Avengers Infinity War

 

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Slight Spoiler (This scene is not in the movie)

Avngers Infinity War (Non-Spoiler)
Back in the 1990s when I was really getting into comic books I would tell people how Marvel should just start making Movies and TV shows that all take place in the same universe like they do with comics. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is something I wanted for decades before it happened. And after ten years they’re finally reaching their end game for a storyline they started in 2008.

Directors Joe and Anthony Russo had an impossible job: Take characters from 18 previous movies, some technological, some tactical, some magic, and some cosmic, and make a coherent story that ties up storylines that were spread throughout movies from the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is similar to what Joss Whedon had to do with the first Avengers movie except multiplied into double digits. Most of all, they had to have Thanos, a character with less than five minutes total screen time all together, be as fearsome and dangerous as he’s been built up to be. I’m happy to say that the Russo brothers not only pull this off, but go far beyond that.

With so many characters, it’s no surprise that some characters do not get much to do or say. What is surprising is how few characters I can say that about. The Russos did a fantastic job of giving even secondary characters a good moment or two.

Perhaps the most important aspect of Infinity War is how Marvel earned this. Taken on its own, Infinity War is a non-stop action slugfest. Taken with the 18 films that have led up to Infinity War and this fight is one of the most earned fights in cinema history. One of the key things that plague DC Universe movies is that they simply have no patience. The first Avengers movies was the fifth MCU movie. They did five whole movies without much more than a wink or a nod at each other. DC did exactly one movie (Man of Steel) that didn’t explicitly have direct connections to the other movies. Imagine if Captain America: Civil War was the second movie in the MCU. It wouldn’t have made any sense because we don’t yet really care about the characters. Now imagine the opposite. Imagine if Batman vs Superman wasn’t the second movie in an ongoing franchise. Instead it’s the 13th movie (like Civil War). Suddenly the stakes of Batman and Superman fighting actually matter. There’s a classic moment in the first episode of Community when Jeff Winger says, “I can pick up this pencil, tell you it’s name is Steve and go like this…[breaks pencil] and a part of you dies just a little bit on the inside.” That’s basically storytelling in a nutshell. DC is under the impression that the important part is breaking the pencil. They’re wrong. The important part is naming the pencil. It’s only after we know the pencil has a name that we care. If we don’t know the characters we can’t care about them.

The action in Infinity War is unrelenting and incredible. Given all of the things going on with so many characters it is impressive as hell that they were able to do everything they did without making it confusing.

 

Overall, Infinity War is a fine addition to the MCU and the best of the Avengers movies in my opinion. In order to talk more about this and its connection to the comics that inspired it, I need to get into spoilers.

Infinty War (SPOILERS!!!!)

Infinity War impressed me on a number of levels, but I think one of the best things about it is that it put millions of viewers in a position comic book fans find very familiar. When reading a comic book, if one of the side characters die, you know it’s kind of serious. If one of the major characters die, you know it’s really serious. And if half of the major characters die, you know they’re almost definitely going to be brought back. This was true the first time Thanos snapped his fingers and killed half the universe back in 1990.

Check out the list of dead from Infinity Gauntlet #2 (Note that only Black Panther is disappeared in both the comics and the movie.)

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There are of course significant differences between the comics and the films, but one of the other surprising things about Infinity War is that it has a lot of things in common with the comics. In the comics Thanos is in love with the entity Death. She’s resurrected him and told him to kill half the universe. And so he gets the Infinity Stones to do so. In the MCU abstract concepts aren’t entities (yet). So instead they give him the motivation of feeling the universe is dangerously overpopulated. This also comes from the comics. There’s an issue of Silver Surfer leading up to Infinity Gauntlet in which he makes much the same argument.

Perhaps the biggest difference is that unlike comic books (usually), we have to wait a whole year to find out what happens next.

This gives Marvel a great opportunity to integrate their TV stuff. They could easily have episodes of Agents of SHIELD, Daredevil, Luke Cage, or any of the other upcoming seasons of Marvel shows in which half the cast disappears into dust. If history is any indication, Agents of SHIELD will touch on it while the other shows will not.

While it’s true that they’ve killed off characters we know are coming back, (Sony isn’t going to let Spider-Man die after only one of their movies.) it’s still impressive to end a movie that’s likely going to make a billion dollars in less than two weeks with the bad guy killing half the universe and smiling at the sunset. When DC killed Superman in BvS they felt the absolute need to put hovering dirt above his coffin to make sure even the dumbest person in the theater knew he was coming back. With Marvel, at least they had the guts to kill them dead.

