Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Review of Marvel´s Agents of SHIELD

A cast with no real enemies working for the most inapt organisation of all time 

Let me do something I rarely do and comment on and review a current TV-show. The reason for this is of course, at least in some minor way, the involvement of Genius Joss Whedon. The creator of Buffy, Angel and the fantastic Firefly deserve a comment now and again and although the very limited show Dollhouse was cancelled slightly prematurely - it actually started to show promise just as it was taken off the airwaves – I cannot help finding myself getting sucked into another show. Although Joss isn´t that much involved in Marvel´s Agents of SHIELD and although the show promises a lot but delivers little, I still see a lot of potential and this may very well turn out to be one of the best (sci fi) shows of all time.

So far 
But let me start with stating that things, so far, have been slow to develop and I am reluctant to accept a few of the characters. Even worse though is the lack of good antagonists because the cast, good or not, hardly ever get something to sink their teeth into. The evil organisation Centipede (Centipede...? Really?) doesn't really do it for me so far, and the lameness of the supposed villain Donald “Blizzard” Gill was not really a high-point, although far more so then the even lamer origin of Graviton. And don´t even get me started on the niceness of Ian Quinn. At least the last mention should die soon or start murdering babies for fun - when not even shooting Sky (twice!) do not do it then he should just die already. The recent guest appearance of the enchantress daughter Lorelei was a big step forward, but since she will not be coming back any time soon and more than likely has nothing to do with any form of future storyline it felt more like a tease then anything else.

We viewers never really feel their fear and, except for a few moments, have they ever been in danger? Has anyone really got really hurt or killed? I have seen a lot of comments online complaining about that or that main character, but I feel it is more about bad scripting and specifically the lack of real, over time, threats. They are SHIELD agents for God´s sake! They should die or end up in Coma or something once in a while. We knew that Skye would make it; we knew that Agent Igot Rapedbylorelei would never let a little thing like a gunshot slow him down; we knew that Simmons would survive even when infected with the deadliest of alien viruses at the same time as falling from an airplane.

No dangers, no fear, no hard-core villains – shouldn´t those things be the priority of a show like this?

What really piss me off about the show though is how horribly ineffectual, inapt and stupid the supposed “secretive” organisation of SHIELD is. In every episode of the show we get more proof of how even an organisation of 14y old can-collectors would kick SHIELD ass from here to the next Tuesday. If the people on the “boat” are the best there is and if how SHIELD is portrait is really how the organisation “works” the Earth is definitely doomed.
For example the really crappy depiction of the SHIELD training facilities. How the hell are they supposed to work as a team when the nerds are kept to themselves with a “secret” disco in the basement while the macho fighters are somewhere else doing push-ups? Separate campuses with no tech training at all for mindless soldiers and not a cross-training course as far as the eye can see for the nerds. If that is how they train the “best of the best” on how to handle alien invasions?
And what’s with the guy trying to commit suicide? A highly trained agent who´s been able to hide from the entire world for two decades take out a pill he has inside his jacket, takes a moment with his hand stretched out while expecting his karate savvy opponent to NOT kick it out of his hand..? Is that the pinnacle of SHIELD training?
And when Agent Wardo McIdiot faces off against an Asguardian sorceress he stops to talk to her and let her get closer when he knows that her voice and touch is magical and he is holding a stun-gun pointing at her, then I just want to scream and have the moron die already. How the hell can that idiot be “one of the best” as May described him? And why the hell would SHIELD send in a lot of men trying to catch a sorceress who´s main power is to enthrall men? SHIELD is by far the worst and most unfit organisation even portrait on a TV-show.
SHIELD seems to be pretty good at marketing though putting their super-secret logo of their super-secret world protecting organisation on everything from coffee mugs to pool tables… Great job marketing team!!

What works
The idea of the show is amazingly great. A few “normal” folk digging deeper into the mysteries, origins and pantheon of superpowers, super villains and strange realms is fantastic. It is hard to think up a better premise for a TV-show. That they also take their time in building up the characters (yes, I know, I am contradicting myself) I also enjoy. The tech personnel of Fitz and Simmons is also a functional part of the storyline - especially comes to their dialog and their chemistry. The pilot and supposed kick-ass specialist Melinda May also, mostly, have it down delivering much needed extra points of view when Coulson do or say something stupid (once per episode). Even though the raised-from-the-dead Phil Coulson comes off as slightly two-dimensional the character is handled by such a good actor that he manages to pull it off.
The main premise and promise of the show however is what make it a good watch. Despite the writing and lack of good villains and regardless of what seem to be (although not mainly the actors fault) periodically bad acting, this is a show that has and probably will continue to deliver high quality entertainment.

We do need to remember that comics are not necessarily about great acting or a sensible approach to reality, it is an outlet for fantasy and an escape from boring reality. I always react when I see movie and TV-show reviewers do analyses about Sci fi (or porn for that matter) as if the point is to have the greatest actors acting out magnificent dialogs about global warming and puppies. It is about entertainment! If you want to be entertained it is the Stallone´s and Schwarzenegger´s you watch. If you want to huddle down and cry and see amazing acting then you watch something else. Kick-ass entertainment does not necessarily make a movie/tv-show worse or better, it’s just what it is. Mainstream reviewers in particular often forget this and consequently give really bad reviews to really great entertainment while praising paint-drying dialogues about menstruation.

