I first discovered the writer/director/producer/demi-god-of-all-that-is-fantasy-goodness when I was twelve years old and the pilot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer landed on BBC2. I was immediately caught up in a fascination of strong women, vampires, humour and wonderment. This was extended to the spin off Angel. During university life I was taken to the cinema to see Serenity, after which I immediately bought the box set of the programme upon which it is based, Firefly. I was well and truly hooked. (If you haven’t seen Firefly or Serenity you must give them a go. At least a try. Go on.)
Recently Joss Whedon gave us Cabin in the Woods and then, in 2012 he brought us Avengers Assemble. Joss Whedon became a little more mainstream and was given the opportunity to create (write, produce and direct) the spin off television programme Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The pilot of which aired last Friday.
Whedon’s is a name that conjures wonderful things in the mind and so it was with great anticipation that we (and many other geeks) sat down to watch the opening episode. The start was promising and I may have gotten a little too excited at the sight of J. August Richards (below, who played Gunn in Angel). This phenomenon is called ‘Whedonites’. Spot the Whedonites in every Joss Whedon project – they’re the actors who he works with repeatedly. I scanned the opening credits for more familiar names and gave another squeal at the sight of Ron Glass (Shepherd Book in Firefly).
The beginning of the episode was promising, as previously mentioned. Unfortunately it didn’t quite live up to the promise. The concept behind SHIELD is an original and fascinating one. Looking at the aftermath of the alien attack at the end of Avengers Assemble, how the city and its ‘normal’ inhabitants have been affected and what this means for potential superheroes through the eyes of the agency of ‘normal’ people who brought the Avengers together in the first place.
Not all heroes are super.
There are some wonderful nods to the Avengers to be seen throughout the episode. Not to mention Whedon’s warm humour which means that fans of all levels of die hardedness can enjoy the programme. Humour and in-jokes cannot replace a good storyline though and the plot of the pilot was tired and overdone. August carried the episode which meant that the ending was very deflating (without wanting to give away too much). It begs the question as to whether every episode will be like this – they find a potential superhero and they deal with them. If so, surely the point of the tagline will be lost. If the only interesting characters in it are the super ones, then perhaps all heroes are super.
I’m not being fair with that last statement. The ‘normal’ characters were interesting, up to a point. Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) who fans will know from Avengers Assemble and the individual Marvel films, shows a lot of promise but then the hard work with him has already been done. We’ve been introduced to him and we already like him. The question of how he survived Avengers Assemble is answered quickly and easily and then a nice unanswered question is left hanging, which will probably run the course of the series. He thinks he was in Tahiti, the suggestion is that he wasn’t. So what? The bigger question was how he survived, not where he’s been and that was answered.
We’re given a new American Agent Ward (Brett Dalton), excellently played but a character that needs ironing out, and a hacker, Skye (Chloe Bennet) who adds humour, potential sexual tension and humanity, and an outsider being brought into the agency which has, quite frankly, been done too many times. I liked Agent May (Ming-Na Wen) although I felt like we were supposed to already know her. Have I missed something?
Then there’s the Scottish and English engineers Fitz and Simmons who are a whirlwind of technology and words. I am very happy to report that the actors are actually Scottish and English, respectively. I had to listen to Simmons for a while to try and figure out if her accent was genuine.
So there are promising characters set in an original and exciting world. The plot is a little derived in places but the dialogue just felt forced although I can’t decide if it’s the writing or acting (or both) at fault.
There were three incidents that made me want to stop watching. Ward’s ‘gramsy’ comment made me cringe. It was supposed to be funny but it was too much too soon from this straight laced character who we should be learning about slowly in each episode, like peeling back the skins of an onion.
The flying car at the end was utterly unnecessary. It is a nod to Iron Man but I only know that because I Googled it.
But what really did it for me was the emotional music as August’s character was ‘dealt with’. Swelling music as the camera landed on each character in slow motion and they gave an expression of…I don’t know what. Joy of a job well done perhaps. It’s hard to tell because half way through I got bored and started looking around the room.
I wasn’t left wanting to watch the next episode but I will. Purely out of love of Marvel and loyalty to Joss Whedon. Hopefully these were teething problems, which many pilot episodes suffer (although I must point out that Buffy, Angel and Firefly didn’t).
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D is on Fridays, channel 4 at 8pm.