Wednesday 23 April 2014

Verdict: Marvel's Agents of SHIELD

It might surprise you to hear this, but Tony Stark was not the biggest bad-ass in The Avengers. What about Steve Rogers? Loki? Nope. The answer is Agent Phil Coulson. The man, the myth, the legend. If you didn't get at least a little choked up when he bit the dust, well, you're probably dead inside.

Such is the characters' popularity, it should have seemed inevitable that he would be brought back from the dead and expanded upon; I mean, let's face it, nobody ever dies in comic-book world do they? At least not for long...

So, without further ado, here is my verdict on the first season of Marvel's new spin-off TV show, Agents of SHIELD.

The team aboard their plane
This first season of Agents of SHIELD has plenty for comic-book fans to salivate over. Produced by nerd-king Joss Whedon, Marvel's first foray into the world of TV is off to a strongish start following some shaky first steps. It isn't fantastic...but it's getting there.

First off, what's the premise? Well, I'm glad you asked. Led by Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), the show centres around a team of SHIELD operatives whose task is to combat extra-terrestrial activity and maintain homeland security. Anyone who has watched Thor, Iron Man 2 or The Avengers will be familiar with the group; their painted as a fairly shadowy organisation that gives little away. And (spoiler alert) this feeds heavily into Captain America: The Winter Soldier...I shall say no more.

Coulson's team are a characteristically eclectic (if surprisingly Anglo-centric) bunch; there's the macho Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), science duo Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) and jet pilot/ninja Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen). The show's entry point character is Chloe Bennet's character Skye, a civilian recruit who operates as a skilled hacker.

First off, Agents of SHIELD had a very episodic feel to it; much like Doctor Who, the episodes followed a straight-forward 'monster-of-the-week' formula, and so far, the focus of this first season has been firmly set on establishing the dynamic of the group, especially Skye.

Skye (Bennet) is a character that may divide audiences; for me, Skye both delights and annoys. I like that she has 'ulterior motives' but the I think Bennet's acting is a little flat. So far, the show has revolved around her and how she is integrating into the group - episode 2 ('0-8-4') and episode 3 ('The Asset') in particular thrusting her to the centre stage. More often that not, these episodes struggle because the magical group dynamic is pushed into the background to make way for just Skye.

Agents Coulson and May
For me, the stand-out character is Agent Coulson. Clark Gregg is just so infectiously cheery, both on and off screen.

In my opinion, the show works best as an ensemble piece and all the characters gel together, a lot like other Whedon projects (e.g. Firefly, Buffy). Characters like Ward (Dalton) and May (Wen) are fairly one-dimensional and haven't been fleshed out enough to make them interesting on their own. Hopefully they're given more focus in due course. Whether we get to see due course, is another story.

The show has great potential however; the ability to interweave plot-lines from upcoming Marvel films will draw the audiences that enjoyed said movies. This is already being worked into the show, but in a fairly minor way. An 'Avengers' name drop here, a reference to New York there. A couple of the episodes have worked with the Extremis arc from Iron Man 3, and episode 8 'The Well' tied in with the fallout from Thor: The Dark World. Lady Sif (Jaime Alexander) even cropped up.

Now, with Captain America: The Winter Soldier changing the game entirely, it's how the show shifts and matches the films that will keep fans interested - what will make or break Agents of SHIELD is whether it can feel like a relevant addition to the films, a worthwhile add-on rather than a lacklustre, underwhelming side-project.

Fans want to see pay-off between the films and the show, where everything ties together. Most importantly however, fans want to see extra screen-time from their favourite heroes like Captain America (Chris Evans) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth). So far, this hasn't been the case. Like I said The Winter Soldier changes the game (and how the show will work) considerably, so colour me interested for future developments.

The show then has the legs to go far; it's just a question of whether audiences (and network execs) stick around for long enough to see it. It hasn't helped that Agents of SHIELD has had such a messy air schedule in the US, with its 22-episode season being dealt out in drips across the last five months. Audiences, and interest, has dwindled.

Let's hope then, that things pick up substantially in the near future for Agents of SHIELD. I'd love to see this show keep going, and expand further into the Marvel Universe. Fingers crossed people keep tuning in.

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