With Iron Man 3 successfully launching Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), it seemed that Marvel could do no wrong. Although some of their films have been met with minor criticisms, overall, they have stood as cinematic and commercial triumphs. Couple this hype with the return of Joss Whedon to television, and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was destined to find a crowd, all wondering whether it could live up to its cinematic counterparts. With witty dialogue, intriguing characters, and an excellent use of continuity to bridge the gap, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (AoS) deserves a top spot on the weekly DVR.
Given the fact that the agency has appeared in a number of films, AoS ran the risk of being redundant or boring. Although many of the concepts and ideas were present in the films, AoS managed to provide a new spin on the material, giving it a fresh new look. How did they do this? In addition to providing well-placed crossover moments, the series gave a more narrowed look on the characters of the series. In doing so, they separated themselves from their cinematic source, giving a more human feel to the superhuman universe.
This unique quality is most easily seen in the bridge character, Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg). Having been present in most of the films in the MCU, viewers already had a fundamental knowledge of the character. However, in addition to the character’s rebirth following the events of The Avengers, he has also been given a more intriguing personality. In The Avengers, we briefly saw the quirkiness of Coulson with his fascination with Captain America. This personality is built upon in the premiere, providing a number of subtle occasions for viewers to witness the depth of his personality (don’t touch Lola). More significantly, unlike in the films, viewers are able to see Coulson’s moral turpitude, quickly establishing the character as the group’s strong, well-intentioned leader. Combining this with a secretive explanation for how he was able to overcome his apparent death, AoS had themselves a worthwhile protagonist.
AoS also benefitted from an intriguing array of new characters. More specifically, the tech-savvy, anti-S.H.I.E.L.D character, Skye (Chloe Bennet), provided a number of interesting interactions. Being the most reluctant of the bunch to join the “team,” Skye provided a unique look on how the world has changed since the events of The Avengers. Although the superhuman team certainly saved the world from the extraterrestrial threat, it forced change, bringing about what the characters frequently refer to as, “the new world.” Skye acts as a way of viewing this change, initially expressing feelings of distaste for S.H.I.E.L.D. and their seeming desire to “shield us from the truth.” Her development over the course of the episode to a more supportive role, bridges the gap nicely between the events of the MCU and the new series.
Unlike many television series, AoS had the history of an entire series of movies to draw from. Although this may prove to be a crutch that the series will eventually have to cast aside, it allowed the writers to introduce concepts without needing too much exposition. For instance, the pilot introduced “The Centipede,” a device that enables regular human beings to gain superhuman abilities. Despite it being such a seemingly complicated device, AoS was able to get by with minimal backstory by connecting the device to “Extremis,” a formula previously utilized in Iron Man 3. Similarly, the entire government agency of S.H.I.E.L.D required little to know explanation. Although viewers are being given a new, more human perspective on the agency, it is assumed that they already have a basic understanding of the titular organization. There is good and bad to this decision to use the MCU to gloss over details, but in general, it allows the series to move on without having to bog down the episode with universal backstory.
Naturally, there is a certain level of weakness to this utilization of continuity. While fans of the Marvel films may find the story easy enough to follow, the lack of exposition could prove to be discouraging to new viewers. For instance, the previously mentioned Extremis formula may be taken in stride by avid Marvel fans, but is likely to leave new audience members puzzled. Furthermore, unless you saw the box office hit, The Avengers, much of the story will be lost on you. It is clear that Marvel is catering to a very specific demographic (i.e. those who have seen their films). This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is unlikely to earn them new followers.
While not without its flaws, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will leave fans of the films satisfied and yearning for more. With the new team assembled and the stakes set, the series is posed for an entertaining first season, filled with plenty of action and mystery to keep even the newest of viewers engaged. Time will tell whether the series can break beyond the confines of its cinematic source, bringing the universe to new, unexplored heights.
Overall Episode Score: 9/10
Next Episode: "0-8-4," October 1, 2013
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