Gravik has demanded that Fury bring him the ‘Harvest’ a collection of the superhero DNA recovered after the battle with Thanos and which will turn him into a truly ‘Super-Skrull’. It would seem Fury, battered and bruised, has no choice but to comply, otherwise Gravik will turn the Earth into a radioactive husk. Back in the UK, American President Ritson is under guard in a hospital – but even as raava/Rhodey attempts to get the Commander-in-Chief to take actions that will kickstart a World War, an unseen presence starts taking out the Secret Service in an effort to get to the President in time to stop him issuing the order for a pre-emptive launch.
But even if Gravik and his forces can be defeated, has Fury’s time AWOL from Earth damaged the chances of peace for humanity and Skrulls?
And so we reach the end of Marvel‘s Secret Invasion and though the significant change of pace and subject-matter still seems like an interesting and worthwhile opportunity undertaken, it’s hard to deny that the streaming show continued to demonstrate some of the problems that the Marvel/Disney+ output has had since the outset: an excellent core-idea and star-power but a real problem with the pacing of its story and conclusion. Are these compelling stories explicitly suited to television in and of themselves, or just connective-tissue extras and marketing to bridge the months between movies… a status that often seems in flux. By the time we got to the end of last week’s penultimate episode, it was pretty clear that this series was not going to wrap everything up by the time the final, sixth episode (Home) reached the credits… and if there was any doubt, a glance at the ridiculously-thrifty thirty minute running-time of the finale confirmed that (and does make one wonder why, for the love of Asgard, the last two episodes weren’t combined into one episode that would have only just clocked in at an hour itself).
Apart from a few set-pieces scattered through the six episodes, it’s also hard to see where the supposedly massive budget was spent. Sure, blowing up Halifax’s Piece Hall and some nifty CGI shape-shifting doesn’t come cheap, but many of the better scenes in the show were often of the less-expensive, tension-building conversational type beloved of Cold War espionage thrillers and there were times when scenes were strangely bereft of extras (latter episodes showed us the least-convincing hospital corridors in recent memory) feeling like a typical British show trying hard rather than a cutting-edge international production.
That being said Home gives it the old college try and speeds along giving the best effort to tie up as much as possible.
Secret Invasion clearly wanted to be Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy (or Smiley’s People) and there certainly moments when it showed that promise… But it’s hard to deny that the streaming show continued to demonstrate some of the problems that the Marvel/Disney+ output has had since the outset: an excellent core-idea and star-power but a real problem with the pacing of its story and conclusion…
This was an opportunity for Marvel and Samuel L Jackson to put some meat on the bones of Nick Fury, a character famous for being pragmatic and irascible but a success partly because of that specific snarky, punchline brevity. It was ultimately a mixed result. The idea that Fury was now a weathered warrior, arguably past his prime, AWOL from his responsibilities and wholly fallible – genuinely guilty of failing the Skrulls and betraying the trust of his Avengers – was interesting material to cover and there was nuance and room to do so. But adding in a never-mentioned Skrull wife Priscilla / Varra (Charlayne Woodard) raised more logistical questions about what we knew. Equally, while the series was openly an analogy and metaphor for many social issues of our time (refugees, cultural identity, global conflict, untrustworthy politicians etc.), Fury’s parallel commentary about his experiences in life (being a black man in a world moving too slowly away from racism) were fine, valid commentary in the moment, but started to feel weirdly less-organic than you’d expect, as if they were put into scenes with good intentions but not great execution.
