Sunday, June 01, 2014


A long time ago, when I first heard about that there was an Agents Of SHIELD TV series in the pipeline, I was hugely excited.

Then, when I heard they were changing the title to Marvel’s Agents Of SHIELD, I thought that was a bit of a mouthful and a bit surplus to requirement. The Marvel universe must have the kind of brand recognition enjoyed by Coca-Cola by now, surely. Still, it amused me that Disney owned Marvel and you could now form the acronym MAOS out of the title. You know me, I can’t resist an opportunity to take the Mickey. (Haha.)

Now that we’ve reached the end of the first season, I’m inclined to think they need to stamp the Marvel brand on more boldly.

It’s been a fun ride. A bumpy rollercoaster at times as it found its feet and direction like a newborn superhero discovering its powers, learning its limits. Presumably too, like any Whedon-produced show, it faced uncertainty as to whether it was going to have a future. Still, where weaknesses and a degree of tentativeness have been apparent, it has generally won me over with its Whedon school of humour and the charisma of its cast.

Clark Gregg is terrific as Coulson, natch: he doubles as a vital bridge between the TV and movie worlds and provides us with one of the season’s strongest load-bearing threads – i.e. the question of what the hell he’s doing alive. I’m not normally a fan of characters being brought back from the dead, but in this case they made something of it and the mystery surrounding the nature of Coulson’s resurrection dangled an interesting hook in front of us for much of the series. Good call.

My principal favourite is Agent May. And yes, this has much to do with my Ming-Na bias. I’ve been an admirer since first seeing her in Joy Luck Club and of course she was one of the many many reasons I was a fan of ER. In May, SHIELD have their own Black Widow for the home screen and in a superhero universe where female leads are still under-represented I do think the producers owe it to her and the series to give her a more prominent role. Her involvement showed steady improvement, thankfully, over the course of the first season, so that’s a start. Early on, I detected a tendency to treat her as ‘the cavalry’ – sidelining her until she was needed to come to the rescue – a name which, in case the producers haven’t yet gotten the message, she does not like being called.

I’ve also really liked Chloe Bennett as Skye and I’m looking forward to seeing how they further her character development, especially in light of the unfolding mystery surrounding her background. For the actress’ sake and ours, I do hope we don’t learn that she was exposed to a huge overdose of gamma-rays and is obliged to turn into a (very cute) She-Hulk every time she’s pissed off with Ward.

Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elisabeth Henstridge) are an engaging double act. The team could have gotten by with one science geek, but the decision to split them in a creative process not unlike cellular division turns out to be an inspired one. Good call. The way their initial comic banter flourished into a bond of real warmth and affection has been a treat to watch.

Ward was, well – I’m sorry, with the greatest respect to the actor (Brett Dalton), who delivers the role as per the job description - and then some when handed the better material towards the end, I found the character as interesting as Clark Kent. And just to clarify, for those that don’t know, I find Superman the least interesting of all superheroes. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Who cares.

There’s a strong possibility that Ward was never meant to be interesting to me – I’m guessing he was there for the female viewers. But there seems to be a belief in TV (and movie) land that strapping soldier types should never under any circumstances possess any personality. He would not be out of place in the list of Buffy’s boyfriends (before Spike). He improves as a villain – not merely by virtue (if that’s the right word) of being bad, but we are given some sense of the character’s growth and how he wound up on the evil path. The twists and turns of his closing few episodes worked wonders to redeem the character, if not in the moral sense then in terms of worth. So for that at least, Hail Hydra!

For our sake - and Skye’s, in case she does have that She-Hulk gene – I hope that his story is over and done and he won’t be back. Except, I have a feeling the show isn’t finished with him. But in the event he does return I trust that the producers have something more inventive planned for him than turning him away from the dark side.

In the meantime, the Agents of SHIELD are a team and I think it would serve the series tremendously if attention was paid to keeping everyone interesting. Sure, a large part of that is subjective, but in casting my mind back to Buffy, it was rare indeed for any member of the Scooby gang to be anything less than entertaining at the very minimum.

What else would I like to see for the second season?

First and foremost, what I think the show needs is the addition of more Marvel. It should be MARVEL’s Agents Of SHIELD. More than capitalising the prefix and rendering it in bold, it needs to build firmer bridges (Bifrost or otherwise) between its world and the Marvel universe. As it stands, it’s not Marvel-less, but it could do with being more Marvel-lous.

It seemed to me that just as The X Files generally (until its latter years anyway) seemed to step up a gear in the ongoing arc episodes, MAOS was elevated and energised by the appearances of (the legendary) Samuel L Jackson (Nick Fury), Cobie Smulders (Commander Maria Hill) and Jamie Alexander (Lady Sif). The tie-in with events of (the quite brilliant) Winter Soldier was like planting a firm super-soldier boot on the accelerator. So, more Marvel, please.

Of course, I appreciate there are going to be rights, not to say money, issues with the various characters and properties under the Marvel umbrella. But the official Marvel pantheon is vast. I mean, it would probably give the Chinese pantheon a run for its money.

All right, maybe not that vast, but there are plenty of characters who are never, with the best will in the world, going to have their own movie franchise. And I say that even in the knowledge that Ant-Man is in production. (If Anteater Man is his first enemy, it'll be a short-lived franchise.)

Obviously, chucking in a lot of the dafter and possibly slightly rubbish super-villains is not going to improve things. But that still leaves the option of taking one of the dafter or slightly rubbish characters and improving on them. Superhero movies have by and large been all about that: re-creating comic book characters in a more credible context. As credible as they can be, anyway, in a world where monomaniacal super-rich guys build their own flying suits, self-irradiated scientists can turn big and angry and green and Norse gods drop in for the occasional visits.

Part of the reason Winter Soldier worked so well for me was that the Cap was up against an enemy who was pitched just right. Many of the lower-echelon Marvel villains would be a perfect match for the SHIELD team: powerful enough to throw down a real challenge, not quite so powerful as to wipe them out with a sneeze (e.g. Black Bolt) and – crucially for the series – a bona fide fully licensed paid-up badge-carrying member of the Marvel club.

We have Agent Carter to look forward to, with the excellent Hayley Atwell, and – depending on the writing – I anticipate that could do well without too many Marvel frills, albeit I’d like to see members of the Howling Commandos get more screen time, while their Cap is busy in the 21st century. For one thing, it will have the period-piece appeal going for it. For another, Hayley Atwell.

As the Marvel explosion continues, I think they’d do well to throw their weight around the way The Thing throws buses. Big and orange, bashful blue-eyed Benjamin Grimm isn’t actually all that shy when it comes to his superpowered activities. And yes, maybe some properties (FF, Spider-Man, X-Men) will be off-limits and others will be expensive. But even in the cases where cost would be an issue, I’d suggest to any Marvel execs listening out there to just chuck the dollars in the hat.

Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD is not going begging. It’s a fun show, with heaps of wit and chutzpah and slick production values. But I do know a few too many viewers who’ve dismissed it as a poor second-cousin of the movies. Which is a shame. A bit of an Injustice League. But it also suggests that an investment will see a good many returns. Viewers who might well be tempted back if they start to hear that the series is a bit more Marvel.

And the rest of us, who’ve stuck with the show from the beginning, will simply applaud and cheer and get all super-excited like the fanboys and fangirls that we obviously are. Maosketeers? Er, yeah. Let’s not call ourselves that.

Hail Hydra! More importantly...


SAF 2014