Agents of SHIELD is without a doubt the worst live action pulp Marvel’s produced since the doomed and ruined 90’s Fantastic Four flick. I’m sorry, I know a few of you AOS diehards absolutely hate me for saying this, but the show’s a mess. Besides it’s obvious trope filled failures and Whedon saturated quips, the show’s just not what it promised to be. Instead of showing us the inner workings of SHIELD, the scary, gritty global espionage agency we all love, we received a show about an 18 year old ‘hacker’ and her struggle to bring friendship to a team of America’s best trained killers. Oh, and her only weapons are 1) obnoxiously slick lip-gloss (seriously, does she French a tub of Vaseline before every scene? Girl is greasy) 2) and self-deprecating quips. She’s a real go getter, for sure! And when we say ‘hacker’, Agents of SHIELD is really loose with the term. As even by television standards, Skye’s tv tech speak is enough to make even the worst IT guy barf in his mouth.
I know I’m being a vicious, foamy mouthed fanboy right now, but what else can I say? The Marvel Cinematic Universe has always tread the line between humor and pathos, often sacrificing characters and development for a quick laugh, but Agents of SHEILD takes it to a whole other level. I blame Joss Whedon and his cabal of veteran writers (who’ve helped him through the years with Buffy and Serenity. Here Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon are mostly responsible). Again, I know I’m attacking a deity of fandom right now, but he’s f***ing up real hard with AOS.
And believe me, I know I should laud Whedon. Hell, as a caveat, let me deliver a piping hot tray of praise his way. He created an Avengers movie that EVERYONE loves. Do you know how hard that is? The Avengers are Marvel’s C-List heroes. First comes Spider-Man, then Wolverine (and the X-Men), and at the bottom of the heap, The Avengers. And now they’re A-List. They’re the premier superhero team on the planet because of Whedon’s work, and he deserves every ounce of praise he receives.
But I’m a petty little fanboy and I’ve got my petty little grievances.
With that said, I’ve never been real happy with his Marvel Studios works, either. Moreso than any other director, he’s dumbed down the characters, sacrificed pathos for humor, and reduced the cinematic value of superhero films to television quality. The sets, the costumes, the fights… just take a look at any scene without heavy CGI in The Avengers, and you’ll see a TV quality action film. Remember the Loki vs Captain America fight? Compare that to the fight scenes from the Russo Bros. Captain America: The Winter Soldier. You’ll probably notice a huge difference. In TWS both the weight of the action and the gravitas of each heavy handed punch is far more visceral, while Whedon’s handle of action in The Avengers is Buffy quality.
Hell, I hated Scarlet Johansson’s Black Widow after watching Whedon’s The Avengers. Widow’s meant to be a badass, former soviet spy. Killing the world’s toughest targets is her whole spiel, but in the opening scenes of the first Avengers movie, when she fights a Russian General and his flunkeys, she’s laughable. A pastiche of what a gritty action scene should be. She headbutted a guy with her hair, dammit! With her hair! And it wasn’t meant to be a cool, nifty fight move, either (like the unique fight moves in the fem-thriller Haywire)! It was meant to fool us into thinking she actually headbutted her enemy, but the frame and direction was so poor, that you can clearly see her hair gently caress the thug’s face. What a crock. But now, after watching The Winter Soldier, she’s my favorite female superhero. She kicked ass. Hard.
That character draining, drama killing combination of humor and “tv quality” action absolutely drenches Agents of SHIELD, and it’s gotta stop. When the show was first announced, even though Whedon was tapped to produce, I hoped that it would veer closer to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. A far slower, cerebral affair dedicated to the inner workings of an espionage agency. Why? Why would I want that type of show? Because… if Marvel tried to replicate the action contained in its films on a tv budget, they would certainly fail. Naturally, of course. Combine that with Joss Whedon and his brother’s natural ability to make feature film quality sets look like holdovers from a 90’s WB comedy, and you’ve got a recipe for ‘meh’.
And Agents of SHIELD is thoroughly meh. But there’s hope.
With the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier effectively destroying SHIELD, the show’s forced into a darker plot. Yes, even darker than the “who is the designer of this very strange, horribly cheap looking caterpillar super villain device” story thread that (in part) ties this whole show together. Every member in SHIELD is suspicious, and could possibly be a HYDRA turncoat. Alliances are shattered. Relationships broken! And it’s up to Skye to save the day… through the power of friendship!
Even though the show’s driving on a darker path, and we’re seeing glimpses of the scary side of national security, it still sucks. That’s right, Agents of SHIELD sucks. But it’s getting better. All we need to do is fix the terribly cheap looking sets. Let’s pretend that people actually work and live in these environments. Same can be said about all of the super advanced do-hickies. Let’s pretend that some of these devices that grant super powers were practically designed. Hell, if we get rid of all of the obviously budget restricted effects, the whole show would benefit. I would much favor the aesthetics and action if they were converted to an Law & Order pallet, rather than the plasticky schmear we see now. Remember, if all of these small aspects are believable, then you can immerse yourself in the show, and actually enjoy the suspense!
With that said, let’s get rid of the humor. We can serve it in small slivers, like cake at the end of the meal, but let’s not make this a wholesale operation. Give me some real stakes, some real moments of character development, and I’ll allow a few Coulson awkward moments and a handful of one liners.
As for the cast, well… Hell, let’s recast the whole show. I know we’re selling this series to a younger audience, and I say “we” because I’m a Marvel fanboy and I want all things Marvel to succeed, but we viewers aren’t all as 1) shallow and 2) stupid as you think. I’ll watch a show that doesn’t have hearth throb beauties in it. This applies across the board, to Skye and Agent Ward in particular. Those two are straight up dimes, but they’re both way too young and way too pretty to be super secret spies. And I know it can be argued that Skye isn’t really a spy, but a ‘hacker’ instead, but that doesn’t mitigate the fact that no one from either profession looks like that.
That’s not to say pretty people can’t star in Agents of SHIELD. Ming-Na Wen’s Melinda Mae is GORGEOUS, but she’s believable as a world class super spy. Why? Because she’s older (apparently she’s 50. I would’ve said no older than 30), and people with as much training as she fictitiously possesses are generally older than you’re run of the mill pretty young 20 year old. Even though the Whedon bros. have bogged her down with cornball action and a one-dimensional “strong silent type” persona, she’s resilient. Brilliant, even. The same can be said for Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson and newcomer Bill Paxton’s Garrett. When they’re not bogged down by unreasonable humor or cheapy aesthetics, these actors make the show watchable.
Marvel has a real opportunity to fix Agents of SHIELD. But they have to do it now. Fix their cast. Fix their humor problem. Give me something believable. Keep Ming-Na Wen, Bill Paxton, and Clark Gregg, but hack and slash the rest of the cast as needed. If you have a problem with anything, just call the Russo Bros. for help.