What happens next? Well I can tell you what happens in the comics. If you don’t want to know, skip this paragraph. In the comics it’s the Silver Surfer who falls through Dr. Strange’s roof to warn everyone about Thanos. Then half the universe disappears. Then the rest of the heroes show up to save the universe. Of course Thanos is all powerful and it does not go well. Eventually Thanos tries to become one with the cosmos, but he retains his mortal body. Nebula gets her hands on the gauntlet and puts everything back how it was, but that includes her being on fire. She loses the gauntlet only to have Adam Warlock pick it up and save the universe. Of course in the MCU, Adam Warlock has only been hinted at and isn’t likely to save the day. That role seems to be filled by another hero, Captain Marvel.

Captain Marvel is the symbol you see on Nick Fury’s space pager in the after credits scene. She’s a human named Carol Danvers who has quite the colorful history in the comic books. Carol is an old spy pal of Wolverine’s, got her mind, personality, and powers stolen from her by the X-Man Rogue in Rogue’s first appearance, ended up getting a whole new power set and becoming a space pirate for a while before eventually going back to being an earthbound superhero who is more than comfortable in space. These days she’s taken up the role of Captain Marvel and runs Alpha Flight Station, an orbital platform that tries to keep the Marvel universe safe from near constant alien invasions.

Of course in the MCU, since they have yet to get the rights to the X-Men back, most of that isn’t going to happen in the upcoming Captain Marvel movie or in Avengers 4. Instead I expect that there will be a variation of the Nebula moment (given that she’s still alive) and everyone who got killed by Thanos with the snap of his fingers will come back (though Heimdal and Loki are probably dead for good). I’m personally holding out hope that Avengers 4 is going to give us at least a hint that the next big overarching storyline is Secret Invasion.

That’s all speculation naturally. Officially, next up for Marvel movies is Ant-Man and Wasp which takes place shortly before Avengers 3 and Captain Marvel which takes place in the 1990s. It’s going to be a long year waiting for Avengers 4, but I get the feeling it’s going to be worth it.

NOTE: This review was featured in my weekly newsletter, Notes From Table 30. The comments section is for those who want to talk about this review and other content from the newsletter. Not a subscriber to the newsletter? You can do that right here.

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An Open Letter From Sekovia to Joss Whedon

Much has been made of Joss Whedon’s portrayal of Black Widow in Avengers: Age of Ultron, but little has been said about the country where most of the film takes place. It’s almost as if people are pretending it doesn’t really exist.

– Jack Cameron

Here is an open letter from the Office of Public Affairs in Sekovia:
Sekovia

TRANSCRIPT:

From: Office of Public Affairs
Republic of Sekovia

To: Joss Whedon
Marvel
Disney

Dear Mr. Whedon,

The following is an open letter protesting the portrayal of our country and our countrymen in your American movie, Avengers: Age of Ultron. As you know, when we agreed to allow you to film in our beautiful country, we asked that you accurately show our culture, our heritage, and our people. Now that we’ve seen your film, we feel that we were duped.

Despite the long and hard fought history of Sekovia, you treat our nation as if it were some amalgamation of any given Eastern European country. Borat gave more character to Kazakhstan. The only time someone actually talks about our country in your film, she says, “It’s nowhere special but on the way to everywhere special.” Nowhere special? How can you say that about a country that boasts the eight tallest arch in Eastern Europe? Did we not repel invasions from nearby Latveria, not once, not twice, but three times? Does Sekovia not rival Madripoor in underground fighting syndicates? Nowhere special? Sekovia is very special indeed, Mr. Whedon.

It is clear that you made this film specifically to shame the Sekovian people. People will walk away from your film not knowing one true thing about Sekovia but thinking we harbor terrorists and possibly have a gigantic crater where one of our largest towns used to be.

We do not know why you have chosen to attack us in such a fashion, but rest assured that your slights against our country and our people will not be ignored.

I have spoken with our esteemed leader and he has instructed that no movie house in all of Sekovia will screen your movie. Furthermore any future film permits will not be granted.

Sincerely,

What’s Next From Marvel Studios

Guardians of the Galaxy is the biggest movie of the year. Marvel Studios has become the most profitable franchise in history. Millions of people who will never read a comic book are flocking to see these movies and Marvel just announced what movies we’ll be seeing from them over the course of the next five years.

I’m going to go over each of them and my thoughts about them. For those of you wondering where the X-Men, Fantastic Four, or Spider-Man films fit into this, they don’t. Years ago when Marvel was far from a household name, they sold the rights to those franchises to other studios. For more information on that, feel free to click here where I talk about it more.

So what’s next for Marvel?

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May 2015 – Avengers: Age of Ultron
The next Marvel Studios movie is the second Avengers movie. They’ve just released the teaser trailer for this. Everyone (except for Loki) is back for this along with some new faces. Joss Whedon is writing and directing again so the dialog will be snappy and the possibility that a major character might die will be ever present.

