to be done? Easy: make in an AvengersMarvel's answer to DC's Justice League, this team features many of Marvel's biggest superheroes working together to protect the world and avenge its evils. film. Instead of slapping it as a little side adventure into the middle of a Phase about a completely different villain (Kang being the villain of "The Multiverse Saga"), we should have had an entire phase building up to this. We should have seen Skrulls in various films and shows, characters we grew to know and care about being revealed as aliens when no one is looking. That way when we got to the big film, there was some reason to ask, "wait, is this hero a human or a Skrull?" Then the Avengers would have to battle themselves, humans versus aliens, for the fate of the planet. That's a version of the story that actually could work in the right context, with a budget to match.
Of course, the other way to handle this to not make it Secret Invasion at all. If Marvel wanted to tell a spy story with Nick Fury they should have gone with something a little less big, a little less about world ending threats. Nick Fury is a human, without super-powers, who is at his best handling other spies. He should work with a small cell of agents to take out some covert gang or anther secret society. It would be like a Jack RyanStarted in 1984, the Jack Ryan series (often called the "Ryanverse") has spanned multiple books and several (loose) Hollywood adaptations. Featuring the title character, Jack Ryan, and sometimes his son, Jack Ryan Jr., these adventures tell tales of espionage, government cover-ups, and boyscout-like devotion of the good ol' U.S. of A. adventure but, you know, not shitty. Instead they managed to slap Nick Fury into an adventure that he wasn't suited to at all.
It doesn't help that the ambition of the show couldn't match its abilities. The series creator, Ali Selim, apparently wanted to show a world wide threat but all they could afford was a few sets, some nameless extras, and not much else. For a reported $200 Mil show you can barely see most of that on the screen. You get no sense of scope, of danger, of anything really. Shit just sort of muddles along for six episodes and then ends with a whimper. The story actually on screen in Secret Invasion is pathetic. It's a $200 Mil show that manages to accomplish less than an average season of Agents of SHIELD.
Which, speaking of Agents of SHIELD, why the hell does Nick Fury need an entire network of secret aliens everywhere? Isn't that the whole job of SHIELD, which was in existence for decades? Sure, Captain America: Civil War wiped SHIELD off the map (if you don't pay attention to the TV series, which most don't now), but there was a solid two decades there where we have SHIELD working to protect the Earth. Shouldn't the Skrulls be useless in that regard. Or, if they were doing their jobs properly, shouldn't they have seen HYDRA coming a mile away. This is a stupid retcon that just doesn't work.
But then very little about this show does work. The only part I really liked: Olivia Colman as Sonya Falsworth. A member of MI6, Falsworth is basically Fury's British equal. As played by Colman, she's an absolutely brilliant character. Sassy, sarcastic, and pretty fucking cut-throat, Falsworth is everything Fury needed to be in this show but, for some reason, the series decides to focus on Fury when there's a much more interesting, much more effective character sitting right over here waiting for her own adventure. This series would have been so much better if Fury went to meet Falsworth in episode one and then Colman's character was given control of the series to do things her way for five episodes while we ignored Fury entirely.
I could go on and on about how terrible this show is, but in reality it's not worth the effort. By the time the credits roll even the series has basically ignored the events that just happened. Fury, who came down to Earth from a spaceship at the start of the series, goes right back up, washing his hands of everything. The Skrulls are revealed but it's doubtful this will have any impact on the status quo going forward. Nothing that happens here seems to matter because there's just too much going on in the MCU to stop and care anymore. This show happened, and now it can be ignored. That's for the best, I think.
Is there a good show somewhere in here? No, not really. You'd basically have to scrap all of this show, rewrite it, re-shoot it, and go again to get anything watchable here. The core concept of a Secret Invasion story could work, but it had to be done as it was in the comics and not... this. Nick Fury could potentially hold his own adventure if, say, it was actually something his skills were useful for. But what we've really learned here is that Falsworth is awesome and she needs her own show. That's the show we deserve and the one we should have gotten instead of, well, this.