‘Invasion’ Is A Slow Yet Ambitious Drama That’s Not Quite About Aliens – Review￼
Simon Kinberg has been a notable force in Hollywood since first making his mark with writing the 2005 blockbuster Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. He’s since become best known for penning a number of X-Men movies for 20th Century Fox (as well as making his directorial debut with the final film for that franchise, 2019’s Dark Phoenix) and producing hits for Ridley Scott, Kenneth Branagh, and Neill Blomkamp.
So, it may seem odd to say that Invasion, a new 10-episode series for Apple TV+ that Kinberg created with David Weil (Hunters, Solos), is the filmmaker’s most ambitious work to date. However, how Kinberg and Weil take advantage of the ongoing era of prestige television and long-form storytelling is what makes it such an attempted feat. Invasion is a literal alien invasion story, one where powerful extraterrestrials arrive on Earth and change things forever, but the series’ big sci-fi effects and action take a significant backseat to its real focus: How the people of Earth, of all various walks of life, respond to the incredible events in their own personal ways?
Invasion plays out more or less in real-time, switching perspectives from its numerous characters living around the globe–a small-town Alabama sheriff (Sam Neill), a scientist working for the space program in Japan (Shioli Kutsana), an astronaut from that same program set for a mission to the ISS (Rinko Kikuchi), a young London boy prone to seizures (Billy Barratt), a Syrian family living on Long Island (Golshifteh Farahani, Firas Nassar, Azhy Robertson & Tara Moayedi), a US soldier stationed in Afghanistan (Shamier Anderson), and more. It’s a multi-racial and multi-language series that certainly deserves praise for that aspect alone, but the fact that it gives this many characters time to actually shine and develop (as opposed to just sticking the actors in front of a green screen and instructing them to run or look scared) by leaning more towards emotional drama rather than spectacle is the show’s biggest grab.
Of course, that can also be a double-edged sword. Viewers hoping for something along the lines of a multi-continent spanning Independence Day or even a War of the Worlds will likely be left sorely disappointed. Invasion is, for better and worse, mostly just people talking about their lives, and the apocalyptic scenario only really exists to propel decisions and force characters to prioritize. Sheriff Jim Bell Tyson looks back on his life and career and feels like it hasn’t had any purpose, Mitsuke Yamamoto has grown tired of hiding her relationship with a woman from her family and the public, Trevante Ward has grown increasingly disillusioned with his deployment in a foreign country, and so on.
The series’ most compelling perspective is that of Annesha Malik, who is forced to grab her two young children from school when a mysterious outbreak of nosebleeds begins affecting kids everywhere, and discovers that her husband Ahmed has been cheating on her for some time only for the apocalypse to begin that very night. Annesha, shocked and devastated, must keep her kids safe as the world falls apart while being stuck with who is now the last person she wants to be around: her cowardly and untrustworthy husband.
These kinds of dramatic scenarios–the young London boy and his class wind up in a Lord of the Flies situation, Mitsuke and Trevante both try not to drown in their respective grief while still attempting to do their jobs, and so on–make for some strong moments of introspection and allow the actors shine. But the slow burn that is Invasion often threatens to swallow itself whole; the aliens themselves remain in the background, and what threat they exactly pose is kept far too vague for far too long. It can make for a frustrating watch, and even when the first batch of episodes manage to keep you hooked with a couple of shocking beats, the pace still at times feels lethargic, as if the world isn’t really ending around our characters after all.
This may be due in part to Invasion’s entire gimmick – the constant switching between the various groups of characters around the world works well in quickly introducing everyone and certain tonal shifts during scene changes can be effective, but mostly it only serves to grind the series’ pace to a halt.
There are ways of telling stories of extraterrestrial invaders and the apocalypse they bring without a need to focus on the screaming and destruction, and Invasion is certainly trying to tread the same line as Arrival or Signs, but Kinberg and company too often seem to forget to make things exciting and entertaining as well. Still, the whole picture may prove worth it by the series’ end, and there are certainly memorable moments to be found throughout for those patient enough to sit through it.