It’s been a pretty uneven year so far for Marvel Studios. Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania didn’t exactly live up to everyone’s expectations meanwhile James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 surprised fans and critics alike by arguably being the strongest project the studio has released since the conclusion of Phase 3. So, needless to say, there’s a lot riding on the reception of Secret Invasion, the latest and ninth Disney+ original MCU series, for setting the tone going forward for the remainder of the franchise’s 2023 slate.
When Secret Invasion was first announced nearly three years ago fans rejoiced, not only because Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury would finally be returning to the screen in a major way but also due to the fact that the miniseries would be adapting a well-known Marvel comics storyline. Of course, ever since people got wind that Skrulls were making their Marvel Cinematic Universe debut in 2019’s Captain Marvel, it was suspected that this conflict would eventually take place. However, no one was really expecting it to take place on Disney+ as a limited series rather than on the big screen. The plot of the famous comic run of the same name follows shape-shifting villainous Skrulls who have infiltrated various teams and replaced select heroes in order to better lay the foundation for their arrival and subsequent invasion of Earth.
Taking place in the present-day MCU, Secret Invasion on Disney+ is quite different. In many ways, this adaptation is more nuanced than its comic counterpart, offering compelling insight as to why the Skrulls have now decided to invade. It’s also not as fast-paced as the original story, which escalates very quickly between the Marvel heroes and the Skrulls. The first two episodes of Secret Invasion establish what’s at stake for all the players involved in this Skrull infiltration. The show also briefly starts to hint at the grander schemes these rogue shapeshifters have planned. Samuel L. Jackson finally returns as Nick Fury, having been on a hiatus since Spider-Man: Far From Home, as does Ben Mendelsohn as the friendly Skrull Talos, Martin Freeman as Everett K. Ross, recently seen in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill, and Don Cheadle as James “Rhodey” Rhodes.
Based on the trailers alone, fans have been comparing the political thriller and espionage aspects of Secret Invasion to one of the MCU’s crown jewels, Captain America and the Winter Soldier. Although it’s too soon to speak to the accuracy of that comparison, it is true that the show’s primary strength is how grounded it feels even when having stakes that are sky-high. Director Ali Selim allows scenes to breathe and builds ample atmospheric tension while creator/showrunner Kyle Bradstreet gives the cast a lot of fun material to chew on in the scripts.
Secret Invasion has something that has been sorely lacking in a lot of the Disney+ Marvel series, a good balance of style and genuine wit. Watching Samuel L. Jackson share scenes with the great Olivia Colman as Sonya Falsworth – a former ally and high-ranking MI6 agent working to undermine the imminent Skrull invasion separately from Fury and his team – is a huge highlight from these first two episodes. The pair trade witty barbs like expert duelists, and their dynamic really makes you appreciate what specific flavors each actor brings to the table. Jackson is clearly having the most fun he’s ever had playing Nick Fury, with dialogue that feels tailored to both him and his character. At the same time, Colman is a delightful scene-stealer that could likely walk away as one of the most memorable new faces of this show.
Olivia Coleman isn’t alone in this regard, however, as Secret Invasion introduces a lot of new foes and allies to the franchise, many of who are so immediately captivating that it’s hard not to hope that they stick around after this limited series ends. Game of Thrones and Solo: A Star Wars Story star Emilia Clarke brings a lot of heart and compassion to G’iah, Talos’ estranged daughter, as well as a bit of edge as she harbors greatly resents Fury and her father. Fury for not keeping his promise to establish a new home for the Skrulls following the events of Captain Marvel, and her father for not being as upset as she is.
Kingsley Ben-Adir’s Gravik is just as upset as she is though, and he is spearheading the renegade Skrull faction and its clandestine invasion of Earth. The One Night in Miami and future Barbie star has a very brooding and intimidating presence as Gravik, even holding his own opposite Samuel L. Jackson. Gravik as an antagonistic force is efficient and ruthless, seeing no shades of grey in his world, only black and white – you’re either his ally or his enemy and you would definitely prefer to be the former. There is still much of his own story to be revealed in the remaining four episodes of Secret Invasion, but what’s revealed in these first few is more than enough to become thoroughly invested in this exciting new villain.
Even if Secret Invasion is off to a strong start, this latest Marvel series is not without its faults. Many of the political sentiments that are layered within Secret Invasion echo back to the ones explored in The Falcon and the Winter Solider. The only issue being, of course, that they were not given much depth or explored particularly well in that show. This definitely a bit worrying, but considering we’ve yet to see which direction the story at large will take, it’s worth giving Secret Invasion the benefit of the doubt.
Another concerning element is that Secret Invasion is indeed only six episodes. Though each episode’s runtime rounds out to about an hour in length, there is seemingly still so much ground to cover. You can’t help but think if, like most of the Disney+ MCU shows that came before it, Secret Invasion will rush towards its conclusion and won’t manage to stick the landing. Hopefully, this won’t be the case and this series will have a satisfying enough conclusion that properly positions Nick Fury for his appearance in The Marvels later this year. In order for this to happen, the scripts of the remaining four episodes will need to be very intentional and focused. It would be a much-welcomed surprise for dedicated Marvel fans that’s for sure.
As it stands within its first two episodes, Secret Invasion is a much-needed breath of fresh air for the Marvel Cinematic Universe right now. This honestly feels engaging in a way a lot of the more recent MCU projects haven’t been. If the miniseries keeps going on its current trajectory, it wouldn’t be inconceivable that it becomes a new Disney+ fan favorite alongside Loki and Wandavision. Let’s see if Marvel Studios can keep its momentum and make 2023 a year to remember.