With the debut of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the House of Ideas is hoping that the big screen magic the company captured with The Avengers will translate to the small screen and maintain the brand’s high profile in between feature film releases. The pilot for S.H.I.E.L.D. succeeds on many fronts, but when stacked up against Marvel’s slate of $200 million blockbusters, it can’t help but feel like a low-rent sidekick.
New Faces Clash With Old Favorites
If quips were bricks, Whedon could have built the mansion from Dynasty with this script.
The episode, which was written and directed by Joss Whedon, starts off with the return of Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), who was presumed dead during The Avengers. For this series, he is tasked with putting together a squad of elite S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to take down a mysterious entity known as the Rising Tide, which knows the identity of a new meta-human, played by J. August Richards. The episode is mostly told through two entry-point characters: Agent Ward, played by Brett Dalton; and Rising Tide hacker Skye, played by Chloe Bennet, who transforms from annoying to wonderful as the pilot moves on. Rounding out the cast is Ming-Na Wen, Elizabeth Henstridge, Iain De Caestecker, and Cobie Smulders in a brief cameo as Agent Maria Hill.
Aside from Smulders and Gregg, none of the supporting characters have that Marvel charm we've all come to expect. They seem to exist solely to fill the needs of the plot, rather than as fully-formed characters. They all spit out quippy Joss Whedon dialogue, but a lot of times these background agents are reduced to being mouthpieces for exposition, epecially in the case of Wen, Henstridge, and Caestecker. None of them detract from the episode, but if feels like Whedon hasn't nailed them down yet.
Clark and Smulders, on the other hand, fit comfortably into their roles, providing the show with some much-needed energy, while the other cast members try to find their voices. That said, the return of Coulson from the dead negates the one moment of true emotion from The Avengers and actually cheapens the film as a result. Just something to think about moving forward. Maybe this will be accounted for?
Building On the Success of The Avengers
Though the new characters are surely going to go through some growing pains in the beginning, the plot here is everything Marvel fans would want. Tying in to both The Avengers and Iron Man 3, the story deals with the fallout of the battle of New York during the Chitauri invasion and the continuing menace of the Extremis virus. The bulk of the story satisfies espionage cravings nicely, but it's in the episode's final moments, during a tense standoff between the agents and J. August Richards’s character, where we finally get some real emotion. The last 10 minutes are what I'd love to see from the series moving forward, especially if it hopes to compete with TV gems like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead for geek supremacy.
Unfortunately until that satisfying climax, we’re mostly treated to comic book in-jokes and some truly eye-rolling humor, including an unnecessary poop joke that just seems below where we’re at with comic book adaptations. If quips were bricks, Whedon could have built the mansion from Dynasty with this script. You can't help but crave more political intrigue and moral ambiguity from this series, as opposed to being fed hashtag quotes and T-shirt slogans.
A World of Potential, a World of Concerns
The pilot for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a schizophrenic experience. While it has a great premise and limitless potential based on its comic book history, the end result lacked the scope and wonder of its superhero-focused cinematic counterparts. We're in the golden age of television, and this show will have to do more than simply entertain us to stand out. Still, with the world of Marvel coming at us on a weekly basis, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. could easily turn it around once the actors settle into their roles and a consistent vision is found.
In the meantime, anyone else wondering: What really happened to Agent Coulson while he was recovering from his Avengers wounds in Tahiti? Who is really behind these mysterious new super powers?
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