The World’s Worst-Kept ‘Secret’

Marvel’s ‘Secret Invasion’ is just low-key bad

Secret Invasion is one of those massive Marvel Comics crossover events that happens every couple of years or so. In the books, it was an epic intergalactic melodrama about the evil shapeshifting alien Skrulls kidnapping various super-people, disguising themselves, and threatening humanity with apocalypse. The TV ‘Secret Invasion,’ on the other hand, postures itself as a gritty low-key spy thriller about immigrant rights. This may be because half the characters in the comics Secret Invasion don’t even exist yet in the MCU, and also because a direct adaptation of the Secret Invasion comics would be expensive to make. So instead, we have this watered-down mediocrity masquerading as gritty, high-end TV .

Samuel L. Jackson returns to the MCU as Nick Fury, the former organizer of Avengers. He beams down to Earth from outer space, where he’s been overseeing some sort of defense system. The Skrulls have begun a Secret Invasion that’s so secret everyone knows about it. He reunites with his old S.H.I.E.L.D comrade Maria Hill, played by Cobie Smulders, and his old Skrull comrade Talus, played by Ben Mendelsohn. Olivia Colman also shows up early. Though we haven’t seen her before, she’s a British spymaster who lives in a mansion in Moscow, and Samuel L. Jackson seems very familiar with her.

Apparently, the Skrulls, who are green and have pointy elf ears, live in abandoned Russian nuclear plants because they’re immune to radiation, and also because their arch-rival species, the Kree, destroyed their homeworld. They have just now decided to enact a plot to plunge Earth into World War III so they can take Earth as their own. This all seems very high-stakes, but the Skrulls are so boring that it doesn’t matter. Emilia Clarke, who cannot win an acting Olympics against Samuel Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, and Olivia Colman, plays Talus’s daughter, a Skrull “soldier” with divided loyalties, and her bland performance divides our loyalties as well, mostly against her.

Secret Invasion was fun in the comics and in various Marvel cartoon shows because there was tension about superheroes actually being Skrulls. “Oh no! Captain America is actually a Skrull?” That’s as far as the intrigue went. ‘Secret Invasion’, on the other hand, is posing itself as one of the “serious” Marvel properties, with the publicity line that it’s a Marvel version of a 1970s political thriller like Three Days of the Condor or The Parallax View, or a Jason Bourne movie with shapeshifting aliens and spaceships.

And, I suppose, with its “MOSCOW Present Day” title cards and its street chase scenes and semi-realistic-looking explosions and gunshot wounds, it can make that claim a little bit. But ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ still featured Cap fighting Batroc The Leaper. ‘The Falcon And The Winter Soldier’ had, as counterpoints,  Julia Louis-Dreyfus cracking wise and Wyatt Russell’s funny and charismatic anti-hero turn as John Walker, “U.S. Agent.” It took itself seriously, but not too seriously.

‘Secret Invasion,’ on the other hand, wants us to hone in, hard, on Nick Fury’s trauma from “The Blip” and on Talus’s Skrull family problems. Jackson and Mendelsohn are two of the best actors alive, but the show saddles them with a lot of “Welcome back to Earth, Fury” and “one last fight” dialogue.  They’re calling this the ‘Andor’ of the Marvel Universe, but Andor was a unique show powered by a singular creative vision set in an infinitely expanding universe. Secret Invasion’s shallow depth and self-seriousness are themselves a shapeshifting disguise for a limp corporate product.

There’s been much tsuris online about the opening credits of Secret Invasion, which Marvel produced using AI software. But the problem is that the scripts are so cliché-packed that AI could almost have written them as well. It feels like a show written, produced, and performed by machines, for an exhausted audience mainlining Cinematic Universe content like it’s on an IV drip. There’s barely a laugh or a wink or a thrill to be found. Maybe the show has a surprise or two to come. But I have a feeling we’ve already seen most of its secrets.


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Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of 12 semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer for both film and television, Neal has written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

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