Secret Invasion is wasted as a Disney+ show

The MCU is making its highly-anticipated return to the small screen after an eight-month absence with the six-episode limited series Secret Invasion. Samuel L. Jackson reprises his role as Nick Fury in a show that adapts one of Marvel’s most infamous and ambitious storylines, where things get shaken up by the discovery of a years-long invasion by the shape-shifting Skrulls, who have replaced key figures in the Marvel Universe.

Secret Invasion arrives at a crucial point for the MCU. The once-mighty franchise is struggling to stay relevant amid a perfect storm of behind-the-scenes drama, increasingly uneven films and shows, and growing disinterest among audiences. Reviews for the show are mixed-to-positive — it currently sits at a 69% Fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes. Most critics agree the show is a slow burn, but a worthy showcase for the cast led by the always-reliable Jackson. However, there’s a palpable and undeniable small-scale quality to the project, a surprise considering its comic book counterpart was arguably the event of the 2000s. Secret Invasion altered the balance of the comics’ Marvel Universe, revealing several fan-favorites as Skrulls and incapacitating several key players, mainly the Illuminati, the Fantastic Four, and the Thunderbolts.

Secret Invasion was the logical choice for the MCU to adapt post-Avengers: Endgame. Why else would the studio introduce the Skrulls with Captain Marvel if not to set the stage for their next decade of storytelling? Alas, it wasn’t meant to be; the MCU chose the Multiverse as its next big story arc and reduced Secret Invasion to a Disney+ show. And that was a huge mistake, as any comic book fan can tell you, especially considering how disappointing the Multiverse Saga has been thus far.

Who can you trust?

A group of Skrulls impersonating the Avengers on the cover of "Secret Invasion" #1.
Marvel Comics

Secret Invasion is the sort of ambitious, over-the-top crossover event that can only happen in comic books. It relies on years of continued storytelling, leading to a massive reveal that works because of the shared baggage between these characters. Secret Invasion is a complex and larger-than-life event, and adapting it into a satisfying live-action product would require considerable work.

And it’s not like Marvel is famous for taking the easy way out. It spent 10 years building up to Avengers: Endgameintroducing the Infinity Stones through the spectacular Guardians of the Galaxy movies and crafting a surprisingly well-thought storyline that made its cathartic ending all the more satisfying. The MCU knew how to pull this off, so there was no need to question its ability to bring Secret Invasion to life.

Marvel had no shortage of worthy crossovers to adapt post-Endgame. However, few seemed more possible than Secret Invasion. The Skrulls were already part of the MCU, and with so many Avengers gone, what better time to introduce some chaos into an already unstable MCU? Revealing longtime fan favorites as undercover Skrulls would do just that, possibly changing our entire perception of the MCU. Think of how awesome the reveal at the ending of Spider-Man: Far From Home — that Nick Fury was a Skrull — would’ve been had it been treated with more dignity. All the pieces were there; all Marvel had to do was use them.

Secret Invasion would have excelled as a long-form, years-spanning, gender-bending crossover spanning television and film. Think of the reveal at the end of Far From Home as the starting point, with shows like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier focusing on the Skrull infiltration on Earth and films like The Marvels and even Eternals focusing on the invasion on a cosmic level. Secret Invasion would have also allowed for a more dynamic relationship with Marvel’s audience, with every fan and their mother playing the “Who’s a Skrull?” game. And considering how much franchises like the MCU depend on fan theories and discussions, Secret Invasion was ripe for the picking.

Multiversal shenanigans

The main characters on the poster for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

By now, it’s fair to say the Multiverse Saga is a big, old mess. There are numerous problems with adapting such a convoluted concept into live-action, mainly that it relies entirely on understanding and appreciating the lore behind these characters. Multiversal stories are fun because they provide a unique chance to see these heroes and villains through a new lens. However, they rely on hardcore fans and their love for these figure. What’s the point of subverting their personalities otherwise?

But expecting general audiences to understand, let alone appreciate, the Multiverse, might’ve been a tad too much. Marvel got cocky, thinking itself too big to fail, and it got humbled real quickly because viewers didn’t care about the Multiverse. Sure, seeing John Krasinski as Mr. Fantastic was fun, but it was also confusing — even Elizabeth Olsen doesn’t get it. At what point does it stop being fun and become annoying? Sooner than Marvel thought.

Unlike Secret Invasiona project tailor-made to spread across numerous slow-building projects, the Multiverse works best when it’s a one-off. Spider-Man: No Way Home worked because it was fresh and the epitome of fan service, but no one can claim it had a good story; Multiversal stories don’t usually have logical plots because they eventually succumb to the fan service of it all. Furthermore, they get tiresome quickly, as Marvel found out with 2022’s divisive Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Indeed, films like Multiverse of Madness and the appalling The Flash prove the Multiverse is a trap that cannot sustain long-form storytelling.

A wasted opportunity

Emilia Clarke uncovers a secret in Marvel's Secret Invasion.

It’s genuinely disappointing that such an ambitious and promising storyline as Secret Invasion got relegated to Disney+. When CEO Bob Iger first announced the streaming service, many believed it would be a perfect companion to the MCU’s worldbuilding. But it turns out there can be too much of a good thing, and the MCU soon became overflooded with “content” that most audiences weren’t interested in watching. For every great MCU show on Disney+, there are two that are just OK; for every WandaVision and Lokithere’s a Hawkeye and Moon Knight.

Where Secret Invasion will fall on that spectrum, we cannot tell yet. But what’s frustrating is that Secret Invasion shouldn’t be a series at all; it should be in the theater, where it belongs. Even the show’s cast — Sam Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Emilia Clarke, freaking Olivia Colman! — is big-screen-, theatrical release-worthy. Everything about Secret Invasion screams “big movie event” rather than “run-of-the-mill Wednesday episode.”

The possibilities of a “Secret Invasion Saga” were limitless: What if Hulk had been a Skrull during the Infinity War, replaced during his time on Sakaar? Maybe Hawkeye got kidnapped and substituted, thus leading to his Ronin era. And Doctor Strange? A Skrull could have replaced him, putting the sorcerer community at the aliens’ disposal. What of the new heroes introduced in Phase 4? Would Marvel have had the guts to turn Shang-Chi or the Eternals into Skrulls in disguise? Playing with these characters would have allowed severely underutilized actors like Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, and Benedict Cumberbatch the chance to flex their acting muscles — they’re Oscar nominees, for crying out loud! The shape-shifting Skrulls would have also opened the door for plenty of fan service; no character would be off the table, not even those supposedly dead. Black Widow, Iron Man, Quicksilver, Captain America, Killmonger; all could have returned in Skrull form.

But Marvel didn’t see the vision. Instead, we are stuck with a small-scale invasion, where minor characters get revealed as Skrulls. I love Martin Freeman as much as the next guy, but does anyone care about Everett Ross being a Skrull? Does anyone care about Everett Ross, full stop? The whole point of Secret Invasion was revealing major, crucial members of the Marvel Universe as Skrulls. If you’re not going to do that, what’s the point? If the best the Skrulls can do is assume the identity of a former CIA agent with no real pull on the MCU,  surely they aren’t that big of a threat. And if their invasion can’t even get to the top brass of the Marvel heroes, is it an invasion or just a would-be sting operation?

I’m willing to give Secret Invasion a chance, but I must confess I don’t have high hopes. Neither, it seems, does Marvel, which dumped the show with less fanfare than Ms. Marvel and She-Hulk. The days of MCU Disney+ shows seem to be over, and it sucks that Secret Invasion is collateral damage. A storyline like that deserved better.

Secret Invasion is now streaming on Disney+.

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