Samuel L. Jackson’s return to the MCU as Nick Fury is more espionage thriller than super-heroics.
PLOT: Set in the present-day MCU, Nick Fury learns of a clandestine invasion of Earth by a faction of shapeshifting Skrulls. Fury joins his allies, including Everett Ross, Maria Hill, and the Skrull Talos, who has made a life for himself on Earth. Together they race against time to thwart an imminent Skrull invasion and save humanity.
REVIEW: Phase Five of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has gotten off to a rocky start. While the box office results for Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 have been good, the critical acclaim that Marvel Studios has become synonymous with has lost some of its luster in the eyes of many fans. The first Disney+ series of the current phase of the MCU brings back many characters and plot elements from the films leading up to Avengers: Endgame and attempts to set the stage for a new wave of heroes and villains. It all comes under the leadership of Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury in a six-episode limited series. Having seen the first two chapters, Secret Invasion is definitely closer in tone to Captain America: The Winter Soldier and works as an espionage thriller more than a large-scale blockbuster action movie.
Secret Invasion is a direct continuation of plot elements from Captain Marvel and reintroduces us to Talos, the Skrull leader played by Ben Mendelsohn. While only the first two episodes of Secret Invasion were made available for this review, there is a definite distinction between this series and anything else we have seen in the MCU. I have said that often in my reviews of Marvel Studios projects, but Secret Invasion really is not a superhero project in the sense we have become accustomed to. There is a much more mature angle to the storytelling, focusing on the human characters we have seen over the last fifteen years. Aside from the Skrulls, there is no superhero on screen in these opening chapters, as even Don Cheadle’s appearance is without his War Machine armor. There are references to Carol Danvers, The Avengers, and other MCU characters. Still, this tale is truly about Nick Fury’s relationship with the Skrull people after the end of Captain Marvel.
The series quickly explains that after the Skrull people failed to find a new homeworld, there was a schism between those who followed Talos and those who follow Gravik (Kingsley Ben-Adir). Gravik wants to infiltrate Earth and take it over for the Skrulls. When Fury learns of this from Talos and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), he returns to Earth after spending the majority of the post-Blip years aboard the S.W.O.R.D. space station, S.A.B.E.R. Talos informs Fury that he needs his friend’s help to stop Gravik and rescue his daughter, Gi’ah (Emilia Clarke) who has sided with Gravik. Fury enlists the few remaining friends, including British MI6 agent Sonya Falsworth (Olivia Colman), to convince the world that the Skrull rebellion is among them. What follows over the opening episodes is a lot of detective work and some chase scenes through Moscow that lead to events that could bring the planet to the edge of World War III. Without spoiling any of the plot details in these episodes, I can say that I was left with some theories as to where this series is headed. They include a major adversary connected to the Skrulls from the pages of Marvel Comics.
While we have seen Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury many times before, this character iteration is much different than the last time we saw him. Fury has been changed by the events of Thanos’ snap and his time with the Skrull people, which we see in de-aged flashbacks set in the late 1990s. This new Fury is not as buttoned up as before, and his age is beginning to show. Jackson is in more of these two episodes than most of his total MCU screen time. The legendary actor does not disappoint, spouting some memorable lines that will become instant quotes after this series debuts. Ben Mendelsohn is also quite good, getting to explore more of who Talos is than he did in Captain Marvel. Olivia Colman is spectacular as the brutally efficient Falsworth, while Emilia Clarke is far different than I expected her to be. Gi’ah is a grittier character than Clarke has played in her career and works well opposite Kingsley Ben-Adir. Gravik is a menacing and dangerous character and Kingsley Ben-Adir makes him a solid antagonist with a bone to pick with Nick Fury. While we do see appearances from Martin Freeman as Everett Ross and Don Cheadle as Rhodey, their inclusion is minor compared to the rest of the cast.
With all six episodes directed by veteran television, documentary, and commercial filmmaker Ali Selim, Secret Invasion has a different feel from other MCU productions. While The Falcon and the Winter Soldier series carried a similar visual palette as this, Secret Invasion‘s story feels more immediate and less cinematic. There are a couple of bigger set-pieces in the first episodes that would have fit into a big-screen MCU endeavor, but overall most of this story is in backrooms and interiors, lending it a more confined feel akin to Selim’s inspiration, The Third Man and FX series The Americans. Series creator Kyle Bradstreet (Mr. Robot) worked with a small writing team that includes Brian Tucker and Roxanne Paredes, who lay on the spy and Western inspiration delicately while making this feel like a natural extension of the MCU. There are some substantial teases hidden in the opening episodes that tease a fairly super Skrull reveal coming before the end of this show that I expect will excite some hardcore Marvel fans (Hint: See what I did there?)
With a weekly episode drop, Secret Invasion will frustrate viewers who will only be watching one hour at a time. The first episode ends with a big moment for the MCU, and the second will keep fans of Nick Fury waiting for a week to find out more. But, narratively, neither episode really stands out as a solid viewing experience on its own. With Kevin Feige and the creative teams on these Disney+ series often comparing them to extended feature films, the episodes I have seen feel like part of a movie rather than self-contained episodes. I will have a better impression of Secret Invasion in a month and a half once I have seen the entire tale from beginning to end, but there is enough here to keep me intrigued to see where this is going. Hopefully, Secret Invasion will be a turning point for the Marvel Cinematic Universe as these opening episodes are more mature and well-structured than many of their films and series in recent years.
Secret Invasion premiers on June 21st on Disney+.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/secret-invasion-tv-review/