Can Agents of SHIELD stand on its own?

MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.

I’ve written before about my impressions on the latest turns in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. series. It started off excruciatingly slow, with the mission-a-week plots becoming repetitive and boring. But now we all know that this was simply a ruse, a setup of layering in anticipation for the tentpole movie that is Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. itself began following the aftermath of the “Battle of New York” which happened in The Avengers. So essentially, this series revolves around these major Marvel movies. My question, then, is can Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. stand on its own? It took a major picture like The Winter Soldier to reignite the fires of the show, and the last few episodes of Season 1 are indeed explosive and riveting. But that’s mainly because they’re running off the momentum of the film’s events.

Marvel has the opportunity to revolutionise the television aspect of comic book adaptations, similar to how they changed the game with their Cinematic Universe and the Avengers films. Could Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. become a major Marvel property like the films it supports? Or is it merely relegated to the support-side, to maintaining fan interest in the studio between the major films?

If Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. continues this trajectory of just augmenting, and not significantly impacting, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, then I fear that the momentum of this show will surely decline to the point of non-existence, that the show will return to its Season 1 beginnings…

Screenrant had an interesting post about the possibility of Season 2, and how the creators plan to close-off this current season:

THR spoke with writers and executive producers Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon about the “growing pains” (Whedon’s words) of the series, the response from fans and critics and the plan going forward now that they are preparing to shoot the season finale. Are the planning for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 2?

“Tancharoen: We have a board going right now. We just don’t have a season two yet. But we are planning on it and at the end of season one, we are tying a lot of things up as well as teeing things up for a possible season two.”

If season one is the all fans see of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., will the finale wrap things up nicely to ensure the story feels complete?

“Whedon: No, you’d be so desperate to see another season and you’d be sad. It’ll definitely be a satisfying season finale but we definitely are teeing up stuff to come.”

So, if they end up with a second season, there is great opportunity to really establish this show as a major player in the overall MCU. With Joss Whedon at the helm of Marvel’s Phase 2, and his involvement in the creation of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. the TV show, we could potentially have a more tightly-integrated television and film experience. I, for one, look forward to seeing characters like Skye, Fitz and Simmons appearing in a major Marvel film. Conversely, Marvel Studios has the opportunity to cement Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as another impactful asset in their overall MCU. Let’s hope that #ItsAllConnected will continue into a season 2 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Phase 2 of the Marvel movies.

Let’s Talk About S.H.I.E.L.D.

WARNING: SPOILERS THROUGHOUT THIS POST.

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I wasn’t an ardent fan of Marvel movies. I preferred the dramatic “seriousness” of the Nolan-era DC films and actually enjoyed Man of Steel. Iron Man and Avengers were O.K. when it came to Marvel, but Captain America: The First Avenger remained my favourite Marvel film of the MCU – probably because I liked the setting; that was an interesting era to have a superhero film set in.

When it came to television, again I preferred DC’s Arrow to Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Like many, I thought that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. lacked the gravitas or substance that would afford it continued watchability. Those “missions a week” setups became tired after the third episode, and the fact that the creators were not drawing from such a wealth of material that is the extended MCU made me lose interest in this series.

That was until I watched Captain America: The Winter Soldier. My entire conception of the MCU changed.

I have recently become a big fan of Marvel, and of the direction the MCU is headed in. Marvel has been known as the studio with the massive special-effects laden films with little story, but right now, they are doing things with the art of storytelling that have perhaps never been done before. Things that are innovative and extremely compelling.

I, along with many others, was very wrong in dismissing Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as a show that wasn’t connecting well with the extended MCU. Because all along, Marvel was playing us, subtly having the entire universe linked, setting up events for a massive reveal in Winter Soldier and the subsequent episode Turn, Turn, Turn from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Dissolving S.H.I.E.L.D. is probably the best thing Marvel could do to ensure their universe moves forward. Now we have some serious disarray that can really disorient our characters, leading to infinite possibilities of where things could go. Proper conflict. We, just like the characters on the show, don’t know who to trust. Having Hydra infiltrate S.H.I.E.L.D. at its inception means that there are some deep questions about S.H.I.E.L.D.’s actions of the past, and the justification thereof.