For those who don’t know Ultron is an artificial intelligence bent on destroying humanity. In the comic books he was created by Hank Pym, but in this one, it looks like it’s going to be Tony Stark who makes the mistake. In addition to Ultron, other new characters include the Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and the Vision.

Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch were both seen in the after credits sequence in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It’s worth noting once again that this Quicksilver has nothing to do with the Quicksilver in X-Men: Days of Future Past. While both based on the same character, it’s safe to say that Quicksilver and his sister, the Scarlet Witch will have very different origins in Age of Ultron as Marvel can’t use mutants (or the father of the two characters in the comics, Magneto).

The first Avengers movie made over a billion dollars and is still an incredibly watchable movie. I expect much the same will be true about Age of Ultron.

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July 17, 2015 – Ant-Man
This year the big risk from Marvel Studios was Guardians of the Galaxy. It was the first of the Marvel Studios films not to have any major film star or popular comic book characters. Needless to say, the risk paid off. Next year’s big risk is Ant-Man. While a founding Avenger in the comic books, he’s still relatively unknown and after the big action of Avengers: Age of Ultron just a couple of months earlier, Ant-Man is going to seem like a dramatic shift in gears.

For those who don’t know, Ant-Man can shrink to insect size, talk to ants, and grow really big. He does this using something called ‘Pym Particles’ named after their inventor and original Ant-Man, Hank Pym. In the movie he’s played by Michael Douglas while Paul Rudd is playing Scott Lang, who eventually becomes the new Ant-Man.

Originally this was going to be the funny Marvel Movie with Shaun of Dead’s Edgar Wright writing and directing. Unfortunately, creative differences forced Wright to leave. He’s been replaced with Peyton Reed who’s a less original voice but still capable of bringing the funny.

There’s also the question of whether or not Ant-Man might make his debut in Age of Ultron which would definitely help this movie’s success at the box office.

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May 6, 2016: Captain America: Civil War
Winter Soldier is my personal favorite super hero movie and the fact that the same creative team is back for Captain America: Civil War makes me all sorts of excited.

In the comic books, Civil War was a massive crossover in which hero fought hero. Essentially the fight boiled down to Tony Stark and others believing that heroes need to be regulated and registered and Captain America and others feeling otherwise.

Robert Downey Jr. has been confirmed as a costar in Civil War. So it’s clear that the movie will likely follow similar themes. It’s also worth noting that in the comic books, Civil War ended with Captain America getting killed.

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Nov. 4, 2016: Doctor Strange
There’s a lot of buzz about this movie right now because Benedict Cumberbatch is said to be playing the illustrious Dr. Strange. He’s a fine choice and I hope that it turns out that he gets the part. (Though personally I wanted Alan Rickman.)

This will be another risk because it will be the first Marvel Studios movie dealing with magic. They grounded Thor and his magic by basically saying they’re an advanced alien race rather than Gods. It will be interesting to see what grounding, if any, they give Dr. Strange.

It’s been said that this will not be an origin story. This is probably a good idea if only because half of all super hero movies end up being origin stories. It’s too bad though because I like the origin of Dr. Strange. He’s an arrogant world-renowned surgeon who crashes his car and crushes his hands. He then seeks out a new path in Asia and becomes Sorcerer Supreme. Fun stuff.

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May 5, 2017: Guardians of the Galaxy 2

Not much is known about the sequel except that much like the Cap movie, everyone is back again, both in front of and behind the cameras. Given how much fun the first Guardians of the Galaxy was, this one is likely to be even more so since they don’t have to spend time establishing characters. We’ll likely get to see more about Star-Lord’s father and I wouldn’t be surprised if we get a bit more Thanos. After all, so far we’ve only seen two Infinity Stones, and we need six for the Infinity Gauntlet.

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July 28, 2017: Thor: Ragnarok
Last time we saw Loki he was on the throne in Asgard pretending to be Odin. Nothing good can come of this so it’s not a surprise that Ragnarok is the result. Marvel seems to be keeping the solo movies to three movies so it also makes sense to end the Thor trilogy with Ragnarok.

Given how much The Dark World embraced the Thor mythos, we can only expect that Ragnarok will embrace it even more so. The question remains as to whether or not the happenings in Ragnarok will be connected in any way to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or if it will be like the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie where it’s still in the same universe but nowhere  near anything else that’s happening.

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Nov. 3, 2017: Black Panther
Most Marvel Comics originated back in the 1960s at a time when African Americans weren’t even allowed to vote. Diversity in classic superheroes is rare. The Black Panther is an exception. He originally appeared in 1966. Leader of the technologically advanced fictional African Nation of Wakanda, the Black Panther is both monarch and hero. At the press conference today, they announced not only that the character of Black Panther would make his debut in Captain America: Civil War, but that he’s going to be played by Chadwick Boseman.

