Secret Invasion review: "A promising start that breaks from the Marvel mould"

Nick Fury in Secret Invasion
(Image: © Marvel/Disney)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

Despite a meandering start, chilling spy story Secret Invasion breaks free from the Marvel mould, promising to be an exciting chapter with a stand-out turn from a wildly entertaining Olivia Colman.

Why you can trust GamesRadar+ Our experts review games, movies and tech over countless hours, so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about our reviews policy.

15 years on from making his first appearance in the infamous Iron Man post-credits scene, Samuel L. Jackson’s superspy Nick Fury is finally headlining his own MCU project with new television series Secret Invasion. And so the question is - was it worth the wait?

Thankfully, the answer looks like it will be a yes. Judging from the first two episodes, Secret Invasion promises to be an exciting chapter, breaking free from the typical Marvel mould. This isn’t a superhero story – there are no Avengers in sight, save for Don Cheadle’s Rhodey. Even then, he’s swapped the War Machine suit for a Ralph Lauren number. Instead, Secret Invasion shares more in common with the likes of The Bourne Identity than WandaVision – but that’s for the better, offering something different in the crowded world of the MCU.

We pick up with Fury as he returns to Earth following a long absence and, well, things must be pretty bad here to draw him back. Agents Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) and Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) have uncovered a dangerous threat: a group of shapeshifting Skrulls have steadily been infiltrating positions of power across the world with perilous intentions. It’s clear from the outset that no one can be trusted, with that paranoia running high in a striking opening scene.

Emilia Clarke in Secret Invasion

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

It is an intriguing set-up but the near-hour long episode runtimes do it no favours, giving Secret Invasion unnecessary space to meander which, in turn, subtracts from the heightened tension and drama. The second episode is certainly an improvement on the first, finding its feet when it comes to the story, and setting up curious mysteries to solve. Yet, a tighter edit would have prevented the show from dragging its heels, allowing us to arrive at the excitement sooner.

For instance, villain of the piece Gravik (Kingsley Ben-Adir) is rarely seen in these opening instalments despite being the primary antagonist. But when he does appear, it’s clear that this menacing Skrull isn’t your typical MCU baddie, with Ben-Adir neatly underplaying the part preferring to plot in the shadows than be a cackling showman. The glimpses we get of the scheming Gravik are foreboding, marking him out as someone who poses a real danger to Fury and co. This is further emphasised by episode one’s shock ending, which will undoubtedly haunt the rest of the series.

There is still joy to be found, however – even within the shadows of the series. Whilst Secret Invasion is indeed a chilling spy story, it certainly doesn’t lack charisma. Much of that comes from the ever brilliant Olivia Colman, who joins the MCU as MI6 agent Sonya, easily stealing the show with every scene she appears in. Colman brings some much needed fun to the series, with mischievous energy and wild unpredictability. The actor is clearly having the time of her life and that joy shines through, even when Sonya is violently torturing some poor soul. Seriously though, I never want to see Colman with a needle or kitchen scissors again!

secret invasion olivia colman

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

Mendelsohn’s returning Talos also brings some comic relief to lighten up the darkness, forever oozing charm. His dynamic with Jackson’s Fury was a highlight of 2019’s Captain Marvel, so it’s great to see that further fleshed out here as they bicker away like an old married couple. It’s a shame, then, that Talos’ complicated relationship with his daughter G’iah (Emilia Clarke) lacks emotional depth, with the scenes they share together falling flat. That’s not helped by Clarke’s rather wooden and uncomfortable performance, perhaps miscast in the role.

However, at the end of the day Secret Invasion isn’t about G’iah or Sonya or even Talos. Ultimately, it is Jackson’s time to shine as Fury. This is Fury as we have never seen him before, broken and tired, clearly ready for retirement (can someone get this man a cup of tea?). You can see that Jackson relishes being able to peel back new layers to a character he clearly feels at home in, showing us the vulnerable side to his usually ever confident master spy. And so, if this is Fury’s swan song it certainly will be a fitting send-off.

The first episode of Secret Invasion premieres on Disney Plus on June 21, with subsequent episodes releasing every Wednesday. For more viewing inspiration, check out our picks of the other best shows on Disney Plus.

More info

Emily Murray
Entertainment Editor

As Entertainment Editor at GamesRadar, I oversee all the online content for Total Film and SFX magazine. Previously I've worked for the BBC, Zavvi, UNILAD, Yahoo, Digital Spy and more.