Why Marvels’ $200m Secret Invasion Broke The MCU’s Lowest Rotten Tomatoes Rating Record

Warning: This piece contains SPOILERS for Secret Invasion

Summary

  • Secret Invasion suffered from strange decisions and had a divisive start, resulting in its low ratings and a disappointing finale.
  • The show failed to fully utilize its potential, deviating from the original comic event and focusing too much on Nick Fury.
  • Plot holes and issues plagued Secret Invasion, with illogical plans, underutilized characters, and missed opportunities for bigger storylines.

After the confirmation that it is now the MCU’s lowest rated TV show, it’s hard not to wonder where Secret Invasion went wrong. A Rotten Tomatoes score of just 57% (and a 13% rating for the finale) means the Nick Fury-led adaptation of the essential Marvel Comics event is officially the worst MCU TV show, at the ninth time of asking, despite costing a reported $212m. It is a frustrating experience, let down by strange decisions – not least the AI credits scene that gave it such a divisive start – and the comparatively muted reaction to it, even as it throws out massive revelations like the Avengers DNA twist, says an awful lot about it.

Adapted from Brian Michael Bendis’ 2008 crossover event, Secret Invasion follows Captain Marvel‘s events, decades later, pulling Samuel L Jackson’s Nick Fury back to Earth for “one last fight”. Even that promise was somewhat undermined by The Marvels featuring a clearly very-alive Nick Fury as a major supporting presence and promises from Jackson himself that the Captain Marvel sequel followed it in the complex MCU timeline. Way to undermine any real sense of dramatic tension. And that’s only one of the problems that turned Secret Invasion into a disappointment.

Disney+’s MCU TV Show Rotten Tomatoes Ratings

  • Ms. Marvel (2022) – 98%
  • What If…? (2021) – 94%
  • Loki (2021) – 92%
  • Hawkeye (2021) – 92%
  • WandaVision (2021) – 91%
  • Moon Knight (2022) – 86%
  • The Falcon & The Winter Soldier (2021) – 84%
  • She-Hulk: Attorney At Law (2022) – 77%
  • Secret Invasion (2023) – 57%

Secret Invasion’s Finale Was Rushed & Didn’t Matter

The biggest issue for Secret Invasion‘s record-breaking 13% Rotten scoring finale is that it really doesn’t matter a great deal. Other than the very likely revelation that Rhodey has been a Skrull since Captain America: Civil War and the introduction of G’iah as the most powerful Marvel character of all time, Secret Invasion‘s ending reset the show so that Nick Fury could be in the right place for The Marvels (i.e. back in space, and very much not dead). And in case anyone missed that fact, the show literally started and ended with the same image (slightly altered) of Fury stepping off then stepping back on his spaceship.

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In between those images, Fury was supposed to solve the Skrull issue on Earth, stop a human/alien war, atone for his sins and become a better man: in actual fact, he abandoned the Skrulls in a worse situation than he left them, on the brink of a war between humans and aliens, totally unaccountable for his sins, and seemingly unrepentant. At least he got to reconcile with his Skrull wife though, eh? To arrive at that point, Secret Invasion tried slow-building, with cliffhangers at every turn, and an attempt at a Winter Soldier like anxious tone, which was entirely abandoned as soon as the story shifted into being the Super-Skrull/Avengers DNA story instead.

Secret Invasion Had HUGE Potential

Skrulls Fighting Kree in MCU

Bendis’ original Secret Invasion comic event was so transformative because of its simple, devastating conceit: that anyone could have been replaced by a Skrull impostor, no matter if they were a founding Avenger, like Hank Pym, a top tier hero like Captain Marvel, the Inhumans leader Black Bolt or even a Hollywood icon like Tom Cruise. The sense of dread and paranoia associated with that sort of no-holds-barred narrative perfectly suited an expansive playground – the more characters who were included, the more possible Skrulls there’d be. The Disney+ answer to the same story went in the opposite direction, closing off the Skrulls from 95% of the existing heroes in the MCU, and willfully ignoring all of that potential.

The decision was backed up by an in-universe excuse: this was Nick Fury’s own story. Fury had promised the Skrulls that he would be their savior, find them a planet and make sure they were free to live in their own skins in peace. Instead, Fury did what Fury does and exploited the situation to his own benefit, employing a pocket of Skrulls, led by Ben Mendelsohn’s Talos, as his personal spies who were retrofitted in the MCU as the key to his every success. In doing so, the MCU Secret Invasion not only threw out its biggest selling point, it also undermined its own hero. And to top it all off, the finale removed Fury from his own supposed “last stand”, leaving G’iah to fight Gravik, and then to lead the Skrulls in the face of even greater persecution, still being “used” by humanity to protect Earth.

