Episode 1 of Secret Invasion gets the show off to a promising start, mostly thanks to a brilliant performance from Samuel L. Jackson.
If I had to describe episode 1 of Secret Invasion in one word, it would be “intriguing”. In the fifteen years since its inception, we’ve never seen the Marvel Cinematic Universe quite like this. There’s no costumed vigilante parading the streets, fighting an equally ridiculous Skeletor-esque bad guy. What there is instead is something far more, for a lack of a better word, mature. Secret Invasion ditches the superheroes and replaces them with super spies. It ditches the costumed villains and replaces them with shapeshifters, who mostly look exactly like your average, everyday civilian. If anything, this makes for a far more sinister and terrifying threat than we’ve ever seen in the MCU before, because is there anything truly as terrifying as not being able to trust those closest to you?
The series opens with one of my favourite sequences from the first episode. Long-time recurring character Agent Ross (Martin Freeman) meets with Agent Prescod (Richard Dormer), who believes that the world is being overrun by the Skrulls, shapeshifting aliens who we formerly believed were good guys, taking refuge in Earth after the events of prior films. Prescod, however, thinks that the Skrulls are planning a large-scale takeover, using their abilities to their advantage to invade and destroy. I adore the manic energy that permeates this first scene, with Dormer revelling in the over-the-top nature of his conspiracy theorist character. It immediately sets the stage for something different than what we’re used to. This isn’t an action film, no: this is a spy thriller, through and through.
Upon realising that this Skrull invasion isn’t just a myth started by an agent with too much time on his hands, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) promptly arrives on Earth, having previously disappeared following the events of Avengers: Endgame (2019). Jackson’s performance here is easily the highlight of the entire premiere; he’s one of the few actors who can deliver those classic MCU quips whilst also giving a genuinely great, often quietly powerful performance. Fury is no longer the man he once was, now seemingly scarred by the simple fact that he was beaten. It sets up a really nice personal arc for the character, that if handled correctly, could result in one of the best performances and storylines we’ve ever seen in this universe.
There’s plenty of new additions to the universe’s ever-growing cast of characters as well here. Two of the biggest names are Olivia Colman as a high-ranking MI6 agent, and Emilia Clarke as a younger, rebellious Skrull. Out of the two, I found myself liking Colman’s performance more, with her banter with Jackson being potentially the high point of the entire episode. She’s not exactly a protagonist or an antagonist, and her character already seems to be one of the most interesting ones in the series, with a rather unique moral code that gets me excited about what she could do in the rest of the show. As for Clarke, whilst I like the premise for her character on paper, I have to admit that I’m not overly enamoured by her performance, with it currently lacking the emotional core for me that I think it desperately needs.
Despite all my praise, it must be said though that there are a few early warning signs present in this episode that do get me somewhat worried about the rest of the series. For one, I think there’s a bit too much of the MCU’s classic writing style present here. Whilst Jackson can handle the quips well, a lot of them, especially those given to other characters, can often feel like interruptions to whatever’s going on. Often, the jokes themselves aren’t even particularly bad, it’s just the placement of them that makes them feel awkward or frustrating.
An even bigger issue I have with the show is the annoying fact that despite being the big villains of the show, I just don’t think the Skrulls are that interesting so far. They unfortunately often feel like stock characters, lacking anything to make them all that interesting despite a brilliant initial concept. This is obviously an issue that could be remedied down the line, but as of right now, they lack personality, screen presence and any interesting motivations or even any kind of terrifying end goal. It’s all a bit too generic and vague, resulting in the scenes devoted to them just being boring and further slowing down an already slow show.
Then, there’s the issue of the opening title sequence, which is made by artificial intelligence. Now, I don’t want to turn this review into a rant about why A.I. is bad and this sets a dangerous and concerning precedent, but it should also be stated just how bad these opening credits look. The actual art on display just looks gross and untidy, and so, as a whole, the opening sequence just feels like an endurance test, seeing how long you can last before you rush to the skip button. It’s a frankly appalling move from Marvel, and one that I hope they’ll never repeat. Perhaps their intention was to create an opening that feels ripped straight out of the uncanny valley, but there are so many artists out there needing jobs who could have done that same thing but better, and far more creatively.
Episode 1 of Secret Invasion definitely has promise. It sets up a potentially brilliant storyline for one of the MCU’s longest-standing characters, takes the cinematic universe to an exciting new place, and sets the stage for a mature, dark thriller that could end up ranking among the best Disney+ shows of all time. I definitely have plenty of issues with it, but as a whole, I finished it wanting more, which hasn’t been the case for most of the other MCU series we’ve gotten, so it’s obviously doing something right.
Episode 1 of Secret Invasion is now available to watch on Disney Plus.