Similar to Nick Fury’s overdue return to Earth, Marvel’s Secret Invasion feels late to the party. Apart from a few stellar entries, Phase 4’s generally inconsistent quality led many to question whether the MCU’s peak performance had truly come and gone. That’s the general sentiment riding on Nick Fury’s tired, diminished demeanor — Earth’s mightiest hero wrangler spent the last couple years as an aged, deeply traumatized recluse. And perhaps the first two episodes of Secret Invasion examine Fury at his most intimate and nuanced, as a survivor of The Blip’s traumatic consequences.
MCU’s Secret Invasion: The First Two Episodes
First introduced in Captain Marvel (2019), the Skrulls, aka the shapeshifting alien refugees, are still searching for a new home after the opposing Kree decimated and displaced the species. Setting the ground stage, Secret Invasion follows Nick Fury’s attempt to thwart a terrorist plot — led by one Skrull rebel harboring a particular resentment. It’s a ground-level war that can’t be solved by one text to the Avengers, lest the Skrulls duplicate the most powerful beings in the universe. This is one of the more frightening, poignant premises, too: how do you squash an invasion when you don’t even know who the invaders are?
The first episode performs the proper job of establishing our key players: Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), the conflicted Skrull “traitor”; G’iah (Emilia Clarke, pronounced “Guy-uh”), a punk Skrull terrorist uncertain of her place in the war; Gravik (Kingsley Ben-Adir), the grieved leader of the Skrull rebellion; and of course, Nick Fury – who’s past actions have perpetrated this entire mess. Returning by Fury’s side is his partner and fan-favorite Maria Hill (Colbie Smulders), nailing a terrific performance as Fury’s true anchor, with layered depth to the role. These two hours offer espionage-level thrills, immediately establishing itself as serious as an HBO show with bleak content containing terrorism, torture, and PTSD.
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Unsurprisingly, Sam Jackson runs away with his character. As a string-puller behind the scenes Jackson’s rarely had the opportunity to explore Fury to this level of intimacy, but in Secret Invasion, we’re finally alone with the doors closed. We sit with him in pure silence, his pained face displaying the regret of long-forgotten skeletons smashing free of their coffins. We witness his firsthand trauma from The Blip, his inability to save humanity 100% of the time, and the uncertainty faced when unable to rely on the aid of his friends. Iron Man can’t save the day this time. Jackson doesn’t squander the moment, and how the character bounces back from the first two episodes will lead to even more consequences, I’m sure. Who knows how long we have left with Nick Fury?
What’s most satisfying is how Secret Invasion positions its cast against one another. As an audience, we’re here to watch a global war between human and alien unfold, but Secret Invasion invests just as much into the psychological battle between Fury and a group of Skrulls he once “saved” way back in the 90s. We’re presented with an examination of stakes rooted in a microcosm of betrayal, resentment, and unfulfilled promises. When the fate of humanity hinges upon the hurt feelings of a few individuals, how do you resolve it?
Quelling my biggest fear, Secret Invasion Episode 2 doesn’t waste its time delivering the promise of the premise — the invasion’s begun. Even more satisfying is how we learn to understand all sides of this war. The invasion isn’t just a throwaway plot to destroy all humans; it’s much more complicated. Gravik, and many other Skrulls, possess understandable motivations, and I can easily see Ben-Adir’s Gravik ranking high on villain tier lists. How these plans really tie into the MCU’s bigger picture paints an even more complex canvas since Phase 1.
If the impressive quality of Secret Invasion’s first two episodes is anything to go by, then MCU’s ninth Disney+ series will be a contender as one of its best. The genre-packing thrills of espionage are all present: Marvel dials up the drama and the violence, which, at times, was more brutal than one would expect from the family-centric series. Strap in for an overdue, more serious affair compared to the MCU’s more recent outings, with cliffhangers that ripple across the MCU’s ground-level team. With Secret Invasion, Fury essentially sums up my feelings about the MCU post-Endgame: “Even when I’m out, I’m in.”
Disney provided Attack of the Fanboy with an early copy for review purposes.
- This article was updated on September 7th, 2023