Tuesday, 1 October 2013
I do think that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a remarkable achievement. Granted, Avengers Assemble (and yes, I do like that title) is the only individual part of it that’s really impressed me, but the sheer ambition of the multi-film world and the carefully plotted connections between the films, not forgetting the one-shot short films, is a unique and fascinating venture.
The latest addition to this universe is Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., a TV series which continues the adventures of the shady government agency set up in the films so far, or at least a small section of that, headed by fan favourite Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), back from the dead, alongside gruff action hero Grant Ward (Brett Dalton, proving that real names don’t have to be less badass than character names), pilot Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), techies Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) and newly recruited hacker Skye (Chloe Bennet).
The first episode, broadcast last week, is unimaginatively titled ‘Pilot’, despite the fact that it isn’t a pilot and is, in fact, a first episode (there is a pilot in it, but she’s perhaps the least focused-on character, so there’s still no real reason).
Anyway, my first serious gripe with this episode comes in the plotting – imagine an Anonymous hacker is kidnapped by the NSA and 10 minutes later is working for them. That's basically what happens. Skye’s introduced as an activist trying to expose S.H.I.E.L.D.’s unscrupulous methods – which is a very interesting way for the series to explore its world – and yet this is all forgotten about by the episode’s midpoint, when she's getting all chummy with the crew. Her motives are never really explored and this part of the story feels very rushed.
My other problem with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is that it's too sexy. To put it another way, acting ability wasn't a priority when casting. It's no wonder Skye doesn't have the V mask - I'd be surprised if any real member of Anonymous looks like that, or has that quick a wit. The direction and editing are too 'sexy' too – it all feels a bit overproduced and artificial, which isn’t helped by the amount of clichés inherent in the early scenes. Agent May’s locked herself away in an office job after being damaged in an unknown combat incident and is reluctant to get back into the field, but is tempted back by this crack team? Hmm…
I did get into the story more in the second half, once the 'getting the gang together' thing was over with. The group’s first case, to track down a man who’d gone off the rails after being given experimental super-serum and could literally explode at any moment, gave an interesting angle on this world; his final speech about what it’s like to be an ordinary guy in a world full of gods and super-heroes promised good things for the rest of the series.
Another thing I liked was Joss Whedon’s characteristically witty dialogue – though not as frequently as in Avengers, I did laugh out loud at several points, most notably the follow-up to Coulson’s much-trailered stepping out of the shadows. It seems that Scottish Agent Fitz and English Agent Simmons were set up as the comic relief characters, and indeed provided some of the funniest moments, though I’ll remember them more as the ones with really sexy accents (that’s a good thing, this time). I want Elizabeth Henstridge to sing me to sleep and tell me everything’s going to be alright. And I’m English myself, so can only imagine how foreign and sexy (or foreign and confusing) they must sound to Americans…
One final thing I liked was how the episode was littered with continuity references to other Marvel films – the Extremis serum from Iron Man III, for example – without it ever feeling too overbearing, making Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. really feel like a natural part of that universe. I’ll be interested to see what other Marvel characters can be drawn into the series as it goes on. All in all, I didn't love Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but will stick with it for a while. The series may or may not grow on me...
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