Written by Zac Platt.
Already a hugely ambitious film property, Marvel Studio’s Avengers franchise is now expanding onto the small screen, and to be kicked off with television royalty Joss Whedon no less! There’s a lot of hype surrounding Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and for the most part, it delivers. The pilot definitely relies too heavily on its brand and it has a surprising amount of trouble establishing a point of difference from similar shows. These problems are fairly typical of a pilot and, quibbles aside, I’m still very excited to see where this series will go.
Straight off the bat, Agents is a tonne of fun. Whedon’s go-to bouncy dialogue helps the script feel like an extension of Iron Man or The Avengers. It’s not necessarily natural, but it’s certainly humanizing; even if the quips are laid on a little thick sometimes. Though these light-hearted moments work fine, the more dramatic scenes are a bit more hit or miss. Parts of the episode are overwritten, especially the antagonist’s monologues. One of the episode’s most profound moments is immediately dismissed by it being unnecessarily explained.
More successful is the decision to make Agents a grounded view of the superhero world. A television series is never going to have the budget of Marvel’s blockbusters, so it can be a little jarring that it’s so clearly set in the same universe. But the scaled down feel is justified by making this about the man on the street. At first the pilot appears to be setting up a new superhero to save the day, but instead it becomes a story about inadequacy and not knowing your place in the world. Agents isn’t trying to compete with The Avengers, it’s putting a lens over the societal consequences of a world with super-soldiers, Hulks and Norse deities.
Clark Gregg’s lovable Phil Coulson managed to shine amongst the mega-cast of Avengers, so naturally he’s one of the most engaging characters here. He’s playful and enthused about the world he finds himself in, but the second someone discusses acceptable losses he takes charge and this defines himself as the show’s hero. It’s a nice dynamic that proves Coulson’s worth for when the show’s stakes inevitably build. Agents also does well to build a sense of mystery about how he came back from the dead. It’s a difficult task to make the audience accept his resurrection while giving that moment in Avengers the weight it deserves, but Agents gets it right.
Superhero groupie / anti-government activist Skye (Chloe Bennet) is similarly upbeat and excitable. She hasn’t quite earned her place to the same degree, leaving the character insisting on her adorableness, but there’s definitely the potential for her to grow to a more memorable regular. Brett Dalton’s Grant Ward is more of a problem. Presented as the no-nonsense straight man for the show’s quirkier cast, he’s a poor choice for an anchor. However, he could become and asset later if the writers are brave enough to make him the ‘greater good’ protagonist and tap into the potential conflict of this philosophy with Coulson’s.
Also on the team is Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), an ex-agent coming back into action. May’s alluded-to reputation presents her as the veteran of the team. There’s clearly some interesting backstory, but it doesn’t appear Agents is in a rush to explore it. Finally are the scientists; Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), who specialize in technology and biology respectively. They’re a cookie-cutter inclusion, clearly there to provide exposition to the audience as they banter back and forth. That being said, they haven’t had much screen time yet so it may be a bit unfair to dismiss their worth so quickly.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t quite the burst out of the gate some were expecting, but the issues it does have will likely subside over time. The sense of fun and freedom it has promises a huge amount of longevity, there’s no clock hanging overhead like there is with shows such as Homeland or Dexter. It’s a wide open road, and as long they can move past these hiccups and set themselves apart from similar offerings, Agents has the potential to be the next big thing on TV.
THE REEL SCORE: 7/10 – STICK WITH IT