It takes a while for the alien incursion promised in the title of Apple TV+’s Invasion to arrive, and even then, the aliens themselves and their purpose remain largely shrouded in mystery. A slow-moving, often tedious disaster drama, Invasion takes five episodes to get through what a blockbuster movie might take care of in half an hour.
That’s surprising, given that Invasion co-creator Simon Kinberg is best known for his work on just that kind of sci-fi film, including multiple X-Men movies. But Invasion isn’t just Independence Day as a TV show, and Kinberg and co-creator David Weil are clearly interested in crafting character studies rather than leading with explosions. This is a worthy goal, but Invasion’s characters are largely irritating and unlikable, with questionable relevance to larger global events.
Invasion features a set of non-intersecting stories that take place around the world, although still focused mostly on people in the US. In the suburbs of New York City, Aneesha Malik (Golshifteh Farahani) takes care of her young children Luke (Azhy Robertson) and Sarah (Tara Moayedi), but is more preoccupied by the discovery that her husband Ahmed (Firas Nassar) is having an affair. When debris rains down from the sky and destroys much of their neighborhood, they hit the road with a vague plan to escape danger.
In Afghanistan, soldier Trevante Cole (Shamier Anderson) is cut off from the rest of the US forces after a desert encounter with what may be an alien craft. Of course, as soon as the soldiers glimpse the mysterious vessel, they start shooting at it, so it is hard to feel bad for Trevante’s situation as he barrels ahead, rifle first, into a foreign country.
A group of London schoolchildren take a trip to the countryside, where their bus is struck by more falling debris and tumbles into a ravine. Shy student Casper Morrow (Billy Barratt), who experiences seizures, may have a mental connection to the alien presence, much like Luke in the US, although the nature of that connection remains frustratingly unclear.
Meanwhile, in the only storyline directly connected to outer space, Japanese space agency communications officer Mitsuki Yamato (Shiori Kutsuna) attempts to figure out what caused the destruction of a Japanese space shuttle on a mission to the International Space Station. Mitsuki is the first character who gets to utter the word “aliens”, although it takes nearly five hours of running time for the show to get there.
There is an additional plot in the first episode featuring Sam Neill as a sheriff in small-town Oklahoma, although his billing as one of the show’s major stars is a frustrating misdirection. Much of the storytelling feels like deception and time-filler as well. The Lord of the Flies-style segments about Casper and his schoolmates, along with Trevante’s desert wanderings, come closer to survival dramas than sci-fi.
The tone is is overwhelmingly sombre, with almost no room for humour, excitement or wonder. Kutsuna carries the show as the dedicated Mitsuki, who has both scientific and personal reasons to investigate what is really going on. The rest of the performances are solid, but the characters continually make reckless, nonsensical decisions and their meandering storylines lead to minimal pay off.
Invasion picks up a bit in the second half of its 10-episode first series, with more alien action and a greater sense of urgency, although that just makes the earlier instalments seem even more like wasted time. The show is still saddled with glum, grating characters and a wispy concept. It makes those bombastic sci-fi blockbusters look assured and accomplished by comparison.
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