Aside from a few anomalies such as the 1986 animated Transformers film and the two X-Files movies, we haven’t seen much shared storytelling between film and TV until now. This Fall, Joss Whedon and Marvel Studios unveiled their new weekly action series Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which successfully expands the world established by all the movies produced by Marvel Studios up to this Summer’s Iron Man 3. As the title suggests, and as we are constantly reminded throughout the pilot episode, this show focuses on a small team of agents from the covert espionage group assigned to deal with all the new technology and super-powered threats that the world was introduced to in the movies and that culminated in the climactic battle in Whedon’s 2012 blockbuster The Avengers. While the pilot episode doesn’t have the star power of the films, it keeps much of the well-executed action and overall sense of fun that made them appealing to comic fans and general audiences.
As is the case with most pilot episodes for shows dealing with teams, the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. premiere deals with the initial assembly of the task force on orders from Maria Hill (Colbie Smoulders, in what’s billed as a “Special Guest Appearance” in the opening credits) and led by Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), who quickly explains why he’s still alive after what happened to him in The Avengers as “I got better” in a nutshell. We quickly find out, however, that the truth behind his resurrection is a mystery that only a select few know the truth about, and Coulson doesn’t seem to be one of them. The team assembled by Coulson includes a brash young agent named Grant Ward (Brent Dalton), a tough veteran agent named Melinda May (ER‘s Ming-Na Wen) and bickering lab rats Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge). Their first mission involves tracking down a recently laid-off factory worker named Mike Peterson (J. August Richards) who has recently been on the news exhibiting a number of superhuman abilities while rescuing a woman from a burning building. The team finds an unlikely and at first reluctant ally in Skye (Chloe Bennet), a computer hacker who has information that is vital to their mission. Together, they work towards tracking down the frightened Peterson before his power hurts himself and others.
As is the case for all of his shows, Whedon directed and co-wrote the pilot, and his fingerprints are all over it. Quippy dialogue recited by good-looking actors? Check. Smart people smugly rattling off jargon at rapid-fire speed? Check. A Ron Glass cameo? Hell Yeah! There are several explicit references to gamma rays, the Super-Soldier serum, Extremis, and the Battle of New York that, in addition to the presence of Coulson and Maria Hill, firmly plant the show in the official cannon of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Hell, even Coulson’s questionable decision to draft Skye has a precedence from the “Item 47″ short film on the Avengers Blu-Ray. The overall style of the show, right down to the way the action is photographed and edited, fits in seamlessly with the style of the films, albeit admittedly on a smaller scale for TV. All of these elements legitimize the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. pilot as a vital part of the Marvel Studios canon instead of the cynical cash grab it could have been, and Whedon’s involvement has a lot to do with that.
With everything that the premiere gets right, there are a handful of problems I had with it. Aside from Coulson, whom we’ve spent five years getting to know, the rest of the team has yet to rise above the status of flat archetypes. I did appreciate that Agent Ward, who in most shows would be the unflappable tough-guy hero, is played mostly for laughs, especially in a distinctly Whedonesque interrogation scene with Coulson and Skye. With Whedon at the helm, I’m sure that the members of this team will get further developed so that we start to care about them, if only so that he can kill one off by the end of the season. Also, while I appreciated the Back To The Future homage at the end, that final scene played like a pale imitation of the Helicarrier reveal in The Avengers. Despite these petty qualms, the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. premiere hit enough of my nerd buttons to make me want to continue to watch it, and hopefully enough people who were introduced to this world via the Marvel movies will do the same. 4 out of 5 “Journeys Into Mystery.”
- A few additional thoughts about the premiere
Regarding the truth about Coulson’s resurrection, I have a theory that the answer lies with a throwaway line that Tony Stark delivers in The Avengers. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.
Did anyone else besides me get a little bit of an Aubrey Plaza vibe from Chloe Bennet, the actress who plays Skye? It almost made me wish Plaza herself was available to play the role, not to take anything away from Bennet, who did an okay job.
Even though she only had a limited amount of screen time both here and in The Avengers, I’m extremely impressed with Cobie Smoulders’ performance as Maria Hill and hope she makes more guest appearances on the show. I also hope that, if Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. gets renewed, she gets added to the regular cast once she’s done with How I Met Your Mother.
Fitz and Simmons were funny, if not slightly annoying in a manner resembling Fran Kranz’s character Toph from Dollhouse, but could their names be any dumber? They’d better do some really awesome things in future episodes or they’re going to wear out their welcome quickly.
I was kind of bummed to see that Mike wasn’t a permanent part of the show because I liked his character, despite his somewhat erratic mood shifts. I definitely hope we haven’t seen the last of him.