Gaming Editor Louis Wright reviews Marvel’s most recent and exceedingly disappointing addition to its universe: Secret Invasion.
In the endless cavalcade of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s output there is a marked range of quality. From the peaks of Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) to the troughs of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023) there has always been some intention for the works and where they fit into the wider universe. Even seemingly disconnected entries like the guilty pleasure that is She-Hulk (2022) have a defined place in the scale and timeline of the overarching narrative Marvel Studios is presenting. It is surprising then that the, supposedly, defining show of legacy character Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) Secret Invasion (2023) is so uncertain in its place in the MCU.
As a concept, Secret Invasion should work. Political thrillers have worked in the MCU before, and one that takes the concept of being unable to trust anyone based on the fact that they could be a shapeshifting alien terrorist easily creates an environment of suspense. However this concept is not taken full advantage of until the literal final five minutes of the show’s runtime.
Because the showrunners are so unconfident in taking a stance on where and when certain characters are replaced by their doppelgangers in the larger universe of media, it is blindingly obvious who can be trusted and who is dubious. Where a clear timeline of key events being slowly unveiled would benefit the show in muddying the waters of trust, this is never done making characters and motivations confusing at best. Ironically while the show should be making the lines of trust blurred, they are clearly drawn in the sand.
This is not to mention the depth of resources at the show’s disposal to manufacture this atmosphere. At an eye-wateringly mammoth budget of $212 million for six episodes, there is a definite wonder on where the money for this show went. Comparably, the recent Oppenheimer (2023), which is a film that dips its toes in a similar atmosphere of mistrust and suspense, has a budget of a “mere” $100 million for a comparable total runtime.
The CGI does not appear to meet the quality that this level of investment suggests. The direction is often poor. Environments and set designs are usually bland and repetitive. Nothing that this show presents drives home a particular level of care and quality that would have been expected of the MCU, even just a couple of years ago.
While review-wise Secret Invasion trends poorly, that is not to say it is without redemption.
The first two episodes find themselves enjoyable and tonally accurate, acting as an effective set-up for what was, supposedly, to come. Specifically these episodes explore the complex relationship between Nick Fury and Talos (Ben Mendelsohn). By adding nuance to their pre-existing dynamic and deepening motives and beliefs to their characters provided the needed development necessary for the series to hit its mark.
New characters are also entertaining additions to the universe. Sonya Falsworth (Olivia Colman) captures a brilliant mix of an intelligent and effective MI6 agent and a crazed and unhinged serial killer. In a show that is meant to be about the blurred lines of trust in the world of superhero-fuelled espionage, a character as unpredictable and potentially chaotic as her is a refreshing addition.
Secret Invasion, while as consistently disappointing as the rest of the MCU’s recent output that is smearing itself across the face of genuinely good content, has some glimmers of hope. It is a shame that content that could have been the gold standard of Marvel Studios is wrapped up within layers of slop stemming from the pipe of nonchalance. A clearer vision and direction for the show’s place would have served it well, but as it stands it rarely hits past the levels of being anywhere from mildly disappointing to downright horrid.
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