The MCU foray into television has been a mixed bag. Some series, like WandaVision, Loki, or Ms. Marvel caught on with niche audiences. Others, like Moon Knight, seemingly disappeared as soon as they ended. Adding TV shows to the MCU portfolio might have been a breaking point for some, accelerating the superhero fatigue that hurt some movies. At the same time, the highest quality shows continue to gain an audience, especially when they embrace other aspects of the property. Secret Invasion comes to Disney+ with the potential to be the only MCU series this year. A lot rides on Samuel L. Jackson to once again carve a path forward for the MCU.
After discovering a terrorist plot, Nick Fury (Jackson) returns to Earth. After The Blip, he began building out SWORD, but things on Earth lost control. According to Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), his people – a shapeshifting race called The Skrull – have grown restless. Stuck on Earth for decades, the Skrull have yet to find their own home. A new leader, Gravik (Kingsley Ben-Adir), has recruited frustrated Skrull to set a dangerous plan in motion. Fury, along with his allies, must stop Gravik.
Oftentimes, the MCU has spun up the PR Machine to convince audiences of its genre bonafides. Even when using genre terms like “heist” or “sci-fi opera,” the inspiration remained limited. In that sense, Secret Wars continues the tradition of appearing inspired by a genre. 1970s political thrillers like Three Days of the Condor or Marathon Man serve as light inspirations. Secret Invasion goes further than most in committing to a vision, but due to the MCU nature, it cannot entirely do so.
Despite this, Secret Invasion instantly shoots toward the top of the MCU TV series power rankings. The paranoia angle and intrigue cannot be ignored in the modern world. More than ever, we see the dissemination of misinformation and conspiracy theories. In that sense, it’s the perfect time to run with the Secret Invasion story. After all, if bad people working against the will of the people resonate with audiences, then we indeed are back in the 1970s mindset.
Perhaps most controversially, Secret Invasion gives the Skrull people a true motivation. After years of commitment to Nick Fury, who used them as spies and secret agents, the lack of results has left them in limbo. It’s hard to ignore real-world similarities to Afghan locals who helped American forces over the past two decades.
However, this speaks to a more cynical aspect of the series. While these big ideas make for compelling television, the distribution model of the MCU should make audiences suspicious. Is Secret Invasion capitalizing on the zeitgeist? Or does it have something to say about this moment? Should a project like the MCU be using a real-world tragedy as fodder for its shows?
Based on the performances, the cast feels committed to the vision of showrunner Kyle Bradstreet and director Ali Selim. Together, they weave a complicated tapestry for Jackson’s Fury, who has rarely been better. Jackson has played Nick Fury for fifteen years, but for the first time, he does not appear to hold every card close to his chest. His efforts to save and help the Skrulls in Captain Marvel impacted his life, and now those relationships have shifted. In a world after “The Blip,” even Nick Fury struggles to keep control.
Newcomers to the MCU instantly pay dividends as they infuse dynamic performances and energy into the series. Ben-Adir will be the discovery for most, but the actor earned raves for his performance in One Night in Miami. Still a relative unknown, Ben-Adir proves he has the charisma and talent to go toe-to-toe with any actor. Now he has the opportunity to shine as one of the MCU’s more reasonable villains. Olivia Colman gets to play a very big and very entertaining character. Her wit and sly humor remain, making her a valuable addition to the MCU. Emilia Clarke steps into a more conflicted and emotional role. It will be interesting to see where Secret Invasion will take the character.
The writing dives deep in the two episodes made available to critics. Bradstreet pulls out extremely personal sequences and ensures the character relationships take precedence. Moments of anger and strife between actors we’ve known for years make for beautiful moments. They also allow for genuine discourse and tragedy. As Bradstreet and the writing staff explore the personal stakes of the MCU for Nick Fury, they also open doors to discussion about race in government, the power of broken promises, and trust in authority.
In all, Secret Invasion has the chance to tell the most personal story of the MCU to date. This bodes well for the MCU on streaming, as the tv side needs a win. However, Secret Invasion is still at a dangerous point. If the series cannot capitalize on the opportunity, fans will continue to get restless. If it becomes another Andor-level hit, it will go a long way to quelling the nerves of comic book fans.