TV REVIEW: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Pilot

To say that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was highly anticipated is something of an understatement. Not only is it following in the wake of one of the biggest movies of all time, but it is also created and the pilot directed by current man of the moment, Joss Whedon, finally in the spotlight after years as a cult favourite. 

Those expecting to be instantly blown away by the show or expecting all the best bits of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a TV episode might be disappointed. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. does not immediately hit the ground running with fully formed characters, a cohesive team or the atmosphere that Marvel have garnered in their films. And nor should it because this an expansion, not a recreation. Thankfully, it is a solid start to a television show that has the unenviable task of emerging from the shadow of the MCU, but also of ensuring that it belongs in that world of superheroes, operating on a much smaller scale than an Iron Man movie. 

A neat introductory montage quickly establishes the shifts that have taken place in this Marvel universe since the Battle of New York with flashes of Thor, Captain America, The Hulk and Iron Man all making a very brief appearance. The biggest connections though are the shiny insignia of S.H.I.E.L.D. itself and its agents, Maria Hill (a guest appearance from Cobie Smulders) and the returning Coulson, first name Phil (Clark Gregg who is just great). The longstanding connection across the MCU, Coulson's death in The Avengers was the galvanising factor and a suitably gut-wrenching moment. When it was announced he would return, I thought it would cheapen this but thankfully, there seems to be much more going on then he was dead for a little bit/held his breath. Also, his entrance was immediately my favourite moment of the episode. I may have guffawed.

The scale of S.H.I.E.L.D., when compared to what has gone before, is much smaller, but this is not to the detriment of the unfolding action which takes on a more individual focus through the figure of Mike, played by Whedon stalwart J. August Richards, who finds himself blessed/cursed with super-strength. With his backstory of being made redundant due to an injury and unable to find a job despite his new powers, Mike is a product of the economic climate; an everyman who can't catch a break. He's also very aware of his place in the story; rather than go for the moral black-and-white of 'he's about to explode = bad guy", Mike is placed firmly the grey area, capable of being the hero or the bad guy. The MCU may be dealing with gods, aliens and monsters, but the television branch has firmly set out to tackle the human story, those dealing with the knowledge that they are no longer the most powerful beings on Earth.

In the middle of it all is S.H.I.E.L.D., the agency tasked with preventing these situations from getting out of hand, tracking down Chitauri technology (if you haven't seen the Marvel one-shot on this theme, Item 47, track it down) and contain any threat. Now if you're familiar with Whedon's work, you'll know that shady corporations causing problems for our heroes are a fairly standard theme; think The Initiative, Wolfram & Hart or the Alliance. The thing this, now S.H.I.E.L.D. are the shady organisation, something which Mike is quick to point out to Coulson in their confrontation. It's an interesting dynamic and following on from Nick Fury's meddling in The Avengers and the shadiness surrounding Coulson's resurrection, it's clear that the upper echelons of S.H.I.E.L.D. may still not entirely be the good guys.

We also have potential antagonists, The Rising Tide, who we are introduced to early and meet one of their members, Skye (Chloe Bennett) who also serves the function of our introduction to S.H.I.E.L.D. Every science-fiction show seems to have this; the new recruit discovering this world for the first time and thus allowing the audience to do so too (think Dana Scully, Olivia Dunham, Gwen Cooper - I'm now noticing another pattern here...). However, in S.H.I.E.L.D., we got two of these and it was perhaps the only aspect of this episode that felt very clumsy. First up, there was Ward (Brett Dalton) and his assignment to Coulson's new team and then Skye herself, who for someone so against S.H.I.E.L.D., was remarkably quick to sign up. Convenient for the pilot yes, but just a little jarring.

The characters do look promising though and I particularly loved Ming-Na Wen's performance as obvious badass Melinda May whose backstory I am already desperate to know. Currently fulfilling the nerdy comic relief requirement, the combination of Fitz (Iain de Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) also promises a great deal while Ward fills the action man requirement nicely. Much of the episode kept the team apart so whilst they had moments to individually shine, there's not much to go on just yet as to how they gel as an ensemble though I'm looking forward to learning more about them as the show progresses. It is, as expected, Clark Gregg who steals the show. All of the affability and then badassery that makes Coulson so great was present and correct and so too was the gravitas that makes him such an effective thru-line in the Marvel movies.

A promising start then from the men and women in dark suits and sunglasses. There is enough of a hook to keep everyone interested and it's going to be fun to get to know these characters and find out what place in this Marvel world they will possess.

- Becky

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