Reviewing Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The Marvel Universe is one of limitless potential, a world in which seemingly everyday people have the capacity to change the course of history. For generations, the superhero genre has captivated the hearts and imaginations of thousands, nay, millions with compelling tales of heroism and intriguing characters. However, we are now faced with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Marvel and ABC Studios’ latest excursion into this delightful realm, and it blows.

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Don’t get me wrong; I’m a big fan of anything fantasy. Hell, as a kid I was a devout fanatic of Spider-Man, but with Agents we are presented with the exact opposite of what makes any character enjoyable to watch: boring and two-dimensional personalities. Let us take the team meathead, Agent Grant Ward (played by Brett Dalton), as example of this. Seven episodes through a ten-part series and what have we learnt? Well, he’s surly, but that’s about it. From day one, Ward has been, and continues to be, nothing more than a stern and grumpy operative. We never really get an insight into his personal life, save for a passing comment about his willingness to fulfil his job requirements by protecting the crew, or a surreal story about his older brother beating him up over birthday cake, and this makes him less of a character, more of a prop. A tool, perhaps…

Where does that leave us? Well, it leaves us feeling rather unsatisfied. What was exciting about Peter Parker was not just his identity as your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, but also the conflict that arose when this interfered with his personal life. An orphaned high school outcast, who shoots webs out of his arms, whilst looking after his widowed aunt by working as a photographer for a local newspaper? That is a mouthful, and it’s bloody interesting. Inherently, any decision Peter Parker makes will ultimately affect his other life as Spider-Man, and vice versa, which leads to conflict and an inner journey for the character (got to love character development). Agent Grant Ward seems to only make one decision: whether he should brood over, punch, or shoot the next person he interacts with, never with the prospect of repercussion. However, consequence is important in progression, because without it we grow weary of a character. Seeing them evolve and adjust to different situations makes their journey feel all that more real, but if they just lumber through it sulking the entire time (Grant!) then, inevitably, we get bored.

Sadly, that’s what you get with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: every character remains consistently the same, never evolving, never changing, aside for the occasional flicker of progression before sinking back into the tired old archetypes they started as. It’s a shame too, because I actually quite liked Avengers Assemble; the majority of the characters had enjoyed their own films, each with their own backstories, so their development, though somewhat formulaic, was present (*ahem*, Hawkeye). I didn’t go into the cinema expecting to see the greatest story ever told, I went in expecting two hours of Michael Bay-esque CGI sequences, and came out with something in between. We are treated with neither when it comes to Agents.

There is just no real depth to the show. Every plot point is spoon-fed through lazy dialogue and fleeting references to previous Marvel productions, which serve only to temporarily excite fans in an otherwise lifeless atmosphere. Routinely, we are reminded that veteran Phil Coulson (revisited again by Clark Gregg) seemingly died in Avengers Assemble, but with little expansion on the matter than a mysterious holiday to Tahiti. In a more recent episode, Agent May (Ming-Na Wen) painfully regurgitates the apparent significance of this point: “You died. There’s no way you can go through a trauma like that and not come out of it changed.” Everything about this moment screams to the audience REMEMBER, HE WAS IN THE AVENGERS. WE’LL COME BACK TO THIS ANOTHER TIME. We get it, we watched the film and, you’re right, there is something not quite right about his return, but revive the horse with a healthy dose of narrative progression or stop beating its cold, bloated carcass.

So, what now? Is this enough to sustain viewer attention? Well, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has already garnished a full season order, because, let’s face it, people will watch it, but why? It is by no means an excellent example of contemporary art, it does not challenge or question the world we live in, but it’s easy viewing and attached to a familiar brand. This is not a good reason to watch it; it is a terrible reason to watch something. Yet hope is not lost for the genre, for somewhere out there is a hero that we may not deserve, but sure as hell need. Or something…

– Joe Aldous

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* Disclaimer: Though a Spider-Man fanatic, I am fully aware that part three of Sam Raimi’s trilogy was terrible. *

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