Invincible Season 2 Part 1 review: The best superhero TV show is back
Be bold, be original, be… Invincible; Season 2’s opening episodes are near-immaculate, setting a much-needed bar for small-screen superheroes – this is televisual storytelling not only done well, but right.
Without adversity (the majority of the MCU’s TV output, excluding WandaVision and Loki), there can be no triumph. Without testing your limits (The Boys, Gen V, and Peacemaker), you can never know how strong you truly are – and with Season 2, Invincible achieves omnipotence within a genre now defined by its over-saturation.
Its first season felt like a step onto a new frontier, with its Pokemon-hued, sunny pastiche of mainstream superhero stories acting as a sneaky gateway to a whole new violent, unpredictable world. Some may have felt Robert Kirkman’s original comic was adapted too late, given the boom that’s reshaped pop culture and cinema as a whole – but with clever writing and no-holds-barred visuals, it’s proved to be a can’t-look-back tonic; everything else seems a little worse.
Season 2, while frustratingly split in half, is a step up: the plot-juggling is slicker, the world-building is expansive and immersively envisioned, the performances are excellent, and the violence? The Happy Tree Friends would even feel queasy at the savagery – and it’s glorious. This review is spoiler free…
Everyone looks back in anger in Invincible Season 2
Invincible picks up soon after the “titans touched down in Chicago”, when Mark (Steven Yeun) faced off against his dad, Omni-Man (J.K. Simmons) in a slaughterous air-and-ground brawl that culminated in one of the great beatdowns put to screen – but also one of the most heartbreaking grace notes: “You, dad… I’d still have you.”
With Omni-Man off-world and awol, Mark and his mother Debbie (Sandra Oh) struggle to reconcile the facade of the past two decades – especially Nolan’s harrowing description of his wife as a “pet” – with the expectation to just… keep going, existing; they have survivor’s guilt, but he isn’t even dead. We see them going through the motions of life, but while the lights may be on, nobody’s at home; Mark flies around the city aimlessly as a friendly neighborhood hero (aptly backed by Radiohead’s ‘Karma Police’), while his mom is reminded of her anger wherever she looks, from obnoxious home-buyers to broken cupboards.
The highs and lows of life and superhero’ing await, though: Mark still has to get into college, balance his love life with Amber (Zazie Beetz), keep up friendships with William (Andrew Rannells) and Eve (Gillian Jacobs), and that’s before trying to establish a new working relationship with Cecil (Walton Goggins). There’s also a rogues gallery for Invincible and the Guardians of the Globe to contend with; some familiar baddies like the Mauler twins (Kevin Michael Richardson, on hilarious form), and a new nemesis in the form of Angstrom Levy (Sterling K. Brown) – the less you know, the better.
Don’t fear the multiverse
This isn’t a spoiler: Levy’s villain involves the multiverse. It’s a concept about which we know frighteningly too much (Avengers: Secret Wars will be the ultimate point-and-cheer example of toy box entertainment) but Invincible, mercifully, doesn’t center it. There are countless other universes, but the use of alternate dimensions isn’t frivolous; for all of its whacky world-building, this is Mark’s story first and foremost – and it’ll break and change the hero forever.
The first season occasionally let itself be overwhelmed with monster-of-the-week missions and supporting characters, but Kirkman and co. have struck an engrossing, precise blend on their second outing. The through-line never fades into the periphery, with the terror and tragedy of the last finale’s fight lingering over almost every conversation (like Metropolis in the SnyderVerse, only better), but the beats on the side are surprisingly affecting; Debbie’s arc in the four episodes is heartbreaking, and Eve’s struggles against the grain add further depth to her character.
It’s unbeholden to fashionable, insufferable meta-humor (with the exception of a somewhat cringey burst of narration in Episode 3), opting for sincerity, quipping, and amusing interplay between characters than straining to wink at the audience.
The big hook of Season 2 is obvious: the wrath of the Viltrumites, as teased by Allen the Alien (Seth Rogen), in the wake of Omni-Man’s abandonment of Earth, and finding out where he went. We can’t say much, if anything, aside from this: what we do see in Part 1 is tremendous, thrilling, and speaks volumes to Kirkman’s writing and master plan – which is why it’s so bloody annoying that we’ll need to wait until 2024 for the rest. Admittedly, this stems from enjoying it so much, and the four episodes are structured like their own mini-season – but that doesn’t make it a good decision.
Performances, music, animation… all Invincible
The performances are uniformly superb, with Yeun and Oh delivering particularly moving work. They easily achieve the gold standard: making animated characters transcend their 2D aesthetic and feel like fully-formed people we know. Simmons is predictably excellent (again, zipped mouths from us), but the real star of the early episodes is Brown as Levy, evoking unexpected empathy for a complicated, nuanced protagonist. He’s a frightening foe, but Brown takes him beyond menace.
Skybound’s animation is gorgeous and grisly. Violence is in its DNA, as is its pleasant color palette, but the harsh strokes of spilled guts and tightly choreographed, inventive action never fail to make a seismic impact (one kill involving a face ramming into an elbow will make you squeal in the best way) – thank god Omni-Man will be in MK1 shortly after the episodes hit streaming. It’s a medium that enables otherwise impossible imagery in live-action; some of the deaths and characters are absurd, but delightfully and bracingly so.
John Paesano, fresh off a banger of a score for Spider-Man 2, turns another soul-tingling composition that compliments the season’s pitch-perfect needle drops; for the episodes that don’t play out their credits in stunned silence, you should stick around.
Invincible Season 2 Part 1 review score: 5/5
Invincible Season 2 wipes the floor with every other superhero show; it’s provocative, compulsively watchable TV that upends expectations on its own devastating terms.
Invincible Season 2 Episode 1 premieres on November 3 on Prime Video, which you can sign up for here.
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