I’ll be honest, I haven’t seen much of Boseman’s work, though his guest appearance as ‘Flex’ on Justified a few years ago was memorable and so far Marvel’s casting has been spot on. So while I would have LOVED it if Michael K. Williams got the part, I’m still looking forward to Boseman. No director has been announced for this one yet.

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May 4, 2018: Avengers: Infinity War – Part I
Since we first saw Thanos smile at the end of Avengers, the seeds of Infinity War were planted. This was no surprise. The big surprise is that they’re splitting it into two movies. While there was an Infinity War comic book crossover, it’s safe to say that these movies will much more likely be drawing on Marvel Comics’ The Infinity Gauntlet for inspiration.

In the Infinity Gauntlet Thanos kills literally half of the universe with the snap of his fingers (such is the power of all six Infinity Gems together). Needless to say, the remaining heroes show up to stop him. The interesting choice is that they aren’t doing Part II next. There are two movies between Infinity War Part 1 & 2. Do they continue the story of Infinity War or are they entirely separate? What will be their connection, if any? We’re going to have to wait and see.

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July 6, 2018: Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel is a well-used name. Over at DC Comics, it’s the other name for Shazam. At Marvel Comics more than a couple of people have had the title ‘Captain Marvel’. However, at the press conference today they made it clear that Captain Marvel in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is Carol Danvers.

This will be the first solo female hero movie by Marvel Studios and it’s a good choice (though there’s an argument to be made that Black Widow should have had her own movie). Carol’s known for being both Earth-bound and cosmic. It’ll be interesting to see which direction they take it. Perhaps she’ll be part of the glue between the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy.

With the movie only announced today and a release date four years away, almost everything else is speculation.

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Nov. 2, 2018: Inhumans

Over in Marvel Comics, there has been a big push for the Inhumans so it’s not surprising that they’d be featured in their own movie. Inhumans are basically humans that were genetically modified by the Kree thousands of years ago and once exposed the mists from special crystals they manifest unique super powers. In the comics, there was a worldwide bomb set off that caused random people with trace amounts of Inhuman blood to develop powers.

If this sounds a lot like the X-Men, there’s a reason for that. Marvel can’t use mutants, but they can use Inhumans. So this basically gives them the ability to tell whatever mutant stories they might want to tell by using Inhumans instead.

That’s not to say that the Inhumans are mutant ripoffs. They have their own back story and they have some genuinely unique characters. Their leader, Black Bolt has a voice that can shatter mountains. So he doesn’t talk except when using his voice as a weapon. It’ll be interesting to see what sort of actor they get to play a part that’s essentially non-speaking.

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May 3, 2019: Avengers: Infinity War – Part II

Four and a half years from now, the Marvel Cinematic Universe culminates in Avengers: Infinity War Part II. Given that by this time Robert Downey Jr. will be 54 and many of the actors playing other characters might well be tired of playing those characters, there’s a reasonable chance for some major changes.

This will be the end of an era for Marvel Studios and it will mark the start of something new. What comes next after the Summer of 2019 for Marvel is anyone’s guess.

And of course this isn’t even taking into account Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter shows, much less Netflix’s announced Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones, and Defenders shows, all of which also take place in the shared Marvel Universe.

All in all, it’s a great time to be a Marvelite. And as I’ve said before, if you can’t wait five years for all of this, don’t. Get down to your local comic book shop and start reading.

– Jack Cameron

Agents of SHIELD Part 2

CLARK GREGGThis is the second in my two part review of the first season so far of Marvel’s Agent’s of SHIELD television show. If you just watched Captain America: Winter Soldier and want to get caught up, this is the place. Tonight on ABC they’re airing episode 17 again along with 18. So don’t read 17 if you’re going to watch it. Needless to say, spoilers ahead.

S01E11 “The Magical Place”

Since the beginning of the series when someone asks where Coulson went when he died, the word was he went to Tahiti. And whenever he hears that word, he says, “It’s a magical place.” The audience and Coulson’s captors want to know the truth behind that statement. Edison Po tortures Coulson to get it but when he fails to get any information, the Clairvoyant kills him remotely leaving Raina in charge. Raina convinces Coulson to use a device to retrieve his memories because he’s just as interested in finding out what happened as they are. He sees flashes of Dr. Streiten using robots to work on Coulson’s brain while Coulson begs to die. Meanwhile, Victoria Hand and SHIELD work to rescue Coulson. After his rescue, Coulson confronts Dr. Streiten who admits Coulson was dead for days and that he’d lost his will to live until they manipulated his brain with false memories. It’s also revealed that Michael Peterson is alive and implanted with an eye device though he’s lost his leg and sustained other injuries.

This was a great follow up to The Bridge and finally partially answered the big question of the series. How did Coulson who died in The Avengers come back to life? We also learn that apparently the Clairvoyant doesn’t know everything because they know nothing when it comes to Coulson’s resurrection.