Having a tentpole movie introducing the Hydra threat shows the large-scale catastrophe caused, and then the following episode on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. brings things into perspective on a smaller, more intimate scale – of just how these events have impacted the unassuming operatives of S.H.I.E.L.D. – ordinary humans without superpowers to defend themselves (albeit badass fighting skills). This is truly innovative storytelling, where we get to experience a major event from different angles on different formats so close to each other.

This is what I think many fans expected going in to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. It’s this specific move that has made the slow-burn of the first half of Season 1 worth the arduous watch,

The way I see this, S.H.I.E.L.D. is central to everything that is currently happening in the MCU. This entity is the pivot point upon which Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the extended MCU have been held precariously, and with Hydra’s re-emergence, that balance has been broken and the two have cascaded into each other – just the thing us viewers have been aching to see for so long now.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is finally the Marvel show I want to watch – it doesn’t just have flash-bang-action, but a genuine storyline that is compelling and that makes it a strong force within the broader arc, actually able to hold its weight with the larger films that surround it.

Agent Ward’s actions in the cliffhanger at the end of Turn, Turn, Turn, and the use of the Hydra logo instead of the S.H.I.E.L.D. one to end-off the episode, leave so many questions that, coupled with the conclusion in Winter Soldier, makes us as the audience actually feel like a character in the MCU.

I can’t wait to see what they’re up to next.

Well played, Marvel. Well played indeed.

2014 in Film

It’s a new year, and a new set of exciting films are waiting in the wings. Keeping in tradition, here’s my pick of films to watch in 2014.

This year is going to be an epic one for cinema, from sequels to franchise reboots, to the return of some old favourites (I’m looking at you, The Hobbit: There and Back Again and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1). Release dates provided are international ones, but since Ster-Kinekor has upgraded to a full digital cinema system, they’ve said that we in South Africa should be getting these releases parallel to international dates. Let’s hope that remains true!

Without further ado, I give you 2014 in Film:

Films marked with an asterisk (*) are my must-see most anticipated picks.