Secret Invasion Should Have Been Bigger

brixton skrulls in 1997 secret invasion

The reveal of the Avengers DNA subplot in Secret Invasion is arguably the biggest missed opportunity of this manner of adaptation. In another universe, that reveal could have come at the end of Avengers: Endgame in a post-credits that showed a flash of the clean-up and the Earth-shaking reveal that Skrulls were the ones Harvesting the DNA. Phase 4 could then have had a Secret Invasion through-line (rather than it just being a morose look at Endgame‘s fallout), teasing Skrull replacements along the way and then culminating in an actual Avengers movie as the comic deserved. While it’s a little unfair to judge things on what they’re not, rather than what they are, in Secret Invasion‘s case, it’s almost impossible.

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The MCU has taken one of the biggest comic book crossovers and turned into a drawing room play, too tightly focused on Nick Fury when “who can you trust?” should have been a question leveled at the audience and not just Samuel L Jackson’s morally ambiguous Avengers founder. Forced through the MCU’s filter, what could have been huge is now consciously hobbled, with familiar storylines regurgitated both from the comics and the MCU:

  • Hydra did infiltration first in The Winter Soldier
  • The MCU has done unsettled refugees several times
  • We’ve seen the post-superheroes “who watches the watchmen” line even more times
  • The Super-Skrulls are from Fantastic Four
  • The idea of good outsiders looking to integrate vs bad ones looking to annihilate humanity is from the X-Men

Nothing feels as new and fresh as it really should have been in an adaptation that consciously presents itself as challenging to expectations. And that problem is something that making Secret Invasion an Avengers-level event spanning multiple projects and tying into one big crossover could have muscled through.

Secret Invasion Is Full Of Plot-Holes & Issues

Gravik healing with Extremis in Secret Invasion

Secret Invasion was sold on the idea that it would be a smaller scale, claustrophobic story, closer in genetics to The Winter Soldier (which obviously also had a villainous infiltration at its heart) than to The Avengers. It was supposed to be an intricately woven narrative, clever and provocative, but looking at it now, the issues in its plotting are impossible to look past. Despite being a compelling idea on paper, Gravik’s plan to take over Earth is illogical in such a number of ways that he looks incompetent. The plot also hurtles forward from one twist or cliffhanger to the next, resolving them week to week in a way that’s theoretically good for whipping up excitement, but feels hollow when it comes to rewatching. And bar one twist, everything’s just a bit… obvious.

Massive reveals like Rhodey as a Skrull spy and the Avengers DNA twist are explosive, but the former was mishandled and illogical in execution (because the Skrulls simply don’t take advantage of replacing Rhodey in any meaningful way) and the latter feels like it belongs to a bigger story. Entire characters are underused, like Olivia Colman’s Sonya Falsworth and the entire Skrull Council, despite both being full of potential. Almost every plot twist poses more questions than it resolves, with big characters like Maria Hill (RIP), Martin Freeman’s Agent Ross and Rhodey all thrown under the wheels for the sake of dramatic shocks. And none of them are deemed important enough to warrant even a raised eyebrow from any of their superhero allies, apparently.

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Fundamentally, positioning Nick Fury at the heart of this story was smart, but it now looks functional rather than creative: an excuse to limit Secret Invasion‘s size and cost, rather than a means to boost intrigue. The show has also failed to explain why Fury is even still around: at first Gravik wanted him to suffer, then he wanted him dead (so why not kill him on any of the multiple chances that presented themselves), then we were told he needed him alive to bring him the Avengers DNA. Fury has now been three different plot devices in his own story, and the final twist presents the tragic realization that had the Avengers been involved and the DNA secret unveiled, Fury’s part in things would have been infinitely more complex and even more interesting.

Secret Invasion Is Overshadowed By Its Own Avengers Problem

Secret Invasion Nick Fury Avengers DNA

One of the oldest MCU criticisms suggests that Marvel movies and TV shows suffer because they have to always remind the audience that they are MCU properties, often avoiding innovation or the best ideas in service of The Greater Continuity. Moon Knight might well be the only exception, and there’s a very real possibility that it will prove to be a narrative dead-end as a result. In a rare change of pace, Secret Invasion would have been better if it had just gone full throttle as an MCU crossover event. At least that way it wouldn’t have to continually justify why the Avengers can’t turn up.

At first, the Avengers were left out because Fury didn’t want the Skrulls to get a chance to replace any of them, but then it was revealed they had anyway, unwittingly suggesting Rhodey was always just a bad Avenger. Then it turned out Fury didn’t want them involved because they’d probably be pissed he stole their DNA for unknown reasons. Then it finally emerged that Fury believed he was the only one who could save Earth because of his backstory and personal trauma. Apparently, the plot armor afforded by a rough life can withstand Extremis, super-strength and various other top tier superpowers. And then he didn’t even do that, fleeing Earth towards his own happy ending while the Skrulls stand stuck in the middle of chaos again.

In the end, Secret Invasion tries too hard to insist that it never needed The Avengers, while trying to close the plot-hole that they don’t turn up. But then Nick Fury’s assassination of Maria Hill is broadcast on global news, the President is almost killed, Earth teeters on the brink of World War 3, and you begin to wonder if the Avengers just don’t care. All Secret Invasion did in trying to negotiate its Avengers problem was amplify it, reminding everyone what this all could have been.

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