 

S01E12 “Seeds”

With the team back together, they go to a SHIELD training facility where a machine is being used to freeze people. Fitz befriends a cadet there named Donnie who reminds him of himself. After helping Donnie out, Fitz finds that Donnie and his friend Seth are creating a giant version of the ice machine in an effort to get the attention of Ian Quinn. Meanwhile, Coulson and May follow a lead on Skye’s origin finding out that 24 years earlier, a SHIELD agent died protecting Skye who was considered an Object of Unknown Origin. Back at the Academy, Donnie and Seth turn on the machine causing all sorts of havoc. A lightning bolt hits the machine and the SHIELD team is able to shut it down, but Seth is killed. Donnie is taken to the holding facility called the Sandbox and secretly now has ice powers. Later Coulson makes a call threatening Quinn. Quinn responds by mentioning that the Clairvoyant says ‘Hello’.

This episode was a combination of ‘anomaly of the week’ and continuing the ongoing plots and it works well. We get the return of Quinn and the revelation that he’s working for the Clairvoyant. We also get another piece of the puzzle when it comes to Skye. And we get yet another villain who gains superpowers and may become a problem later.

 

S01E13 “T.R.A.C.K.S.”

Hot on the trail of Quinn and the Clairvoyant, the SHIELD team infiltrate a train carrying something Quinn wants but are instantly found out thanks to a double cross from their contact named Russo. May kills Russo and the team ends up at one of Quinn’s mansions. In the basement Skye finds Michael Peterson alive in a stasis chamber. Peterson is outfitted with an artificial leg. The leg says ‘Deathlok’ on it. Quinn asks Peterson to prove his loyalty by killing Skye but he refuses. Quinn shoots Skye twice and leaves. The team save Skye by putting her in the stasis chamber to keep her alive. Peterson manages to escape, but Quinn is captured.

This was a major episode for a number of reasons, but one of the big ones is the word ‘Deathlok’. Deathlok is a well known Marvel cyborg. Agents of SHIELD finally has its first Marvel hero. It’s also another episode where a team member is in peril and stays that way through the end of the episode.

 

S01E14 “T.A.H.I.T.I.”

The team arrives at a SHIELD medical facility but they’re only able to stabilize Skye. They realize that the only thing that will save Skye is whatever saved Coulson. They find that Coulson was taken to a place called the ‘Guest House’. Agent John Garrett and Antoine Triplet arrive to take custody of Quinn, but Coulson won’t let him go until Skye is safe. Garret and Triplet join the team as they infiltrate the Guest House facility. They find the drug Skye needs. Fitz brings it back while Coulson further investigates the facility and finds that the drug is derived from a dead blue alien corpse. Unfortunately the place is rigged to implode and Coulson doesn’t get any more time. He races back to stop them from injecting Skye but he’s too late. They’ve injected her and it works. In the final scene of the episode we see someone called Lorelei take mental control of a newlywed man and drive off with him.

The arrival of Bill Paxton as Agent Garrett is a welcome addition to the show. He’s got a genial world-weariness that we expect of a veteran field agent and really seems more like how I thought much of Coulson’s team should have been when the show began. The revelation of the blue-skinned alien source for the miracle drug is a complete surprise though the immediate destruction of all evidence was a little to X-Files-like for my tastes. Still, this episode effectively uses what has come before and moves the plot forward in a big way.

 

S01E15 “Yes Men”

It turns out Lorelei is from Asgard and has the power to sway men just by talking to them. Lorelei soon hooks up with a biker gang and puts them all under her sway. Meanwhile the SHIELD team investigates energy fluctuations consistent with the arrival of an Asgardian. They quickly run into Lady Sif last seen in Thor The Dark World. She is in pursuit of the escaped Lorelei and joins up with Coulson and the others. They catch up to Lorelei at the biker bar but she enchants Ward who leaves with her to Las Vegas where they hook up. The team follows them to Vegas but when they raid Lorelei’s hotel room they discover that with Ward’s help, she’s taken over the Bus. After a brief battle including May and Ward fighting, the team retakes the Bus and Sif returns to Asgard with Lorelei. Later, Coulson tells the freshly healed Skye about the origins of the drug in her system. May gets on a direct line phone and tells someone “Coulson knows.”

This was another episode that brought things in the right direction. Having a secondary character from a recent movie helps increase the interconnectedness of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and adding the intrigue of May secretly reporting to someone else keeps us guessing as to what’s really going on.

