This review contains spoilers.
After coming off the bombastic season two finale of “The Boys,” the Amazon Prime Video queue recommended to me “Invincible” — a show whose existence I only vaguely associated with its comic-book creator, Robert Kirkman. I wearily thought it looked like a stereotypical superhero coming of age story filled with the usual tropes and complemented by darker themes, which have become tiringly ubiquitous of the genre. Instead, Kirkman’s television adaptation of “Invincible” shattered expectations with a brilliantly constructed and jarring story that holds your attention combined with compelling performances by a cast of relatable characters.
The story of “Invincible” revolves around Mark Grayson/Invincible (Steven Yuen), a 17-year-old teen that has just acquired superpowers and aspires to live up to the legend of his Superman-like dad Nolan Grayson/Omni-Man (J.K. Simmons). Initially, the story unfolds predictably, a teen who struggles to learn his newfound abilities, an awkward love triangle develops and the usual training cycle to learn his abilities. There were commonalities from other franchises, such as the “Guardians of the Globe,” a Justice League-inspired team of heroes, and the “Global Defense Agency,” a clear copy of Marvel’s S.H.I.E.L.D., with each working to confront Earth’s biggest threats. Simply put, Mark’s origin story and the broader world felt plain and oddly familiar, which left me suspect about the fantastic reviews from critics.
However, my concerns about the story’s direction were upended by Omni-Man staging the brutal murder of his superhero colleagues in the Guardians of the Globe without any explanation of why he did it. From there on out, the story becomes steeped in mystery and evocative moments as each of the characters tackles with the fallout of Omni-Man’s actions. In particular, the head of the GDA, Cecil Stedman (Walton Goggins), and Mark’s mother, Deborah Grayson (Sandra Oh), each slowly recognize and struggle with reconciling that the man they’ve known for years committed a heinous crime. Their part in the story is caked in anxiety and anticipation of what could happen if Omni-Man finds out what they’re doing behind his back — if he can kill his longtime superhero colleagues without remorse, what’ll stop him from doing the same to them?
While Mark’s story about discovering the harsh reality of being “Invincible” and the baggage it comes with to his life provides a refreshing take to superhero origins. Often, Mark takes on tasks bigger than himself, lets down his fellow heroes around him and consistently gets beaten down by villains out of his league. These effects transition into his civilian life: he has girlfriend troubles, lets down his best friend and is on the steadfast track to failing high school. Essentially, Mark’s experiences are distinctly human, and they are designed to reinforce that he may not be “Invincible,” which makes his perseverance despite those shortcomings all the more admirable.
I’d be remiss not to mention at least the quality of the show’s animation and its stellar voice cast’s impact on driving home the show’s raison d’être. The animation is nothing short of top-notch with a crisp, distinctive style throughout the show, with a smooth delivery that makes every blow feel real, drop of blood seem reasonable and facial expression reflective. Moreover, the voice actors, particularly the efforts of Oh, Simmons and Yuen, are a true treat for their potent performances that drive the heart of the show’s central characters. Consequently, every fight and dramatic development in the show has an equally impactful response, which is a credit to its visual style and impassioned cast.
Though the show is not without its faults, there were periodic issues regarding the story’s pacing across its run. Certain episodes were packed full of action, character progression and world development, which kept me interested in learning about the universe while keeping the broader story trucking along. However, a few episodes simply dragged on given particular plot points or failed to inject the right combination of action and story, which lent the effect of an exposition drop rather than a natural development. Nonetheless, the show’s pacing is a relatively minute complaint, as it easily could’ve been a measure to relieve tension after, particularly shocking episodes.
In a genre rapidly becoming defined by complex and interlinked comedic action films or over-the-top tales seeped in misery to highlight the failures of superheroes, “Invincible” breaks that monotony. What makes “Invincible” compelling is that it takes your preconceived notions about the superhero genre or expectations from darker-toned shows like “The Boys” and continuously breaks them each episode. It plays with tropes and its audience’s understanding of inspired elements from other universes to build a framework of familiarity. Accordingly, it then sets about to create its own story with each bloody blow, deceptive action and truly gruesome act by heroes and villains alike. At its core, “Invincible” is a breath of fresh air to the superhero genre because it’s bold enough to forge an intuitive story in a saturated genre.