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Secret Invasion should have been an Avengers movie

The longer the MCU series plays on Disney Plus, the more we realize Secret Invasion obviously should have been an Avengers movie, and it would have been great.

Nick Fury and Carol Danvers

Secret Invasion is more than halfway through its run on Disney Plus. The latest of the MCU’s mid streaming endeavors, the TV series follows Nick Fury as he fights a cold war against Skrull radicals who, after being left unmoored, have turned to extremism.

They’ve started body-snatching agents, public figures, and high-ranking government officials to seed chaos and eventually plan to launch a full-scale invasion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe‘s Earth.

The Marvel series sounds titillating on paper because its core concept comes from an actually exciting comic book, but the reality is what many feared when it was first announced. The budget constraints, lack of A-list supes, and changes to the source material remove the punch and shock factor that made the comic book a hit with lasting ripple effects within Marvel Comics. It’s clear now: Secret Invasion should have been an Avengers movie.

Elektra in the Secret Invasion comic

We’ve been over the differences between the Secret Invasion TV series and comics, one of the most powerful being the lack of big hitters. The first episode opens with a Skrull disguised as Martin Freeman’s Agent Ross assassinating some sort of analyst who has uncovered the alien species’ infiltration. When ‘Ross’ dies, the body shape-shifts into its real Skrull form. This is the cliffhanger opening, and perhaps it would be less dull if the comic’s inciting incident didn’t involve the deadly anti-hero Elektra laying cold on a surgical table, very dead and very green.

This moment from the comics that introduces panic, confusion, and tension encapsulates the whole problem with the adaptation: Agent Ross being a Skrull is not exciting. Elektra, Spider-Woman, and Hank Pym sitting in an alien cocoon while readers engaged with the Skrulls who took them, unaware of their stolen identities, was. The core of Secret Invasion, the thing that really made it sing, was the idea that your favorite Avenger, someone like The Scarlet Witch, even, with all that power, could be a Skrull. And they might not even know it.

On page, by the time Avengers start realizing their ranks have been successfully breached, it’s too late. They’re playing chess with an enemy that started playing the game two turns earlier than they did. Readers had little insight into who was trustworthy and at what point in the timeline they might have been replaced. This made the Skrulls an intelligent and convincing foe with a motivation that made them dangerous. In the series, this is largely the same; its Skrulls are motivated by needing a new homeworld, and they’ve begun executing their plan well before any human is aware.

Gravik in Secret Invasion

The stakes, however, feel much shallower in comparison. This is by no means a slight on Samuel L. Jackson. Nobody needs to be reminded that an actor as accomplished as him brings credibility to MCU capers, but Nick Fury and the supporting cast of characters found in this story do not carry the same weight.

It’s not that Nick isn’t engaging, after all, he has a significant presence in the source material and assembles a team to covertly push back against the invasion just as he does here, but the show’s limitations are in how it can’t branch out. As things stand, the events of the plot (which have been plodding along at a strangely inconsistent pace) do not have the same reach the comics did.

Marvel Comics, despite being one of the ‘big two’ comic houses, is the wild west compared to Marvel Studios. Comic books are free to play with continuity, reset their timelines frequently, and make irritating retcons every time they realized they’ve crossed streams with something some dude wrote like 40 years ago — these ‘oopsy’ elements are part of why they’re so fun. They may look intimidating with all their history, but the format’s boon is that you can truly jump into them at any time because every story is at once self-contained and connected to everything else.

Talos and Gravik in Secret invasion episode 3

Each solo title exists in its own space, then when there is the need to call in the big guns, everyone gets dragged onto the same panel for a crossover event. This sounds similar to how the MCU functions, but in practice it’s different. Comic books are sprawling, but it costs no money for an editor to decide a story needs to level up with a Tony Stark or a Carol Danvers. Superheroes can be played with in a sandbox, called out to play with other toys, then tossed back in.

The MCU, when it tries to do this, stumbles. Characters appearing important in one story and then disappearing for years doesn’t feel creatively liberating, it’s just frustrating because the on-screen world is significantly smaller.

The MCU’s production line is so fast they’ve had to pump the brakes, but it’s got nothing on the number of comics written every month — even though the industry is sadly on an alarming decline. In effect, this means characters the general movie audience has never heard of can appear in doses through different titles quite easily, which creates a throughline for them at no additional cost to Marvel Comics.

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The MCU in comparison, has a reputation for intimidating contracts, large paydays, and big performance expectations. It then becomes a higher risk to lean on smaller characters, to add the likes of Hailee Steinfeld’s Hawkeye to things, or to use big players as and when they’re needed.

Avengers movies are such ordeals that they’re planned out years in advance. If you need to write something captivating now but can’t do anything that creates an issue with an Endgame-level event in five years, you have to start compromising.

And that’s what Secret Invasion for the screen is, a steely, teasingly intriguing compromise where you can’t help but ponder how it would look different in an alternative universe, one where the repercussions of body-swapping aliens had a larger wingspan than Galactus, and Captain Marvel was involved. It has its merits but consistently comes up short against what it’s based on.

Avengers: Endgame

And while we think we may have figured out who the secret Skrull will be in the series, it’s not enough to make up for what we lost out on both due to practical reasons and creative misfires. We’ve now crossed out one of the most obvious storylines to carve an Avengers flick out of, spending it on a Disney Plus series that does everything at a half measure.

The saddest thing is that it’s not even an awful show, it just had the impossible task of living up to something it simply doesn’t have the resources or gravitas to even hope to compete with.

For more thoughts that expose us as nerds, read our open letter to Kevin Feige, why some things are more important than the MCU, and why we still don’t know if Doctor Strange 2 was bad.

If you want to watch along with us, we’ve also got guides on how to watch Secret Invasion and the Marvel movies in order.