 

S01E16 “The End of the Beginning”

After briefly being attacked by Deathlok, Triplet and Garrett arrive with Agent Hand, Agent Blake, and Agent Sitwell on the Bus. Coulson explains that they are going to split into two-person teams and pursue various leads on the Clairvoyant. Coulson grants Skye official SHIELD agent status and has her split the teams. Sitwell is sent away to a tanker in the Indian Ocean at the last minute. Triplet and Simmons stay at the Hub where Simmons is hoping to use their equipment to secretly analyze Skye’s blood. Following their lead, May and Blake are attacked by Deathlok. Blake is seriously injured, but plants a tracker on Deathlok. After the attack, the team decide that Thomas Nash, the supposedly catatonic man May and Blake were coming to see must be the Clairvoyant. They use the tracker and go to an abandoned horse track where Deathlok escapes but they find Nash in a hospital bed speaking to them through computer screens in the room. When he threatens to kill Skye, Ward shoots and kills him. Later Coulson realizes that maybe Nash was not the Clairvoyant. He confronts Ward who denies everything. Meanwhile when Fitz tries to create a secret line to Simmons, he happens upon May’s secret line. Skye tells Coulson about this just as May confronts and tries to shoot Fitz. Before she can do anything more Coulson pulls a gun on her. Then the Bus suddenly changes course and we find that Agent Hand back at the Hub is ordering that everyone on board be killed except for Coulson.

This was arguably the best episode of the series so far, incorporating nearly every character introduced so far in a plot that moves the Clairvoyant story ahead in a big way. There’s also the small nod to Captain America: Winter Soldier when Sitwell is sent to the ship where we find him in the opening minutes of the movie. The Clairvoyant’s identity is still up in the air and Agent May’s loyalty is entirely uncertain. At this point, a show that’s been doing done-in-one, mostly predictable episodes for most of the season is suddenly firing on all cylinders.

 

S01E17 “Turn, Turn, Turn”

In an episode that aired only four days after Captain America: Winter Soldier premiered, everything changes. Garrett joins up with the team on the hijacked Bus after being attacked by drones. Skye discovers a code and deciphers hit learning of the Hydra infiltration of SHIELD. The Bus lands but the team escapes into The Hub before Hand’s people can take them. At this point, Coulson is convinced that Hand is the Clairvoyant. Meanwhile Hand confronts Simmons and Triplet and orders them to swear allegiance to Hydra. When they refuse, she reveals that she believes Coulson is Hydra. Garrett insists to Coulson that they must kill Hand. Coulson notices a slip up on Garrett’s part and realizes that Garrett was the Clairvoyant all along. After a brief battle Garrett is captured. They learn that elsewhere, Nick Fury is believed to be dead and Captain America stopped a Hydra plot. Ward offers to join Hand in taking Garrett to their holding facility the Fridge. On the way there, Ward kills the guards and Hand as it turns out he was working for Garrett all along.

As far as I know, no television show has ever so directly tied into a movie that just came out in theaters. This episode was so much a part of what happened in Winter Soldier that it wouldn’t be out of place on the Winter Soldier DVD. It’s also an episode with a bunch of huge shockers including the identity of the Clairvoyant, the death of Agent Hand and a seeming betrayal by a founding member of the team. Personally, I’m hoping the betrayal is real and not a double-agent sort of thing. This is also the first episode that mentions SHIELD’s classic enemy, Hydra. It must have been frustrating as hell to be handed this show and been told they couldn’t mention Hydra for the first sixteen episodes.

Summary
As the show winds up its first season, there are all sorts of unknowns, not the least of which is whether or not it will be picked up for a second season. After what was admittedly a slow start, Agents of SHIELD seems to have found its footing and isn’t content to just sit there. Here’s hoping the remaining episodes continue the uptick in quality.

–       Jack Cameron

Agents of SHIELD Part 1

ABC's "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." - Season OneIn just a few short years, Marvel has done the unthinkable and created an entire ‘universe’ of characters that spans multiple movie franchises and televisions shows. Marvel’s first attempt at a television show is Agents of SHIELD. What I’m going to do in this article is basically bring everyone up to speed on what’s happened on the show, where we are now, and why I believe it’s one of the most underrated shows on television. In other words, if you watched Captain America 2 and now want to get into a show that heading into the home stretch of its first season, this will catch you up.

Before I get into the individual episodes, I’m going to talk about what the creators of this show had to deal with from the outset:

The Good:
They had the advantage of being a spin off from one of the most successful movies of all time. The Avengers was seen by pretty much everyone. It made over a billion dollars and cost hundreds of millions to make using some of the top talent and special effects in the business. They also had hundreds of thousands of comic book fans.

The Bad:
Television works on much smaller scales and much smaller budgets. Even if they wanted to, they didn’t have the kind of money necessary to have super-powered craziness with huge explosions every week. While they might have a built in audience thanks to the Marvel movies, much of that audience has an unrealistic expectation of the level of special effects that are possible in a television show. Similarly, there are a ton of comic book fans who want to see comic book characters every week and quite a few of them are tied up in licensing or being used in other upcoming movies.