Emilia Clarke is also a fine actor and, as Game of Thrones proved, can be fearless and frightening when asked. So, one of the disappointments of Secret Invasion is that she’s really had very little to do but be the mother of furrowed brows. Last week she was at least allowed to take down a few henchmen alongside Priscilla and this week we have a full-on fight with Gravik. Any fan of Nick Fury would have quickly surmised that the figure that staggers into the Skrull compound, admits defeat and agrees to sell out other planets just to save Earth couldn’t possibly be the guy we know and love – and there were only a few candidates that would be able to hide in his skin, so G’iah was the most likely. Both Skrulls conveniently gaining access to the ‘Harvest’ of super-powers, it’s then a decent, but not feature-film quality slugfest with both characters exhibiting the power-set of the Avengers and thumping, soaring, splatting and thwacking the hell out of each other. Kingsley Ben-Adir (fresh from his Ken persona in Barbie) gets a pre-conflict speech in which he actually makes some salient points about Fury’s betrayal of the Skrulls by his lack of commitment to finding them a home while still exploiting them. Given that the fight comes thereafter, it’s really not enough to round-out a character that’s mainly been played as maniacal, ruthless leader with varying accents and attitude who’ll gladly slay his own kind for power. By the time he’s defeated by G’iah his influence is over.
Of course, it it’s not Fury in Russia, then it is Fury in the UK and we get the reveal that it’s Nick taking out all the Secret Service agents under Raava/FakeRhodey’s command… which somehow cheapens the power of the now fake mea culpa of fake-Fury’s conversation with Gravik. So, it’s a stand-off as Sonya Falsworth and Fury try to convince President Riston (Dermot Mulroney) that Rhodey is the traitor. Now, I get that pacing is everything – as we cut between the G’iah/Gravik face-off and the hospital showdown – but if time is of the essence with a First Strike crisis about to ignite WWIII, then wouldn’t it have been much quicker and simpler to cut down the diplomacy and just shoot Rhodey? When that finally happens, Rhodey’s corpse immediately transforms back into Raava’s green form, so we could have done that earlier and used five minutes elsewhere?
The semi-wrap-up includes exposing almost all the people the Skrulls had copied (but no concreate answers about how long some of the captives have been held – so people like Rhodey and Everett Ross could technically have been imposters in previous outings). But it’s quite a savvy (and sadly topical) story point that some of the fall-out from the public revelation about the existence of Skrulls on Earth is more dangerous. Ritson has gone full xenophobe declaring all aliens as unwanted and dangerous (wait, what about those Asgardians – are they screwed now as well or will the Scandinavians abide?) and when Fury tackles him on the matter, Ritson offers a curt “If you care so much about the Skrulls, get off MY planet!“). Again, this might be nice character-building if we didn’t know that he’s a one-term President that we never really got a handle on. Also, fueled by the rhetoric some radical ‘patriots’ go beyond flag-waving and decide to ‘take out’ Skrulls themselves, including – whoops – assassinating the real UK Prime Minister who’d barely got her feet back into Downing Street (seriously, does anyone get to stay in No.10 for long nowadays?). It’s a sign that the series is leaving things within the MCU on dangerous ground, with politicians and people now trigger-happily gunning for aliens of all kinds, good or not, a little like the unease in the comics for ‘mutants’.
At the very end, Fury heads off back to the SABER space-station (with Priscilla / Varra) at just the time the world needs him to be the bridge between Skrulls and humanity. The reason: because of some sudden agreement between the Kree and Skrull races that he can help with. That seems awfully hand-wavery given events in the series and perhaps simply to position him to be in the right place for The Marvels movie coming in November? More tantalisingly, Olivia Colman’s Sonya Falsworth recruits the still uber-powered G’iah to her cause – suggesting that they can avoid the failures of Fury and Talos and openly use each other for benefit. They also go to a warehouse full of hibernating Skrulls which have never, I believe, been even mentioned before… so…? I hope that Marvel find way to use both characters in future projects as Colman has been the season’s MCU MVP and Clarke deserves better exposure now she has an even more impressive set of powers. Let’s have a project where Sonya is the acerbic handler and G’iah is a powerhouse with, say, intense but erratic power issues?
Secret Invasion clearly wanted to be Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy (or Smiley’s People) and there certainly moments when it showed that promise. It wasn’t an abject failure, but ultimately, Secret Invasion – which could have been both a subtle spy-chiller and an intriguing reset of the MCU, instead stumbled around looking earnest not fully committing to either and it resulted in a decent ‘filler’ story but little more… largely depending on whether Marvel builds on this or just cherry-picks through the debris and moves on again with a shrug…
- Production Design / VFX8