Set after the events of Marvel’s The Avengers (a.k.a. Avengers Assemble in the UK), when the top floor of a New York building explodes, a mysterious man (Whedon’s Angel vet J. August Winters) is caught on phone cameras jumping out of the building, saving a woman and surviving the several floor drop without a scratch. Though he disappears quickly, he is seen by Skye (Chloe Bennet), a woman with ties to Rising Tide, an organisation with an ominous interest in superheroes.
Government agency S.H.I.E.L.D. (The Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division) reacting to the events of the Chitari invasion in the Avengers movie, creates a team of people to investigate superhero events and tackle the potential threat from Rising Tide. Agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) – after recovering a piece of Chitari technology from a smuggler before Rising Tide can get their hands on it – is let in on a secret by Agent Maria Hill (returning guest star Colbie Smulders), Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) is still alive.
Joss Whedon’s spin-off series from the Marvel universe movies has a lot to live up to, after all this is the same universe which is now well established with three Iron Man movies, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America as well as the culmination of all of these movies, The Avengers, all of which were big screen movies with even bigger budgets. So the question is, being that it’s limited by the constraints of television, does it live up to them? More specifically, can it?
Well the answer to these questions is annoyingly yes and no. The pilot episode is a success, but immediately raises some concerns as to the longevity of a series that has to continually live up to the level of quality we’ve already seen and that we’ll continuing to see as only a month away is the release of Thor: The Dark World.
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is undoubtedly filled with signature Whedon moments of brilliance, with several scenes punctuated with well written funny lines of dialogue (Coulson’s first appearance is diffused with typical Whedon humour) and characters doing unexpected things that lesser writers/directors either wouldn’t think to do or wouldn’t manage to pull off (what Coulson does with a super-truth serum drug to convince a potential enemy to trust him is pure Whedon turning things on their head, and truly made me laugh).
There’s a decent dynamic of characters, with the team being made up of Agents (Coulson, Ward and a third character played by Ming-Na Wen) and a couple of scientists Fitz and Simmons played by Iain De Caestecker & Elizabeth Henstridge (possibly originally intended to be the characters played by Lizzy Caplan and Jesse Bradford in the One Shot short Item 47?), although some may find the writing of these characters predictable. But given that this is the origin story of the team being assembled, of course we know that by episode’s end they’ll all come together to complete the mission, though this is as much a mix of convention and necessity for a pilot episode of a (hopefully) long-running television series.
We get a continuing expansion of the universe that we’ve already seen a fair amount of, the threat of a criminal organisation that is also investigating superheroes, whose goal is unclear, the question of Agent Coulson’s apparent return from the grave is addressed but not cleared up – as a doctor (played by Firefly actor Ron Glass) speaks with Maria Hill he asks “He really doesn’t know, does he?” to which Hill responds cryptically “He can never know”. Similarly there is plenty setup in the episode to create mystery and interest that will span over several episodes.
The issue that concerns me is the success of the pilot due to Whedon’s involvement. The series is likely planned to have 20+ episodes and if Whedon is busy with preparations for and eventually filming of Avengers: Age Of Ultron, will the show continue to be fresh with other writers/directors filling in? Another issue is that in only the first episode we see references to gamma radiation, the super soldier program and in particular an element from the Iron Man movies, all together in only the first episode instead of just one of them, which does strongly cement it in the same world as those movies, but makes me wonder, what’s left for them to reference?
Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs in the UK Friday 27th September at 8pm on Channel 4 and started on Tuesday 24th in the US.