Don’t get me wrong. Agents of SHIELD had its problems starting out that could have been avoided, but the creators also assumed that their viewers would stick around for the whole season to see how things played out. Those of us who have are glad we did.

The Episodes:

S01E01 “Pilot”

In the opening episode we get Agent Coulson who was last seen dead in the Avengers back among the living and running a team that consists of tech geniuses, Leo Fitz and Gemma Simmons (aka FitzSimmons), field agent, Grant Ward, and pilot and secret badass Melinda May. Their first assignment together is going after a hacker group called Rising Tide and investigating a guy named Mike Peterson using some cobbled together technology that gives him superpowers. This was done to him by a group called Project Centipede. Mike is warned by a hacker named Skye that SHIELD is coming for them. Skye is part of Rising Tide. Skye is detained by SHIELD and becomes a reluctant recruit after they save Peterson’s life.

As pilot episodes go, they effectively created some mysteries. (How is Coulson back from the dead? Who and what is Centipede?) And they managed to mention the Extremis technology used in the recently released Iron Man 3. But the introduction of the team members was a bit bland and none of the characters besides Coulson seemed very interesting. Also, the super-powered guy just seemed to be some guy and not a known comic book character.

 

S01E02 “0-8-4”

In the second episode, the team flies to Peru where they meet up with another team led by an old ally of Coulson’s. They track down an “084” or Object of Unknown Origin. In this case it ends up being an old Hydra weapon. Coulson’s ally betrays them and the team use their various talents to outsmart or otherwise beat the other team and gain possession of the object. Later, Skye reports to a member of Rising Tide that she’s infiltrated the SHIELD team. Samuel L. Jackson makes a quick cameo as SHIELD director Nick Fury and warns Coulson about Skye and complains about damage to the plane.

The second episode basically established what an average episode of Agents of SHIELD would be. SHIELD team goes somewhere to investigate something remotely related to something in a previous Marvel Movie, hijinks ensue, SHIELD teams wins. It’s also the first episode where we get a good look at their flying base. Unfortunately, the ‘bus’ as they call it has all the intrigue and style of an actual city bus. This is not the Millennium Falcon.

 

S01E03 “The Asset”

The third episode starts out with some fun as a Dr. Franklin Hall is kidnapped by his former business partner Ian Quinn by using technology that defies gravity. Vehicles go flying and it’s the most interesting special effect so far. The team ends up using Skye to infiltrate a shady party being thrown by Quinn. When they finally get to Hall, they find out he allowed himself to be kidnapped so he could destroy the device Quinn is creating. When Coulson tries to stop him because of the danger, Hall falls into the device. SHIELD puts the device into secure storage without knowing that Hall is still trapped within it.

For comic book fans this was a somewhat interesting episode as Franklin Hall is better known as the super-villain Graviton. And things are certainly set up here for Hall to return as Graviton at another time, but again, it’s not as if Graviton is an A-List villain and technically he didn’t even really appear in this episode.

 

S01E04 “Eye Spy”

This episode had a woman known as Akela who was perpetrating seemingly impossible heists. The team catches up with her and find that she has an eye implant that is giving her orders and has a bomb that will go off if she disobeys. FitzSimmons put together some tech to mimic it and send Ward out to do the job while they work on removing Akela’s bomb. Meanwhile Coulson tries to catch up to the guy behind the orders. Unfortunately, it turns out his lead has an eye bomb of his own and dies before anything can be revealed. They successfully save Akela but remain in the dark on who was behind the plot.

This episode introduces the threat of a new Big Bad. It helps that seemingly anyone might end up with the eye implant but again, long-time comic book fans who have been waiting for a Marvel comic television show were likely annoyed by a plot that seemingly has nothing to do with comic book stuff.

 

S01E05 “Girl In The Flower Dress”

In Hong Kong, a guy with flame powers shows them to a girl in flower dress named Raina. Raina kidnaps him. SHIELD investigates and soon discovers that Raina’s people learned about this guy through Rising Tide. They pick up an old flame of Skye’s named Miles who happens to be another member of Rising Tide. Not trusting either of them, they are both brought to the bus in handcuffs. They raid the Centipede complex where flame guy (now calling himself Scorch) is located. Raina escapes. As soon as Scorch is freed, he attacks the SHIELD agents and they’re forced to kill him. Later, Skye tells Coulson that the whole reason she joined Rising Tide was to find more information on SHIELD so she could find what happened to her missing parents. Meanwhile Raina visits a man named Edison Po in prison and asks him to contact ‘the Clairvoyant’.

While the villain in this was a bit dull, this episode was the first to mention the Big Bad of the series, a mysterious individual known as ‘the Clairvoyant’. It also gave us a central mystery of Skye’s character and her desire to find her parents. So much of these early episodes involved planting seeds. The thing with planting seeds is that it’s not as interesting as what happens afterward. Many of the criticisms of this show have to do with lacking the patience to wait for the long-form storytelling to reveal itself. These aren’t done-in-one episodes. They’re building something.

