Last week, Marvel released the newest trailer for The Marvels, the sequel to Captain Marvel, featuring the character Ms. Marvel, and also the final Marvel movie that will be released in 2023. Yes, that sentence contained five instances of the word “Marvel.” I’m not pointing this out to chide the mindless ubiquity of what is still the world’s most consistently popular non-Nolan producer of big-screen entertainment. As it happens, I think The Marvels looks pretty good. I loved the Ms. Marvel series that introduced Kamala Khan into the MCU, and Captain Marvel certainly left plenty of room for improvement in a further-faster-whatever follow-up. My point is that right now, most Marvel projects are juggling a lot of stuff from the jump. The Marvels looks like a zippy little space adventure, but it will function as a sequel to Captain Marvel, as well as a form of follow-up to Avengers: Endgame (given that’s the last time we saw her at length); it will also catch up with Kamala from Ms. Marvel and Monica Rambeau from WandaVision and pick up with Nick Fury following Secret Invasion.
Speaking of Secret Invasion: These six episodes were ultimately a Nick Fury catch-up while serving as a sort of side-quel to Captain Marvel and giving a bit of a showcase to actors like Samuel L. Jackson and Don Cheadle, who haven’t had the chance to topline their own MCU projects before, without delivering such world-shaking revelations that anyone watching The Marvels will be lost. This is a lot to ask of a single season of TV, especially one that runs the length of maybe two regular movies, or one and a half superhero movies. For a show about a full-scale alien invasion of Earth that’s supposed to proceed with the shadowy intrigue of a spy novel, the show has rarely felt particularly urgent. In retrospect, it started to scatter almost as soon as it began.
So maybe there’s supposed to be a satisfying symmetry to the way that Secret Invasion starts with Fury coming back to Earth and ends with him leaving it in exile, going back to S.A.B.E.R. at the encouragement/banishment of President Ritson. Instead, it’s more like a form of simultaneous self-containment and universe interconnection that cancel each other out: Here’s a bunch of world-altering events that don’t feel like they matter very much, occasionally pretending to be an exploration of a loving yet deeply complicated marriage.
The episode opens by attempting to foreground that relationship, with Fury making a cryptic, they-could-be-listening type of call to Varra/Priscilla’s cell, apparently the first time he’s called that number in ages (though, in one of the episode’s few gracefully spoken moments, Fury notes that he’s dialed the number many times, and only just now pressed the call button). This is also the moment when it becomes clearest how much nothing Samuel L. Jackson and Charlayne Woodard are covering with their rueful, reflective performances opposite each other, before these scenes are cast aside for haphazardly “climactic” plotting.
To wit: Skrull Rhodes is not exactly subtly prodding President Ritson into striking against the Russians, who he claims worked with the Skrulls to orchestrate the attack on his motorcade. He instead goes the angrily insisting route, preemptively writing speeches and essentially leading Ritson’s finger to a button that says “massive worldwide war.” Instead of juicing the suspense, the desperation rubs off on the scene itself. Even in the realm of made-up presidents making decisions about alien invasions, it’s not particularly convincing. When Sonya calls Rhodes urging him to move the president because of imminent danger, you can see where this is probably going.
Meanwhile, Fury staggers around the radioactive meeting place where he’s meant to face off with Gravik, downing iodine pills, at least until he drops them and Gravik makes sure the balance falls through a grate. Then, in the words of Jackson’s superhero character Frozone, he starts monologuing, ranting about the toll Fury’s killing-heavy assignments — still not really specified, to save the audience the trouble of picturing them clearly! — took on his soul. (The monologue includes a very weird cut to an overhead shot that comes across like a sloppy ADR fix to reword something or other, further undermining the gravity of the moment.)
For his part, Fury admits that after a few years of searching, he realized there was no planet out there where he could relocate the Skrulls, but he kept them working anyway without figuring out a new solution: “It’s easier to save the lives of 8 billion people than it is to change their hearts and minds.” He felt relief, he says, as he flitted away during the Snap/Blip (see below for some nitpicking about how this terminology is employed), that he finally had a way out of fighting. This, he explains, is more or less why he’s willing to hand over the harvested Avengers DNA to Gravik, giving him super-duper-Skrull powers: He just wants this impending conflict to be called off. Gravik, of course, has no intention of doing that and is about to use his new powers to dispatch Fury once and for all, when … surprise! It’s not Fury at all! It’s really a powered-up G’iah, more than ready to defend Earth with her own array of Easter-egg powers.
Their subsequent obligatory fight scene, replete with a horrible-looking ascent into the sky, CG fog to obscure middling special effects, and a bunch of rubbery Hulk arms (I assume this DNA sampler includes the Hulk, though I think I caught more specifically Groot-looking and Korg-resembling textures in there), is like a weird condensation of a splash page from the Secret Invasion comics series: bits and pieces of familiar MCU power sets whaling on each other, almost independent of the actual characters who go at it in the comics. They fight a bit, and G’iah (with the help of Mantis-style neutralizing powers) kills Gravik. Scintillating stuff.
