When the Marvel Cinematic Universe began a decade ago with Iron Man no one would believe where we would end up today. The dozens of films, several television shows; it all seemed like a wild dream. But then anything began to feel possible when Avengers Assemble arrived, bringing together several superheroes into a team for the first time in film. Avengers changed the way that people looked at comic book movies, and how the MCU could work.
Whilst the next step seemed to be to tell more stories with these characters, expanding their worlds further before bringing them together as a team once again, the next big step wasn’t another Avengers film, it was expanding into television. Thus, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. made it’s way onto screens, proving that Marvel could exist on television as well as film, paving the way for shows such as Daredevil, and Jessica Jones.
With a cast of characters that wouldn’t be able to draw upon costumed heroes in order to draw audiences in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had to rely upon the surprise mystery of Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) being back from the dead following his death in Avengers at the hands of Loki (Tom Hiddleston).
This was one of the biggest draws of the series, a character that had run through many of the Phase 1 films and had become a fan favourite, alive once again. People wanted to know how he was back, they wanted to see what would happen when or if the Avengers found out, and they just wanted more Coulson.
The pilot episode side-steps many of the questions that audience members would have about Coulson. None of the characters make a big deal about his death and resurrection, with Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) being told that Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) simply faked his death to motivate the Avengers. This is easy for Ward to accept, but the audience actually saw the injury Coulson received (and if you saw it in the cinema, saw the spear go all the way through him), and as such this explanation just doesn’t ring true. Thankfully, we get a little tease that there’s definitely something more going on here, but this is a mystery that is going to last a long time.
Fortunately, the episode doesn’t rely on Coulson to carry the show, and introduces its new characters in some interesting ways. Ward is very much the typical action movie spy. His first scene shows him using his tech and stealth skills to break into a secret safe, whilst then also giving him a fun action sequence to show off his combat skills. Whilst the episode does its best to paint Ward as the cool hero, it doesn’t do much to make him terribly likeable. I know that this is something that will change over coming episodes, but with where the character will end up by the end of the season it’s interesting to see him start out slightly more antagonistic. The episode also had an interesting moment with Ward when he’s given a truth serum; whilst this is played for laughs in the episode I was shocked by how compromising a situation this put him in, especially with the types of secrets he’s hiding.
Joining Coulson and Ward are the science duo Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge). Incredibly smart, but inexperienced in the field, the two of them give a lot of energy and humour. They bring an adorable level of synchronicity and playfulness that makes them an instantly lovable pair. Whilst they didn’t get much time to shine during the episode, it’s clear that they’ll be an entertaining duo going forward.
Rounding out the team is Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), who is brought on board to be the pilot of the team; though it’s clear from her first scene that’s there’s a lot more here than is first shown. Ming-Na is perfect in the role, believable as the woman with pain in her past, as well as the tough field agent.
With the team in place Coulson begins to investigate into the mysterious super-powered person that has recently appeared in the media (a figure that many fans thought could have been Luke Cage before the series aired) in order to get closer to The Rising Tide, an online activist group. The investigation leads the team to Skye (Chloe Bennet), a hacker that’s fascinated by superheroes, but suspicious of government organisations such as S.H.I.E.L.D..
Skye is important due in large part to being the audience’s method of discovery for this episode, and much more of the rest of the first season. Yes, we follow Ward as he learns Coulson is alive, and Fitz and Simmons talk us through the science stuff, but Skye us the character who can ask what protocols are, or what acronyms stand for because S.H.I.E.L.D. is so completely alien to her.
Those familiar with the work of Joss Whedon will feel very at home here, with his trademark blending of drama, emotion, and sharp wit throughout the script. Whilst many of the Marvel shows that would come later would take a dark tone Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. embraces the lightness and sense of fun that permeated Avengers. There are one liners, visual gags, and the characters actually feel like they’re having a lot of fun.
Part of the reason why Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. didn’t grab a lot of viewers straight away is because people were expecting the Marvel films on television. This was never going to happen. But the pilot episode does prove that the universe can exist in a much smaller way, that you don’t need flying suits or alien invasions in order to tell an entertaining and compelling story within the Marvel Universe.
Are you a fan of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.? Let us know!