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Secret Invasion brings the MCU down to Earth with a good old-fashioned alien conspiracy

Samuel L. Jackson and Olivia Colman shine in Marvel’s new Disney Plus show, which feels more like a souped-up Agents of SHIELD TV event than a proper spy thriller.

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A bearded man with a clody, scarred eye wearing a very smart peacoat, beanie, and glasses as he ducks out from between columns.
Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury.
Image: Marvel Studios

For quite some time now, Marvel’s cinematic universe has been littered with a handful of rather major loose threads (like that hand jutting out of Earth) that the studio seemed intent on glossing over in favor of marching into its next phase of high-flying superheroic storytelling. Disney Plus’ new Secret Invasion series from creator Kyle Bradstreet often feels like it wants you to understand how much groundwork it’s laying for the rest of Marvel’s Phase Five, but it does so by digging deep into the franchise’s past and giving Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury the spotlight he’s always deserved.

Rather than bringing Nick Fury back down to Earth to deal with a wholly new threat, Secret Invasion revolves around one of the most fascinating questions left unanswered by 2019’s Captain Marvel: whatever became of the Skrull refugees? When last we saw them in Captain Marvel, the Skrulls were a relatively small group of survivors hiding in Earth’s orbit, trying to regroup after almost being wiped out by the Kree. The alien beings have largely gone unmentioned in Marvel’s movies and shows since. But in the two episodes provided to press, Secret Invasion makes it clear that the Skrulls and their plight have been some of the only things that’ve truly haunted Fury in his decades-long career as a super spy — so much so that they’re a big part of why he’s been MIA since Avengers: Endgame.

We’ve known for some time that Nick Fury was off in space hiding out working on something in the Avengers’ post-Thanos absence, and Secret Invasion does tease out some of what that secret something is. But the real thrust of the show is how, after everything that he’s been through as the founder of the Avengers, the head of SHIELD, and a superhero in his own right, there are still things that keep Nick Fury up at night — things that he isn’t genuinely certain anyone is ready to handle.

Image: Marvel Studios

Similar to Falcon and The Winter Soldier before it, Secret Invasion’s central story is something of a politically charged thriller that paints its heroes and villains in muted shades of gray in order to encourage you to see how both sides of a conflict see themselves as being fundamentally in the right. After years of dutifully using their shapeshifting abilities to protect and aid Fury in his quest to maintain relative stability on Earth, Skrull revolutionaries like Gravik (Kingsley Ben-Adir) and G’iah (Emilia Clarke) have every reason to feel betrayed by Fury for not making good on his word to find them a new habitable planet to make their own. Seeing humans treat each other and the Earth the way they do, it’s easy for Gravik and G’iah to view the planet as something they should simply take for themselves, especially at a time when the Avengers seemingly no longer exist.

Colman and Jackson’s performances are excellent but feel almost out of place

Secret Invasion doesn’t exactly kick off with the elegance of the finely tuned conspiracy thriller it clearly wants to be, as it brings familiar characters like Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) back into the picture just to illustrate how people aren’t always who they appear to be when there’s Skrulls around. Somewhat similar to the way Marvel’s last big spy-focused project felt curiously late to the party, there’s a pointed sense of tardiness running through Secret Invasion that’s emphasized whenever the series stops to explain how easy it would be for Skrulls to infiltrate human spaces by pretending to be people that we know.

Had this concept been teased out elsewhere within the MCU, it would likely carry more weight here. Instead, though, Secret Invasion often feels like the product of Marvel suddenly remembering the Skrulls and retroactively trying to make this story feel like the natural progression of Nick Fury’s larger arc.

Image: Marvel Studios

To his credit, Jackson is solid as an older, more world-weary take of Fury, who feels like one of the few examples of a Marvel character who genuinely reads like someone who’s Been Through Some Shit. But aside from MI6 agent Sonya Falsworth (Olivia Colman), few of Secret Invasion’s characters are written with much panache, which has a way of making her and Jackson’s performances feel almost out of place.

Two episodes in, it’s hard to tell just how much heat Secret Invasion’s really cooking with because it does seem to be angling itself to be something of a slow burn with more surprising twists built in on the back end. It would be more than lovely to see those twists come at the end of a narrative that actually shows us — rather than tells us — just what all is at stake and how these characters are evolving in real time. But Secret Invasion also feels like exactly the sort of Marvel project that could end up falling into the trap of being too focused on previewing what’s coming next when what it really needs is to just work as a self-contained story.

Secret Invasion also stars Don Cheadle, Dermot Mulroney, Richard Dormer, and Charlayne Woodard. The show hits Disney Plus on June 21st.