Marvel Comics’ cinematic universe just got a little bigger by expanding into the small screen. With “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” fans learn that, as the tagline goes, “not all heroes are super.”
S.H.I.E.L.D. is an international espionage organization that was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1965 at the height of the “super spy” trend. Its most famous operative is Nick Fury. The acronym has stood for several different names, but in Marvel’s cinematic universe it means Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division, and made its film debut in 2008’s “Iron Man.”
“Agents” was co-created by “Avengers” director Joss Whedon, who also directed the premiere. The series focuses on a team of five super spies who investigate and police superhumans. The team includes a pair of quirky scientists, an antisocial field agent, and a brilliant civilian hacker. Their leader is none other than the fan-favorite Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), who has appeared in several of Marvel’s films, most notably in last year’s “The Avengers.” However, Coulson died in that film—so it seemed. Whedon, perhaps in an effort to change his reputation for killing beloved characters, explains this seeming discontinuity by revealing that Coulson’s death was faked by S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury. This borders on being a retcon, but it should make the fans happy.
Tonight’s premiere began with an unemployed father promising his son he would find a new job. A building exploded, and the father donned a hoodie to save a woman from the burning structure. This is recorded by every person in the vicinity holding a camera phone, which prompts Agent Coulson to recruit a team to respond to occurrences like this. The show’s main cast is introduced with rapid-fire succession, barely giving the audience time to breathe. Intros for some characters are rushed, in particular the pair of scientists who appeared nearly halfway into the episode. While the scientists do have a presence on the show, they are given little time to bond with the audience. It’s times like this one wonders if the episode should have been two hours long. Regardless, while the cast are unknowns, they perform well together and establish a good dynamic that will hopefully develop as time goes on.
The aforementioned father was the episode’s “villain,” though in true Marvel fashion, he is a complicated character. After being laid off from his factory job, he turned to dangerous and illegal technology—in the form of a centipede-like device implanted on his arm—that gave him superhuman powers in order to recover. But when his foreman refused to re-hire him, he beats him within inches of death and goes on the run. He’s a good guy who has had some bad breaks, as Coulson said. It is rare to see such a multifaceted guest character on a superhero show.
The episode was replete with numerous tie-ins to the Marvel cinematic universe, both subtle and overt. Most are references to the events and characters of those films. However, a major plot point of the episode connects the premiere to this summer’s “Iron Man 3.” The device on the father’s arm pumped a modified version of the Extremis virus into his bloodstream. Whedon strikes an incredible balance with these tie-ins, presenting them in a way that rewards longtime fans without alienating or confusing newcomers. They reminded viewers that this show takes place in a larger world.
The climax, however, was the episode’s weak spot. It took place in Union Station, where the father attempted to escape S.H.I.E.L.D. with his son by kidnapping one of the team’s operatives. While the action sequence leading to the climax was well-executed, it ended with Coulson trying to talk the father down while a sniper prepared to take the latter out. The audience was led to believe Coulson was trying to avoid having the father shot since the Extremis virus was unstable and about to explode. The sniper shot the father anyway, but all the heroes smiled. The next scene explained that the father was returned to his family. Apparently, the bullet was filled with a compound that neutralized the virus, but it is not quite explained.
Overall, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” is off to a solid, if harried, start. It has Whedon’s trademark wit and sharp storytelling and is ripe with potential. With Marvel releasing new films like “Thor: The Dark World” within the next year, the possibility of doing tie-ins with said films would make for exciting new adventures. This show could also be an excellent way to introduce lesser-known superheroes like Luke Cage and Black Panther to the cinematic universe.
But the important part is…COLSON LIVES!