The second season of Robert Kirkman’s superhero series makes a point of sticking close to the comic books on which it’s based, but that’s not always a good thing.
Invincible is just like the comics. This is the magic phrase that comic book fans (or fans of any source material that gets the adaptation treatment, really) are always dying to hear, but is it really what we want? Robert Kirkman’s adaptation of the long-running comic series (also by Kirkman) is at times painstakingly faithful to its origins, but that doesn’t make the story better. In fact, without the intimidating, world-wrecking presence of J.K. Simmons’ Omni-Man, the long-awaited follow-up season of the hit Prime Video series mostly falls flat. It’s not bad, but it’s also not particularly inspired or interesting. Instead, the first half of the superhero show’s sophomore season is, well, fine.
When viewers last saw superhero Mark Grayson (Steven Yeun), he had just survived being beaten half to death by his dad, Nolan, an alien hero turned villain turned character with a lot of shades of gray and a knack for ripping peoples’ limbs off or punching them to death. The new season opens in the appropriately grim aftermath, with Nolan (aka Omni-Man) having fled Earth and Mark (aka Invincible) mentally stuck in the pain of his betrayal. The opening episode of the season does a good job of relaying Mark’s depression, which isolates him from his equally shell-shocked mom, Debbie (Sandra Oh). It makes it impossible for him to enjoy spending time with friends, graduating high school, or even really doing superhero stuff.
Luckily, though, the world of Invincible is riddled with bad guys of all stripes, and as Mark begins to embrace his world-saving status once again and seeks out a fresh start at college, his world gets a little brighter. Unfortunately for viewers, whatever made the world of Invincible feel initially subversive has vanished along with expectation-defying Omni-Man, and the show feels unmoored without a central tension to hold it together. Mark faces off against several villains and finds himself in high-stakes predicaments ranging from silly to serious, but too often, the baddies seem to be going through the paces – as if for no other reason than because they were written that way. “Saving lives isn’t really our jam,” one villain tells another in the premiere episode, and that’s pretty much all the backstory either character needs from the other to make this sometimes thinly written (and occasionally plot hole-heavy) good versus evil show work.
Of course, there are parts of the four episodes of Invincible season 2 available for review that did disrupt the disappointing normalcy of its established world. Debbie is given more depth on screen than on the page, and Oh’s performance makes her feel like a scene-stealing character who deserves even more screen time. Yeun, too, gives a playful and compelling voice performance, and supporting actors like Walton Goggins, Jason Mantzoukas, and Andrew Rannells inject their characters with more liveliness than the somewhat plain scripts would otherwise afford them. Sterling K. Brown, joining as a new supervillain, also does great work. The show’s animation, from Harley Quinn crew Maven Image Platform, is also nice; it’s crisp and strong, recalling the nostalgic early days of DC’s animated shows.
Too often, though, the show pulls straight from the pages of its comic book counterpart and ends up worse for it. As a comic, Invincible mixes villain-of-the-week style face-offs with an ambitious overarching plot, but during this transition phase between Nolan’s disappearance and what comes next, the bad guy bashing seems rote – and the teen rite-of-passage plots aren’t much better. A few storylines are beefed up and repurposed in the show, and it tries to balance its more procedural plots with long-term storylines, but the real problem with this season of Invincible season 2 so far is that it seems much more aimless than it’s meant to be. Without the guiding force of a villain as subversive as Nolan, the show is disjointed, and can’t quite figure out how to communicate Mark’s malaise without making it feel like our own. Its best moments come when the series embraces its sense of dry comedy, but they’re too few and far between for its own good.
Of course, comic fans will know that something huge is on the horizon for Mark, and the series burns through its source material pretty quickly to get to the next surprising chapter of his traumatic backstory. Since the first three episodes of the season don’t make a strong impression, the show’s choice to jump into the action with its mid-season finale also feels surprising, but it’s a decent surprise. The show ultimately regains some of its sense of tension at the eleventh hour – if you can stay hooked long enough to stick around for it.
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