Agents of SHIELD
Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Review - Episode 1: Pilot

Bob Chipman | 25 Sep 2013 12:26
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AGENT WARD and AGENT SIMMONS enter, remains of the crashed KREE STARSHIP in tow. AGENT COULSON sits at his desk, his chair swiveled around to wave "goodbye" as the rear exit door closes - a familiar red metallic gauntlet briefly seen tugging at the handle.

Was that...

Ah, gee, guys! You just missed Iron Man!
He was right here! Bummer...

That was the sort of business the potential for which had me more than a little worried about Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. There have been franchises whose narratives have leapt back and forth between television and movie theaters before. The first generation Transformers cartoon ran two seasons on TV, then spun-off into a theatrical movie that advanced its storyline a few decades into the then-future, then picked back up for its third and fourth seasons where said movie had left off - with the entire status quo changed and many of the original characters now dead or completely changed. After doing one stand-alone, out of continuity movie; the original Power Rangers used Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie to introduce the new set of weapons, vehicles and bad guys for its then-forthcoming fifth season.

So yes, there's precedent... but there's still never really been anything like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in terms of scope, scale and ambition. As big a risk as Marvel Studios took in transposing the continuity-driven "shared-universe" storytelling of their classic comics to feature films (and it's easy to forget, five individual hit films and the massive hit that was The Avengers later, that it was a risk); taking it from there to TV - to a series without any of the main characters from the features and nowhere near the budget or starpower - might be a bigger one.

Not just because of the potential for a TV misfire to become to first real dent in the Marvel Universe, but because TV has become a much more competitive landscape than blockbuster filmmaking over the last decade. Avengers and its component franchises have been a head above most recent Western action films, superhero adaptations in particular; but when your points of comparison include dreck like Green Lantern or The Amazing Spider-Man the task is that much easier. But as a TV genre series, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will likely be measured against the likes of The Walking Dead, LOST, Battlestar Galactica, and even boss-man Joss Whedon's own Firefly.

Facing those kinds of odds, how long can it resist undermining its central premise with an overdose of winking semi-cameos and references to the established movies? How long before being a series in its own right with access to the Marvel Comics catalogue but no mandate slips away in favor of being a weekly plea for ratings via promises of upcoming movie clues and fan-favorite Marvel obscura?

At this early stage there's no real telling, but I was greatly relieved to discover that the first episode has more than enough confidence in itself to avoid the hypothetical scenario above. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. indeed occupies a strange niche between spin-off, companion-piece, tie-in and even marketing tool. The references to the prior Marvel projects are mostly asides, but carry an unmistakable subtext of Man, remember those movies? Those were great. Do you have `em on Blu-Ray yet? You should get those on Blu-Ray. But it quite assuredly functions on its own - or to whatever degree an acknowledged continuation of a previous story can be said to be "on its own." It's a sharp, funny show with a breezy pace, a promising cast of characters and the kind of clever (though, yes, a little too impressed with its own cleverness) scripting one expects from a Joss Whedon production. The question, as ever, isn't whether it's good but whether it's good enough.

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