What is missing? 
As already mentioned the storyline need better villains primarily and better writing/directing in general. Also a few more in the crew and a dark twist (May?) would make things more interesting.
What can also be addressed with additional squad members is the lack of skills which is highly noticeable in every episode (SHIELD "training" at its best I assume…). Okay, I do get that Fitz and Simmons are not martial art experts and that Agent Punch Toughsmack isn´t a computer expert, but SHIELD agents should have a wider range of knowledge no? And isn´t SHIELD supposed to be an international organisation? Why would the international community throw tons of money at big-ass flying carriers and allow the agents roam around their country´s backyard without asking for something in return like, oh let´s say, a Pakistani or French agent on the team?

The enemies so far have been jungle rebels, a couple of hackers, corrupt cops, a rich but pretty nice guy and a girl in a flowery dress. Oh wow, I feel so threatened… Yes, okay, they did have to fight a couple of super soldiers and a few berserkers (without backup and with only two people in the team capable to fend off worse foes then kittens), but I never felt like anyone was ever in danger and when soapy Agent Stuffy McBlanderson gets shot he is okay and able to fight off a bunch of police officers on a crashing plane… right…okay…

Consequently I would like to see more actors joining the crew – and that a few of the new or current ones die horribly without mysterious drugs to save them, if only to get the feeling of danger and feel more for the characters remaining. It feels very weird that they are so few and only two that actually can fight. Agent John Garrent did show up and hopefully will soon join on a permanent basis (take over the crew after the new super-villain Carson?), but I would love to see one or two more filling in the gaps. The problem here though (again!) is the writers and directors – they cannot handle the current, pretty limited, squad so how will they cope with additional cast?

Where is/should the show go? 
I do not agree with the conventional fan-base opinion that the team need a superhero or two in order to lift the show. I rather see them growing for themselves and fight with brains, wit and aid from the occasional outsider against superior and much stronger foes. I rather see “normal” people fighting against a billion to one odds then watch the current/extra cast put on spandex and fly about. Yes it is about the Marvel universe and yes we do need a few people throwing buildings lurking about on the show - like adding Lady Sif to the mix which was a great idea - but I rather see a bunch of great detectives with brains and a variety of skills taking advantage of a Super villain hubris then to see a hunky shampoo-commercial dude get enormous powers.

The story of Skye is a brain teaser and it can be a good origin story for her and something that can develop over time into something really great. Also feel like the character of Skye is the least developed with most untapped potential – and she has not even been enrolled at a SHIELD campus! I do have worries about this though, just as with Coulson´s little mystery. So far the writers and directors have not impressed so I am a little concerned that they will mess this up too and if so that would pretty much be the end of the show, at least for me.

I like the idea of SHIELD going evil or that Coulson got experimented upon with injected alien blood and that this experiment actually went horribly wrong and so he will be one of, if not THE main antagonist villain of the show.
BUT the crew need to get the hell off that stupid plane, preferably permanently, but at least more often. It is their transport and sort of headquarters so I get they need to have a few meetings and such, but it feels like 90% of the time they are flying or fighting on the “bus”. If that plane is such a villain-magnet and so comfy that they can stand around most of the time, what the hell do they do with the rest of the cash they throw at this show?
They can use the plane as their foe-trap and sit down and relax 40min of each show until the evil one show up. This show is like; plane flies, something is discussed on the plane, the plane fly some more, a few events happens outside, back on the plane they sort of solve the mystery, the evil one shows up on the plane and they fight on the plane and kill/trap the villain and then the plane fly off in the sunset. Someone is seriously skimming cash from this show or filming a plane flying is seriously more expensive than I thought…

Hopefully the first season will end with Coulson being an evil mastermind - revealed after they, sort of, defeat the main antagonist The Clairvoyant whom turn out to be Dormammu, Skye consequently turns out to be (of course) Clea. I also suggest that Hunky Mr fightsalot dies and I would also propose that one of the tech (preferably Fitz) also dies. This in a season finale of tears and lots of pain so the show, at least temporary, take a darker turn. Alternatively that Skye is Gamora (one of the most interesting female characters with lots of personality potential) and Coulson is the Clairvoyant. Although I assume, at this point, that Skye will be morphed into Abigail Brand (hm...) as the show goes on and that the Clairvoyant is that weird looking black/mulatto SHIELD agent with glasses that pops up now and again.

Regardless of where the show goes, I would emphatically suggest that someone buy a lot of vodka to the writers and directors and lock them up in a room filled with 9254972 comics and do not let them out before they come up with better dialog and better development of the show. I may have it wrong here and we may be surprised that the people behind the show have a fantastic plan and is deliberately teasing and annoying us (not a bad idea, going for the gold straight off is usually a bad idea for TV) – if so I probably owe them an apology later. This CAN be one of the best shows of all time so please people; get it right!

I will keep watching, even if I cannot find any other reason than coming up with more nicknames for Buzz Rockgroin… Agent Grrr Joinfight, Slade Granitethighs, Chuch Headpunch, Dunce Lackwit… Muscles McHairgel… Stone Wallface.. Beefy McSlab… Agent Stump Chuckman… Clench Buttsheek…

Despite the flaws this is an entertaining show and they cannot mess up the writing and directing more than they´ve already done so I assume it will get better and better over time.

Oh, and one last thing. I see a lot of people online compere this show with that of Arrow. Except for the valid point that the fighting choreography is much better on Arrow, that show is not only based on a completely different storyline, it is also crappier and a big yawn. The only positive thing about Arrow is the main characters work-out sessions which are a big plus for women and gay´s across the world. So please do not take anything from that crappy story, there are plenty of great stuff from the Marvel Universe that is much, much better.