  • I, Frankenstein [24 January] – a retake on the chilling horror story, starring Aaron Eckart and Bill Nighy.
  • The Lego Movie [7 February] – Lego Batman on an adventure. ’nuff said.
  • 300: Rise of an Empire [7 March] – Zack Snyder produces this follow-up that takes place before, during and after the events of 300.
  • * Noah [28 March] – Darren Aronofsky, he of the famed psychologically-driven character films, directs this Biblical interpretation starring a star-filled cast including Russel Crowe and Emma Watson.
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier [4 April] – Steve Rogers and the Black Widow team up to take on a mystery that may endanger the entire world. Set two years after The Avengers, the duo soon encounter a powerful adversary – the Winter Soldier.
  • * Transcendence [18 April] – Wally Pfister, longtime cinematographer for Christopher Nolan, makes his directorial debut in this sci-fi thriller starring Johnny Depp, and Morgan Freeman. The story is very compelling: Dr Will Caster strives to create a machine that possesses sentience and collective intelligence. Like any good sci-fi film that doubles as a “thinking man’s action movie” (á la The Matrix), many philosophical implications and questions shall inevitably be brought up when discussing this film. One of my highly anticipated picks for the year.
  • Amazing Spider-Man 2 [2 May] – Eduardo Saverin – I mean, Andrew Garfield – is back as Spidey, shootin’ webs and takin’ names. The trailer hints at the possibility of a Marvel villain team-up movie following this. Looks really good too.
  • Godzilla [16 May] – the kaiju to end all kaijus is back in all its 21st Century CGI 3D glory. It stars Bryan Cranston and Ken Watanabe.
  • * X-Men: Days of Future Past [23 May] – The first trailer looks insanely epic. A time-travel story arc that brings the characters of the original and new X-Men movies together for the first time, this one stars Jennifer Lawrence, The Wolverine (aka Hugh Jackman), Michael Fassbender, Ellen Page, Sir Ian McKellen and most of Hollywood’s other A-listers.
  • 22 Jump Street [13 June] – Jencko and Schmidt are back, this time going undercover in college. I loved the first movie, and this one promises to continue that fun. Plus, you can’t go wrong with Jonah Hill in comedy.
  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes [11 July] – the apes are rising against man. Will be interesting to see how they play the sympathies here. Enjoyed the first one, and looking forward to more. Starring motion capture expert Andy Serkis (aka Gollum) and Gary Oldman.
  • * Jupiter Ascending [18 July] – Mila Kunis stars in this sci-fi film by the inimitable Wachowskis (of Matrix and V for Vendetta fame). Jupiter is an unlikely hero who must fight against the Queen of the Universe to claim her birthright as the universe’s next leader. Also, did I mention Mila Kunis is in this? 😛
  • Guardians of the Galaxy [1 August] – Marvel’s Phase Two is wrapping up, and GOTG starts taking us intergalactic. With characters like Rocket Racoon (played by Bradley Cooper of all people), you know this is going to be a riot – of laughs, action, and more CGI than your brain can even comprehend. Sounds fun.
  • * Sin City: A Dame to Kill For [22 August] – Frank Millar and Robert Rodriguez direct this much-anticipated sequel. It packs an ensemble cast including Jessica Alba, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Eva Green and Joseph Gorden-Levitt.
  • Jane Got a Gun [29 August] – Natalie Portman is Jane, a good girl married to one of the worst baddies in town. She decides to take matters into her own hands when her husband returns home with eight bullets in his back. A classic western movie starring Natalie Portman – what more is there to say?
  • * Interstellar [7 November] – Christopher. Freaking. Nolan. One of my favourite directors returns. This time, it’s a haunting sci-fi tale: a wormhole is discovered that can connect widely separate regions of spacetime… and a team of explorers embarks on the greatest voyage of mankind. According to The Hollywood Reporter: “The plot is beleived to involve time travel and alternate dimensions.” The teaser trailer is chilling, and builds intense expectations for a Nolan movie. He’s teaming up with his brother Jonathan Nolan on this – much like when they worked on Memento together. It has the complete Chris Nolan package: Hans Zimmer music, brilliant actors like Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Matthew McConaughey. And of course, it includes a dash of Michael Caine to round it all out. This one’s going to be epic indeed – it’s being filmed with a combination of anamorphic 35mm film and IMAX photography.
  • * The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 [21 November] – It started with a spark in Catching Fire, and now the rebellion is searing into a blaze with Mockingkay Part 1. Jennifer Lawrence stars as Katniss Everdeen as she prepares to take on the Capitol – but not before discovering some harrowing secrets buried (Hunger Games fans – excuse the expression :P). If it’s anything like Catching Fire, I’m certain this one’s going to be another blockbuster. Julianne Moore also enters the franchise as Coin with this, so they’re certainly taking things up a notch.
  • * The Hobbit: There and Back Again [17 December] – Bilbo and the band of dwarves finally made it to the Lonely Mountain in Desolation of Smaug. But that film had one of the best cliffhangers I’ve ever seen, and it only builds up the expectations and anticipation for this final instalment in Peter Jackson’s prequel trilogy (yes, there, I said it like it is). This one will definitely include the Battle of the Five Armies – and the tragic consequences of it. We’ll get to see more of the glorious Smaug. And it’ll be interesting to see where they go with the Tauriel-Kili-Legolas triangle (Tauriel was a new character introduced by the filmmakers, played by the brilliant Evangeline Lily). It’ll certainly take on a darker theme as we slowly transition into Lord of the Rings territory. What I’m most looking forward to in this one: Gollum! Missed that guy in the second film. Let’s hope he returns. PJ has proven himself to be capable of interpreting the mighty Tolkien’s work, so let’s hope he manages to stand on his own with this third movie that will indeed have to draw on additional materials, given that the story arc of The Hobbit begins to dwindle now that we’re onto film three.

So there you have it: the movies I’m looking forward to watching this year. Be sure to visit Pixelated Thinking to read my reviews and thoughts on some of them. Follow me on Twitter to get the latest, too: twitter.com/RahulDowlath