Disney Plus subscribers could be forgiven for not realizing that Marvel’s newest series, Secret Invasion, is coming out on June 21st. By all accounts, Disney’s marketing push on this show has been decidedly more muted than previous efforts, and judging by the first two episodes, there may be a reason behind keeping this one quieter than others.

Ostensibly billed as something akin to a spy thriller, Secret Invasion fails to capture the high stakes and palpable tension of the genre. What is left is a passable if underwhelming attempt at adapting one of Marvel’s most famous comic book storylines, one that spanned multiple titles and built its story up over a significant amount of time.


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The fact that the comic books benefitted from a longer timeline may be what makes this show feel truncated, if the first two episodes watched for this review are anything to go by. The opening minutes are laden with clunkily delivered exposition with no flair or urgency to it. Punctuating this is a less-than-impressive chase through the streets of Moscow, culminating in the show’s unsurprising first reveal.

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Longtime Marvel fans may be pleased with the return of Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, as well as Cobie Smulders playing Maria Hill, but they may lose some of that enthusiasm once the characters find their way into the plot. Jackson has always played Fury as a role that was specifically designed for him, but here it almost feels like he has forgotten exactly how much of himself to inject into the character. This time out, there seems to be something haunting Fury, a secret trauma that he won’t reveal to Hill or a returning Talos (Ben Mendelsohn). There are some brief hints in the opening episodes that more will be revealed, but Jackson never seems to carry the weight of this trauma in the majority of his scenes.

Secret Invasion finds Fury, Hill, and Talos going up against the Skrulls as a growing faction of the shapeshifting aliens plots a takeover of Earth. New additions to the MCU include Kingsley Ben-Adir and Emilia Clarke (whose role has been the source of much speculation) as Skrulls, with the former playing the villainous Gravik, whose ambition to rid the world of humans and make it a new Skrull homeworld even seems to be too much for some of his kind. Ben-Adir is a highlight, even if Gravik comes off as two-dimensional. He has clear motivations for his mission, and the performance fits the writing, but for someone who seemingly only wants what is best for his people, Gravik is just a bit too plainly evil.

Clarke’s role as G’iah, a soldier in Gravik’s army is a bit more complicated, and without giving too much away about the nature of her character, she is marked by internal conflict. Clarke handles the material fairly well, but within the first two episodes isn’t given anything all that challenging to work with.

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Though they aren’t featured quite as much as the other characters, Olivia Colman’s Sonya and Don Cheadle’s returning James Rhodes are highlights. Colman seems to be having a great time (even if she was dismayed not to meet any superheroes in her Marvel role). She brings an enjoyably bubbly energy to her scenes, whether they involve a friendly conversation or an enhanced interrogation that actually gets pretty brutal. Cheadle’s Rhodey hasn’t changed much, in that he still approaches most situations with a weary, “do I really have to deal with this?” attitude.

Despite the capable performers and the beloved source material, though, Secret Invasion just never quite finds its legs in its first two hours. There are pops of sharp writing, such as a conversation between Fury and Rhodey that touches on the challenges of navigating geopolitics and elite society as a Black man. However, the bulk of the show mostly feels like Marvel playing at the spy genre rather than actually making something of substance. Those who wanted Secret Invasion to be Marvel’s Andor will likely be disappointed.

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Compared to Marvel’s other Disney Plus shows, Secret Invasion has a distinct lack of style. This is closer to Falcon and the Winter Soldier than Loki, with most of the action taking place in non-descript locales standing in for international cities. In fact, a climactic scene taking place in Moscow almost looks like it was shot in the same place as Falcon and the Winter Soldier‘s most infamous scene involving a murder by shield. Ali Selim, who directed both episodes, has worked on television spy thrillers like The Looming Tower and Condor, but doesn’t wring much tension out of any of the scenes here.

As with any Marvel project, there are small easter eggs pointing to something big to come in later episodes, but the introduction to Secret Invasion is mostly disappointing. There isn’t much here, besides what seems to be a considerably smaller budget, to really make the show stand out as something radically different from the rest of Marvel’s output. There could be more surprises down the line, perhaps some shocking reveals or unexpected turns, but as it is right now, Secret Invasion is a flat if at the very least competent entry into the still-expanding MCU canon. Much like the Skrulls at the center of its story, viewers may be hoping for the show to turn into something else as it goes on.

Secret Invasion premieres June 21st on Disney Plus.

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