Ben McCarthy is blown away by the Marvel-ous new Channel Four nerd-fest that is making our Friday nights super.
For a time, all movie going audiences had from the Marvel Cinematic Universe was an eccentric billionaire in an Iron Costume. But times are changing. Aliens descended on New York in the 2012 mega blockbuster The Avengers, a hugely anticipated super-hero cross over starring Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and the Hulk. To say this film was successful is an understatement. It made a huge chunk of money; not only is it the third biggest film ever (nothing can ever seem to beat the soppy Titanic and the disgustingly overrated Avatar), it single-handedly placed most of DC Comics on suicide watch while making most movie execs desperate to see a piece of that green. Cue 2015′s Batman vs. Superman, a sequel to the mostly disappointing Man of Steel starring Ben Affleck as Batman and a rumoured Justin Bieber as Robin. Urm…
But something else The Avengers did was firmly place Marvel Studios at the top of the ladder for super-hero movies. Both audiences and producers are hungry for more, and nerd God Joss Whedon, seemingly descended from Asgard to spearhead Marvel’s good fortune, has responded to this in droves. But, despite the upcoming films, Whedon and brother Jed decided this still wasn’t enough. The answer: a TV series set in the same Universe as all the movies, describing the day to day activities of SHIELD and its efforts to combat a world “filling up of people who can’t be matched… or controlled.”
Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, follows the story of everyone’s favourite (and apparently dead) SHIELD Agent Phil Coulson, who assembles the usual suspects for a gathering of secret agents; the uber smart scientists, the kick arse spies, the computer hacker and the troubled leader. The basic premise is simple enough … in fact I’d go as far as to say we’ve seen this all before, several times. The trick with shows like this is to inject a uniqueness into it that makes it stand out. The characters need to be engaging while the episodes need to continue to surprise us. So, after a few episodes, how is this hugely anticipated series holding up?
Straight away, this show has several advantages. Set in the post Avengers world, episodes 1 and 2 are littered with references to the films, whether it’s the locating of a Chitauri mask or a bomb made by the villains of Captain America: Hydra. However, this never feels overdone. In fact, you could probably come into this series and be quite happy, even if you are one of the five people that didn’t see The Avengers last year. You do get the impression that the spectacle of the movies is all happening around the series, yet this is going to tell a smaller, more personal story. And they even get Samuel L Jackson in for a cameo. Yes. Uber Hollywood star Samuel L fricking Jackson appears. In a TV show.
It also has Clark Gregg as the sarcastic and hugely entertaining Phil Coulson, who, thankfully, managed to survive getting speared through the chest. He’s back with a vengeance, either there to offer exposition or to simply be a nice familiar face for the audience to connect with. Since his first appearance in 2008′s Iron Man, he’s developed a cult following all of his own, so a TV series following his adventures was always going to be popular. But what about the rest of the cast?
In all honesty, it does take two episodes before you truly get to know them all properly. Episode 1 is very heavily detailing the recruitment of Skye (Chloe Bennet), a computer hacker who has taken it upon herself to expose SHIELD’s dealings, and Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), your average kick ass secret agent. However, by the end of the second offering, you really do get a sense of the rest of the team as a whole. You’ve got the science nerds Fitz and Simmons (Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge ), which while at first sounding like two clichés actually end up being very entertaining in the end. And then there’s Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), who is probably the most interesting of the lot. As your main leads, you could do a lot worse. There is definitely a lot of mystery around Skye, Ward and May to keep you interested, and of course the biggest question is how Coulson is actually still kicking. But they are also damn entertaining to watch. The dialogue between Fitz and Simmons is very funny, and Coulson’s dry sense of humour steals the scene whenever he’s in it, as it did in the movies. The first two episodes are also very good at showing us how these different personalities are clashing. None of them really get on, and there is definitely not a feeling of trust in the group. It takes uniting against a common enemy for them all to realize that Coulson was right all along; they are rather effective when they actually work together.
The episodes themselves where, on the whole, entertaining. Not only are they very funny, but the stories are actually engaging. As the kick off for a brand new series, the first few outings are always going to have a lot to do, and Whedon and co introduce this new team with ease. By the end of episode 1, you can’t help but be quite buzzing and eager to see what they have next. They are not the best opening episodes I’ve ever seen but they are definitely among the best openers of the year. With the entertaining cast and an on-going story to keep you hooked, it is very easy to label this series so far as a success. All I can ask for future episodes is while it continues to acknowledge the world it exists in, it does its best to set up its own world as well. As Whedon has publicly stated, he wants people to watch the show for its characters, not because of its Avengers connections. But on the whole, I’m intrigued and excited to see what this show has in store, and how it affects and is affected by the events of the movies.