The real Fury, who it turns out has not made revealing and regretful confessions to anyone (whew!), is back at the hospital, getting the drop on Skrull Rhodes and finally convincing President Ritson that he should not start a war with the Russians. But Ritson, as it turns out, is still ready for some kind of war, so he affects a bizarre Tony Montana–like posture for a TV address where he announces that off-world visitors to Earth will be considered enemy combatants and be killed on sight (you know, just an official and extremely public announcement of what should probably be a black-ops deal).
This seems like a bigger development than a brief montage in the closing minutes of the final episode can really cover: Oh, by the way, now Skrulls are being hunted down by hit squads, and also these hit squads have inspired vigilantes to try taking out the threat on their own, which also involves plenty of innocent humans being murdered because they’re mistaken for Skrulls. The show is clearly going for an echo of Trump-era (or post-Trump) violence and unrest, but it doesn’t land with much impact, especially because the show immediately tries to walk it back: First, Sonya approaches G’iah with a proposal that “I will use you, you will use me, and together we’ll make this planet safe for both our people.” Then Fury, after being dismissed by Ritson, delivers some good news to Varra: Hey, the Kree (the alien race who oppressed the Skrulls back in Captain Marvel) are now open to peace talks with the Skrulls! Swell!
And so the show returns to pretending it’s about the marriage of Nick Fury and Varra, as they briefly muse about issues raised in earlier episodes, kiss, embrace, and head back off-world to work for S.A.B.E.R. in service of the Skrulls Fury kinda-sorta abandoned multiple times for reasons that still haven’t really been explored! Great job, everyone! The show has totally shaken things up while essentially preserving the status quo in a way that means it can be mentioned in passing or completely ignored in subsequent MCU projects, which increasingly feels like the goal of most of these shows. Moreover, Secret Invasion has been steadily diminishing the kinds of surface pleasures that should render the big-picture continuity stuff secondary, leaving only Jackson and some of the other actors doing their best to make impressions in a pile of dust.
• Nitpicky terminology corner: Originally, wasn’t the act of half the universe’s population disappearing referred to as “the Snap,” while the five-year gap experienced by those snapped away and then returned was “the Blip”? At some point, the MCU started referring to all of it as “the Blip,” which I guess is effective enough shorthand — anyone following this stuff knows what characters mean when they say it — but feels imprecise. Fury talks about the moment he was quietly disintegrated into nothingness and describes it as the Blip. No! That was the five years that passed without him!
• Unfortunately, the rest of this section must be used to detail how terrible this episode’s writing is on an almost line-by-line basis. Here’s how Fury explains the Skrull situation to President Ritson: “Skrull rebels have kidnapped dozens of world officials, along with Colonel Rhodes. He, and other world officials, are being kept in pods beneath the Skrull compound.” Why is Colonel Rhodes singled out in a way that makes it sound like he’s not a world official? Why do they have Fury say “world officials” twice in two sentences, only drawing attention to what a vague and unhelpful term that is, like he’s faking his way through the exposition? This is freshman-year stuff that results from not reading what you just wrote out.
• I would have said this is freshman-year shit, but I want to stay in the spirit of a show that somehow has Samuel L. Jackson, one of the most melodious profanity-issuers of modern cinema, criticize another character’s actions as “real one-term president stuff.” I’m not saying this stuff would sound better or more adult just by adding swears. I am saying that in Jackson’s particular case, this substitution sounds like an airline edit. It also sounds like an inadvertent description of these MCU shows that bridge various projects more than they stand alone (or even build onward into a second season).
• That phone call where Fury admonishes Ritson delivers exactly the kind of embarrassing point-of-view-on-a-platter clarity that some audiences seem to deeply crave. Fury explains, to the president but actually the audience, “You took a bad situation and made it worse.” You know, just so we’re clear on what the show considers right and wrong in this scene.
• “No checking behind the doors? You really are a Skrull.” I think they gave Sonya this line to make it clear that if she wasn’t sure of Rhodes’s true identity before, she is now, but mostly it makes her sound … kinda racist against Skrulls?!
• G’iah wakes up a bunch of Skrull kidnapping victims from their coma pods, including the real Rhodes as well as Everett Ross (Martin Freeman), whose first question is, “Colonel Rhodes, how long have been in here?” What an odd thing to say! It seems like the clunky setup for exposition that does, in fact, explain how long Ross and Rhodes have been replaced by Skrulls. But that information is not provided; it really is just a moment where Ross’s first concern is what’s up with Rhodes, a character I’m not sure he’s ever met onscreen before.
• That’s it for Secret Invasion recaps. Thanks for following along, and here’s hoping there are better uses of Nick Fury in our future. In the meantime, do check out Ms. Marvel if you haven’t seen it; as MCU’s TV highlights get fewer and further between, that show’s charm looks brighter and brighter.