In the 15 years since it began, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has experienced plenty of highs and lows. But across its first decade or so, the franchise felt like a largely successful endeavor. Even if its first three phases contain more disappointments than die-hard fans would care to remember, the MCU’s original Avengers and Infinity Gauntlet arcs were cohesive, satisfying, and worth your time.
The franchise’s current, post-Avengers: Endgame period hasn’t been as successful, as Phases 4 and 5 of the MCU have felt disjointed. While several memorable characters have been introduced over the past three years, their stories haven’t felt as interconnected as fans have come to expect, and their roles in the franchise’s Multiverse Saga remain frustratingly unclear.
None of Marvel’s recent titles have felt as inessential as Secret Invasion. Over the first three episodes, the Disney+ series’ efforts to tell an espionage story about a potentially world-ending threat have fallen flat. Its failures have, however, revealed a potential explanation for why the MCU’s post-Endgame era has been so disappointing.
Early in Secret Invasion Episode 3, the show’s villain, a Skrull rebel named Gravik (Kingsley Ben-Adir), informs his most powerful supporters that his plans for taking over Earth involve genetically enhancing himself and his followers. In doing so, Gravik promises to create the universe’s first Super Skrulls. The reveal is a major comic book reference, and Secret Invasion plays it like a jaw-dropping moment. But it lands with no impact.
Secret Invasion has yet to give viewers any reason to care about Gravik or take his threats seriously. For as severe as its invasion seems on paper, the Disney+ series has had a difficult time selling the importance of its own story. That’s largely because it came out of nowhere. In fact, Secret Invasion had to go out of its way to retroactively explain how some of the MCU’s Skrulls got to the point of wanting to destroy humanity.
By releasing the series without setting up its story, Marvel has prioritized Secret Invasion’s plot over its characters. It’s not the only recent MCU title that feels like a purely plot-driven addition to the MCU, either. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Thor: Love and Thunder, and even Black Panther: Wakanda Forever suffered similar issues.
Not every element of these titles was inessential, but collectively they’ve felt like nothing more than attempts by Marvel to shoehorn more comic book storylines and Easter eggs into the MCU. The studio’s commitment to that strategy has made it feel like Marvel has forgotten what made the franchise great.
No one stuck with the MCU because of the originality of its storylines. Its plotting has never been the most appealing or distinct part of the franchise. When translated onto the screen, comic book arcs have a habit of feeling like the blandest possible versions of stories viewers have already seen a million times before. That’s certainly the case with Secret Invasion, which, despite its best efforts, has failed to recapture the success of similarly espionage-focused MCU titles like Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
That’s because The Winter Soldier is a film that, for all of its twists and turns, puts its characters first. The journey of disillusionment and betrayal it takes Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) on feels like a natural continuation of the story set up by his first two appearances in Captain America and The Avengers. Conversely, nothing about Secret Invasion feels natural.
Fans became invested in the MCU because of the strength of its characters. Now, Secret Invasion and many of its fellow post-Endgame MCU titles have proven that the franchise fails whenever it decides to focus more on its dime-a-dozen comic book plots than the heroes that are its lifeblood. If Marvel wants to turn things around, it needs to stop making that mistake — and soon.
New episodes of Secret Invasion premiere Wednesdays on Disney+.