Film and TV

Secret Invasion Has the Great Samuel L. Jackson, but is a Bit of a Slog

Samuel L. Jackson in Secret Invasion.
Samuel L. Jackson in Secret Invasion. Screenshot

Secret Invasion is the first Marvel Disney + show in phase 5 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It's also the first series to feature Samuel L. Jackson as the focus of a project after being involved since the MCU’s start, helping build the massive world of movies Marvel has presented.

Trying to bring a formula to TV that worked so well in the movies (up until recently, at least) has been a struggle. The Marvel television shows have been mostly a mixed bag, with most series being either forgettable or promising with interesting ideas with bad final acts (Loki has been the only show that has been genuinely great throughout).

In comes Secret Invasion, tasked as connective tissue to one of the lowest-rated MCF films in Captain Marvel, and sets the stage for what's to come on Disney+ and in theaters while also trying to be a compelling cold war styled spy thriller — which is a lot to do. Despite the level of talent involved with the show and its genre leanings, it still suffers from the same problems as other Marvel TV series and has just generally been kind of boring.

Secret Invasion follows Jackson as Nick Fury, the former director of S.H.I.E.L.D. who has returned to Earth. Fury hasn't been in the middle of the action in quite awhile, spending his time building up the S.A.B.E.R. Space Station, a super advanced space defense system.

Now he's back but has clearly lost a step. His character has this “man out of time” or “I'm too old for this” aura that everyone he meets reminds us that he isn't the “old Fury.” It’s probably not great if you have lost a step when you are involved in the high-stakes world of spy work, especially when you are dealing with a race of shape-shifting aliens called the Skrulls that have the ability to become anyone on Earth, infiltrate any institution, and wreak havoc at a moment’s notice. Fury has to deal with a rebellious faction of Skrulls and prevent them from taking over the planet while getting his groove back.

The premiere episode sets a darker tone than what we are used to with an MCU property and genuinely shows it had some potential to be pretty good. However, all the momentum that it builds comes to a screeching halt because it has to explain so much backstory to set up the new story. To truly be invested in the show, you have to have seen 2018’s Captain Marvel and be familiar with the origins of the Skrulls in the MCU. You also have to know that Nick Fury has been off the planet for years and everything that took place with 1. The Snap, and 2. The Blip. The show has to take you deeper into Fury's history, his relationship with the Skrulls, and everything he has endured since Avengers: Endgame.

Some action sequences and chase scenes in the first episode are pretty good, but they are bogged down by what is essentially homework in the form of expositional dumps that slow the show down to a halt. It's not just the information overload but the show’s insistence that it all matters so much. If something is compelling, then it is compelling, and you don't need to keep selling the fact that it's important.

The threat that Fury is up against seems small scale despite the enemy he is fighting being the ultimate. spies and infiltrators. The bombing that Gravik (Ben Kingsley-Adir) orchestrates in the first episode feels small but is somewhat effective in showing us that he and his cohort of Skrulls are serious. Kingsley-Adir, in some ways, carries the show when its main star isn't on screen. Gravik is a good villain despite some of the shortcomings of the show. The museum scene where Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) confronts Gravik is good and perfectly encapsulates what the show wants to do with its superhero-spy storytelling but doesn't consistently pull off.

The best thing about the series is seeing Samuel L. Jackson in the spotlight in a Marvel project for the first time. Even when things don’t work, whether with the writing or his performance, it's still Samuel L. Jackson, and he commands a kind of attention that if he weren't there, it would be easy to turn the show right off. The rest of the cast is filled with legitimately amazing actors like Oscar winner Olivia Colman, Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke, Ben Mendelsohn, and Kingsley-Adir. The cast and what the show was promised as a Cold War spy thriller and its conceit was interesting and made it worth keeping an eye on, but it's been disappointing.

The third episode was pretty good and the best yet, so there is a chance that the final three episodes will be able to deliver a solid show, but it shouldn't take three episodes to get interesting. Maybe the show’s stakes will actually feel like stakes making it a serviceable action thriller, but that remains to be seen. Secret Invasion is the first Marvel show of the MCU’s fifth phase, continuing the trend of increased fatigue in the Marvel formula. The show might be just good enough for die-hards to parse over lore and possibilities about what's to come in the future of the MCU, but casual fans and those who have felt the drop off in quality for a while might find it a chore to get through.

Secret Invasion is streaming now on Disney+
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Contributor Jamil David is a native Houstonian and Texas Southern University alumnus. He is interested in TV, sports and pop culture. @JMLJMLD
Contact: Jamil David