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‘Secret Invasion’ exposes the limits of Marvel’s series-crossover strategy

By Brian Lowry, CNN

(CNN) — Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers about the sixth and final episode of Marvel’s “Secret Invasion,” titled “Home.”

In hindsight, “Secret Invasion” used an appropriate device – shape-shifting alien Skrulls masquerading as humans – as the basis for a Marvel series that didn’t seem to know precisely what it intended to be. While the showcase for Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury has connections to Marvel’s next aspiring blockbuster, “The Marvels,” the show mostly illustrated how the studio’s Disney+/theatrical crossover strategy might have reached its limit.

Indeed, if Disney is serious about paring down its slate of original productions, as CEO Bob Iger has indicated, skipping something like “Secret Invasion” – which no doubt sounded like a good idea when Jackson said “Yes” – would have been a logical place to start.

That’s not to say the show was without its merits – some of them were ably featured in the July 26 finale, “Home,” which didn’t completely finish the story but offered nice moments for the high-profile new characters played by Olivia Colman (the best thing about this project) and Emilia Clarke, as British spymaster Sonya Falsworth and the Skrull G’iah, respectively.

That included a trickly showdown that allowed G’iah to achieve revenge against the Skrull leader Gravik (Kingsley Ben-Adir), who, through the course of the six episodes, had cemented his bad-guy credentials by killing off a pair of recurring Marvel characters and trying to assassinate the President of the United States (Dermot Mulroney).

The finale also saw Fury’s team succeed in freeing the humans held hostage and impersonated by the rebel Skrulls, among them Don Cheadle’s James Rhodes, a.k.a. Rhodey, whose Skrull imposter had the ear of the president.

Still, “Secret Invasion” left behind some loose ends, did without the customary post-credit sequence and at times felt awfully talky for a show that kept name-checking the Avengers and especially Captain Marvel. Instead, viewers were treated to a glimpse into the shadowy corridors of Fury’s spy work, his decades-long relationship with the Skrulls and whether he is still the man he once was after the ‘Blip.’

Since Marvel began producing shows for Disney’s streaming service, one of the major advantages has been the latitude to spend more time with characters in a way that’s seldom possible in the context of a blockbuster film. Those stories have also served as what amounts to interconnective tissue with the movies, such as the way “WandaVision” played into the “Doctor Strange” sequel and “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” paved the way for Captain America’s changing of the guard.

Since then, the pendulum has swung toward origin stories, a la “Ms. Marvel,” with at best mixed results.

“Secret Invasion” wasn’t bad, but for students of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it felt more like an elective than a required course. That assessment might evolve as “The Marvels” comes into focus, but given how the streaming series were supposed to fit into Marvel’s larger portfolio, it doesn’t feel like enough of a plus.

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