‘Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D,’ sort of
ABC series is a TV take on the 'Avenger' and 'Iron Man' films
September 4, 2013
With so-called spoilers, it is often the case that those who would care about the spoiler already know it, while those who don’t know don’t care.
Viewers who care little about the Marvel Comics “universe” but who have seen the company’s recent movies will be the only ones surprised to see that Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), who apparently died in the 2012 hit “The Avengers,” has come back to lead the title team on ABC’s new series “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Hard-core Marvel fans will have heard the news already.
The series, which premieres on Tuesday, Sept. 24, at 8 p.m., offers some things to please both casual viewers and fanboys, as well as some things that could disappoint both groups, especially if they expect sophistication with their comic-book-based action. People who are naïve or can force naïveté will probably enjoy the show best.
The biggest disappointment for everyone will be the absence of any of the major heroes from the movies, not to mention the big stars who play them. Besides Coulson, who was featured in both “The Avengers” and the two “Iron Man” movies, all we have is Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), who is still looking admirably slender in the same form-fitting uniform she wore in “The Avengers.”
Viewers might also object to the paucity of real superhero action. The sole character with powers is Michael Peterson (J. August Richards), an unemployed factory worker who attracts the attention of S.H.I.E.L.D. when he exhibits his super strength while rescuing a woman from a burning building.
Coulson sends four agents to investigate: Providing muscle are Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) and Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen); providing scientific expertise are Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge).
The group reluctantly accepts the help of a computer hacker named Skye (Chloe Bennet), who has been trying to alert the world to the existence of S.H.I.E.L.D. ever since the Battle of New York, the superheroes-vs.-aliens clash that provided the climax to the “Avengers” movie. Coulson explains that the agency’s director, Nick Fury, had him fake his death in order to motivate the Avengers for that battle.
Most of the action, however, is of the super-spy variety. Ward is sent on a mission to Paris that balls together spycraft, hand-to-hand combat, a mysterious babe and a spectacular escape. Fitz and Simmons keep pulling out cool gadgets and pulling off feats of scientific deduction.
The plot winds up with a conventional “take the shot!” scene in which a good guy has to decide whether to obey orders or his conscience.
But the script, written by the critics’ darling Joss Whedon and two of his fellow executive producers, Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen, mocks the clichés of the various genres from which the show borrows. After Coulson dramatically steps out from the shadows in his first entrance and utters a suitable zinger, he adds, “Sorry! That corner was really dark, and I couldn’t help myself. I think there’s a bulb out.”
When Hill asks Ward what the agency’s name — Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division — means to him, he replies, “It means someone really wanted our initials to spell out S.H.I.E.L.D.”
Average moviegoers who didn’t know that Coulson was being groomed to lead his own series must have wondered why he received so many long takes in the “Iron Man” films and was given such a prominent death in “The Avengers.” While both the character and the actor are likable and funny, few people left the theater saying they wanted to see more of either.
Even Marvel devotees might be surprised at how dominant Coulson is on this show. The other characters, with the slight exception of Skye, are ill-defined and remain sketchy at the end of the episode.
“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” might be best for viewers who are old enough to get the jokes but young enough to appreciate the simple action on its own terms. A deliberately corny closing shot tries to spin the show that way.
Parents will appreciate that the sexual content is limited to a few glimpses of cleavage.
Boomers might be reminded of the 1964-1968 series “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” a sort of James Bond Lite that pacified kids who were too young to see “Goldfinger” while keeping their elder brothers and sisters moderately entertained.
Despite a lack of Thor and Hulk and an excess of Coulson, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” could work in the same way, as a lower-quality, lower-budget substitute for the feature films. It was unrealistic to expect this show to be as marvelous.
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