Martin Carr reviews Invasion on Apple TV+…
The word Invasion feels implicitly threatening. It suggests solid characters in crisis, an impending threat of global significance and most importantly conflict. Marauding alien lifeforms, threats to life and limb and earthly upheaval should all be on the cards. Some light vivisection and flashes of operating table mayhem might also add some much needed darkness, if only to stop things getting dull. That is not the ideal, just a few pointers when it comes to science fiction shows which decide to lean into any influences from War of the Worlds.
With this Apple version of that H.G. Wells classic everything looks expensive. Production design is polished, poised and built in a way only possible with bottomless pockets. Elsewhere, there is real human conflict both physical and psychological as interlinked character moments merge, breathing life into a series which takes time to gain momentum.
Golshifteh Farahani plays Aneesha to Firas Nassar’s Ahmed, a married couple who are divided by extramarital infidelity when disaster hits. At a point when most people would be running for the door, they are forced to stay together as an unseen attack forces them across country. Elsewhere in the world, Shioli Kutsuna’s Mitsuki sits behind a desk fawning after her paramour, until the world is turned upside down in an instant.
Much of Invasion follows this pattern, introducing strong individual characters overcoming extreme odds, or seemingly weak people experiencing epiphanies. In storytelling terms, it attempts to embrace every nationality in a universal narrative aimed at the largest possible demographic. No creed or colour is excluded from this overarching story of extra-terrestrial adversity. A blanket mentality which sees the series suffer in an untold number of ways.
With David Weil and Simon Kinsberg at the helm Invasion probably sounded like a sure thing. Solos and Hunters, both for Amazon, were really interesting shows in their own right. Both thoughtful, provocative and powerful, they represented everything that good about television. A similar story could be made for Simon Kinsberg, who was involved with Logan and various X-Men iterations which all proved successful money spinners. Meaning that when this duo pitched Apple their contemporary take on H.G. Wells, everyone in that room was probably fighting to throw money at it.
What makes the premise so enticing, but the end result so mediocre is a lack of cohesion. Invasion has some great characters in Billy Barratt’s Casper and Shamier Anderson’s Trevante Ward, but this show lacks conflict. There are personal confrontations and numerous news feed updates but pacing is an issue. Four hours of world building grinds by at a pedestrian pace, sucking any thrills from the screen and creating a vacuum in its wake.
That is not to say that Invasion lacks polish, just that there is nothing new in terms of expanding the genre. Independence Day, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and even 2001: A Space Odyssey brought something new, while Arrival was also a game changer. With more momentum and less navel gazing this could have been a great show, rather than something which comes across like an expensive pastiche of past glories.