I know – I know because I wake up with the same thought in my head every morning: what did happen to the Skrull refugees who survived the Kree and were tucked away somewhere in Earth’s orbit awaiting a better day at the end of Captain Marvel? After all, it’s 30 years (for them, four for us) since lady superhero Carol Danvers’ time in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was deemed to have come.
Well, wonder no more, my friends. The ninth/10th/ 11th/12th-ish television show in the MCU, depending on how you count these things, has arrived on Disney+ to explain everything. Or most things. Or some things and then shapeshift away into a variety of other possible answers, too. You know what they’re like.
Anyway. The new six-part series, Secret Invasion, has a grizzled Samuel L Jackson return as present-day Nick Fury, who is summoned back from his recuperative stint at Saber – an intergalactic space headquarters to you, a virtual spa for the head of Shield – to deal with growing unrest among said Skrulls.
Talos (Ben Mendelsohn, whose strange growl of a voice should get separate billing) regretfully informs him that his fellow Skrulls are fed up waiting. Some of them settled on Earth after Fury promised them that, in return for helping him keep the peace on our little blue marble, he would help them find a habitable planet of their own. Led by a charismatic, ruthless figure named Gravik (Kingsley Ben-Adir), they have decided that Earth will do fine as that habitable planet and are about to embark on a brutal campaign to make it so. Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke plays G’iah, a Skrull agent with a secret.
For those whose overwhelming sensation when watching any MCU instalment is the urge to shout “Settle! Settle!” at the frenetic screen, Secret Invasion is a fine case of needing to be careful what you wish for. Yes, there are some glorious scenes between Olivia Colman, as the professionally sociopathic MI6 agent Sonya Falsworth, and Samuel L Jackson, reminding us that brilliant actors elevate basic material and each other in ways that are always worth watching. And yes, there are some well-executed, if visually uninspiring, set pieces here and there.
The first episode centres on a dirty bomb detonated in Moscow by the Skrull resistance/terrorists/freedom fighters, posing as Americans and implicating Fury and his deputy, Maria Hill, in the hope that Russia retaliates and the resulting war destroys us humans and leaves the place free (and in tip-top shape for the radiation-immune Skrulls) for new tenants. But, because the Skrulls have infiltrated the highest levels of global government, the rest is firmly set in conspiracy and political thriller territory that is … not very thrilling.
There are car chases through dark streets, people chasing after backpacks or being bundled into vans, scenes entirely composed of exposition – usually about the Skrulls’ resentment of Fury, or the aliens’ plans to take over the Earth by (I don’t know if you’ve heard?) kicking off a war between the US and Russia to leave the path clear for the Skrull takeover because (I don’t know if you’ve heard?) they are furious at Fury for not fulfilling his promise after 30 years of waiting.
The script is no more than serviceable. After the admittedly unexpected killing of one character, the deceased’s mother (Juliet Stevenson, in what looks to be a role so small it reminds you of Brando turning up to do his 10 seconds as Jor-El in the original Superman) tells Fury that they “believed in you … Don’t let their death be for nothing.” There is plenty more stirring stuff where that came from.
Perhaps by putting away childish, crashy-bangy CGI things, Secret Invasion is declaring its intention to be a darker MCU show, concentrating on ambiguity rather than heroes and villains. It poses the question of what happens if humans and aliens are alike under the skin, but not just in the happy, wholesome ways we are always promised. Unfortunately, it needs deeper thought and better writing than this.
That said, I did enjoy Talos – entering his 40s – musing on going on a midlife-crisis shopping spree and asking Fury what he got for his 40th. “The Avengers,” comes the reply.
The Avengers, by the way, aren’t going to be coming to Fury’s aid as would seem obvious, because there is too much danger of the shapeshifters mimicking them and becoming supervillains. OK, then. I hope you’re utterly satisfied with that.
Only two episodes were available for review, so it’s possible that there are far more and better-paced twists and turns to come in the second two-thirds than there were in the first. But it’s been a hell of a lot of throat-clearing if so. For the first time, I wished for more from the MCU.