‘Secret Invasion’ Review: Marvel Welcomes Back Samuel L. Jackson

The Marvel series for Disney+ vary in their degree of independence from the mega-narrative that threads through Marvel’s feature films. There isn’t a rule of thumb for how that plays out — being tied into the Avengers story line didn’t hurt “Loki,” while being apart from it didn’t help “Moon Knight.”

The effect is clear in “Secret Invasion,” though, which in its early episodes feels less like a free-standing drama than like an interstitial element. The storytelling is at first rushed — the introduction of the Skrull crisis feels elided, as if previous publicity releases and Comic-Con panels were understood to count as part of the plot — and then enervated, as we’re given expository speeches and scenes whose only purpose seems to be to fill in the gaps between “Captain Marvel” and “Secret Invasion.”

In keeping with the genre-hopping trend in the Marvel series, “Secret Invasion,” which is set initially in Moscow, goes for a restrained Euro-spy, counterterrorist thriller approach, and it certainly looks good. (Ali Selim directed the episodes, and Remi Adefarasin, who shot “Juliet, Naked,” was the cinematographer.) The show’s creator, Kyle Bradstreet, was a writer and producer for “Mr. Robot,” and he injects some of the ambient unease that show specialized in.

He also commits to the “Mr. Robot” themes of paranoia and manipulation, for which the Skrulls, with their ability to assume the form of any convenient human, are tailor made. This gives the story a topical sheen as the Skrulls foment mass panic, but the writing doesn’t give us enough in either human or dramatic terms to make the violence and pathos resonate. An attempt to link Fury’s experience of racism and exclusion with the plight of the homeless, persecuted Skrulls doesn’t add anything worth noting, at least in the early going.

Amid the franchise tending that’s going on in “Secret Invasion,” one decision feels like a potential misstep: emphasizing Fury’s weariness and malaise. Perhaps it’s just to set up a return to formidableness in the remaining episodes, but here it doesn’t play to Jackson’s strengths. When he does get a chance to be fierce, the writing — “I’m Nick Fury. Even when I’m out, I’m in” — doesn’t hold much promise of future satisfaction.

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