In the Fall of 2020, trade reports broke the news that Marvel Studios had hired Kyle Bradstreet to develop a Disney Plus streaming series around Nick Fury. Long having been one of the MCU’s most important supporting characters, the man who put together the Avengers finally gets the spotlight in Secret Invasion and despite some issues, there can be no doubt that giving Samuel L. Jackson this much room to work as Fury was a solid decision. And despite 15 years of appearances, Secret Invasion makes it very clear that we simply do not know Nick Fury.
Though the series boasts an impressive supporting cast bolstered by the always-brilliant Ben Mendelsohn, who returns to the MCU as Talos, and Kingsley Ben-Adir as the brooding Gravik, Secret Invasion is–as advertised–a vehicle for Jackson’s Fury. And to the surprise of nobody, given more to do as Fury, Jackson simply does more with the graceful ease of a supremely talented actor who knows how to inhabit a role. Whether it’s the playful conversation with Olivia Colman‘s absolutely fantastic Sonya Falsworth, recollecting on train rides to Detroit with his mom or sharing a powerful scene with Don Cheadle‘s James Rhodes, Jackson’s performance alone makes the series a worthy entry in the MCU. Short of headliners Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans work as Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, respectively, it’s hard to recall a performance like the one on display here by Jackson. Secret Invasion shows, for the first time, a vulnerable Nick Fury who becomes, for the first time, a relatable character as each of the first two episodes peels away layers of what previously appeared to be a bulletproof persona putting THE spy on the outside looking in without his usual support. Where that ultimately leaves Fury is hard to say having only screened two episodes but as he tells Rhodey, he is Nick Fury and even when he’s out, he’s in.
By the end of the second episode, the stage is set and the grand plan of Gravik–whose previously unknown connection to Fury makes him an interesting and motivated foe–and his Skrull extremists made clear. Unfortunately, it takes two episodes to get to that point and as enjoyable as the performance by Jackson is, the first episode certainly slows down considerably after an exciting cold open and, at times, spins its wheels. Part of the pacing struggle comes from the increasingly unbearable weight of the shared universe that is the MCU and the prerequisite knowledge necessary to navigate each new entry. Good, bad or otherwise, an interconnected franchise of this magnitude can’t always blaze new trails and has to retread old ground. Though they aren’t present nor expected to be present in the series, Carol Danvers and the Avengers still take up chunk of the exposition and while that might be necessary, the heavy-handedness of the writer’s room only works as an exacerbating factor. If you know anything by the end of the first episode, it’s that Nick Fury hasn’t been the same since Thanos’ snap…because everyone he knows tells him all about it…again…and again…and again. That said, navigating the first episode is manageable and though it’s attempt to shock the audience falls unfortunately flat, it provides all the necessary table setting for the second episode to be one of the better episodes of television Marvel Studios has put together on Disney Plus. There’s some fun retconning and at least one surprise that you almost certainly don’t see coming.
Despite the slow start, through two episodes, it looks like Bradstreet and company have hit the mark for which they were aiming. Cleverly, most of what the audience thinks they know about the show through promotional footage and interviews seems to have been subterfuge by the studio. Essentially, Secret Invasion is not the show fans thought they were getting. “Who Do You Trust?” is more than just a tagline related to sorting out who is or isn’t a Skrull, it’s a reflection of the fact that the studio has created as much of a false flag as the Skrull operatives in the show. For a studio that gets criticized for its formula and generic press events, Marvel Studios went pretty non-formulaic here in leading the audience astray. One place they did stay true to their word, however, was in putting Jackson in the spotlight and if he, Cheadle, Mendelsohn and Ben-Adir continue to shine through the next four episodes, Secret Invasion will become one of Marvel Studios’ finest character-driven projects to date.