 

S01E06 “F.Z.Z.T.”

The team investigates a series of strange deaths that turn out to be caused by an alien virus from one of the Chitauri helmets from the Battle of New York. Simmons gets infected with the virus. Coulson disobeys a direct order in order to save here and though a cure works, she almost jumps from the Bus to save the rest of the team not knowing the cure worked. Later Coulson talks with Agent May about his recent physical which showed nothing wrong. He insists he feels different. She tells him that’s only natural given his seeming death.

While putting one of the team members in legitimate danger is a plus, the fact that the team member was out of legitimate danger by the end of the episode lessens the impact. And at this point, the thin reference to the Avengers movie is just that. While it’s nice that they included Agent Blake who was last seen in the “Item 47” Marvel One Shot on the Avengers DVD, it’s not a very good tie in to the rest of the Marvel Universe. The only thing of importance that happens in this episode is that Coulson disobeys a direct order. This is a first and a possible indication of the differences between who he is and who he was before his death.

 

S01E07 “The Hub”

The team arrives at a base called The Hub. We meet Victoria Hand, the director of the Hub. She sends Fitz & Ward on a mission to stop something called the Overkill device. Skye and Simmons try to find out more about the mission and Skye ends up knocking out Agent Sitwell when he catches her hacking into the system. They soon discover there is no extraction plan for Fitz & Ward. They tell Coulson and after a brief confrontation with Hand, they go and rescue Fitz & Ward who successfully stop the Overkill device. Meanwhile Coulson manages to get some information about Skye. She was apparently brought to an orphanage by a young SHIELD agent. He asks May to look further into it. Coulson tries to find out more about his own recovery but finds his access is denied.

This is the first appearance of Agent Hand and the first appearance in the series of Agent Sitwell who was also in Avengers. The episode also helps reestablish the fact that while the team is often on their own, they belong to a much larger organization that they answer to. However, it also reminds us that SHIELD isn’t always the most noble of organizations. While it’s nice to have some progress on the Skye’s parents thing, it’s also not that strong of a plotline. And then there’s the big question of how Coulson came back from the dead. This is basically the biggest mystery of the series and seven episodes in we feel about as frustrated as Coulson himself on the lack of progress on this storyline.

 

S01E08 “The Well”

In a direct tie-in to the recent movie, Thor: The Dark World the team deal with the aftermath of those events in London and go after a hate group that has come into possession of something called an Asgardian Berserker Staff. Whoever wields it becomes consumed with rage. The team gets help from an expert named Dr. Randolf who turns out to be an Asgardian himself. When Ward touches the staff he finds himself consumed with rage and memories of his abusive brother. The team manages to recover the staff and after everything, Ward and May hook up.

They heavily advertised this as a tie-in to the Thor sequel but as tie-ins go, it was a fairly weak one. Not one character from Thor showed up and really this was just mopping up the fallout from the action packed movie. When one of the big hooks of the show is how it’s connected to this larger universe, it was a bit of a letdown. The sudden relationship between May & Ward seems kind of extraneous and there perhaps simply because there was no sex in the show.

 

S01E09 “Repairs”

The team investigate a woman named Hannah who they believe has telekinesis. They soon discover that it’s actually the work of a guy named Tobias who is stuck between Earth and another realm. He’s trying to protect Hannah but the results seem to consistently be violent. Tobias defeats Agent Ward but is talked down by Agent May causing him to disappear into the unknown realm and leave Hannah alone.

There isn’t much to say about this episode. If someone were to point to one episode that justifies some of the disdain some people have for the show, it’d be this one. For the most part, it’s an entirely forgettable episode with nothing of any real interest happening.

 

S01E10 “The Bridge”

Coulson recruits Mike Peterson onto the team, giving the team their first super-powered member after Edison Po is broken out of prison by enhanced Centipede soldiers. The team walks into an ambush and soon find that the Centipede soldiers also have the eye implants they encountered earlier. Raina and others become interested in Peterson because it seems his enhancements have stabilized. They kidnap his son and offer to exchange him for Peterson. The exchange happens on a bridge where it’s revealed that they actually want Coulson. Peterson tries to stop it but it’s too late. The resulting explosion seemingly kills him and Raina gets away with Coulson. Raina tells Coulson they simply want to know how he came back to life.

This was the last episode before winter break and the first cliffhanger episode of the series. It was also a marked improvement from previous episodes. The abduction of agent Coulson makes for powerful drama as he was most of the force behind his team. This was the episode where strings from previous episodes start to matter.

Next Up: In Tuesday’s post I’ll talk about the remaining episodes up to last week’s tie-in with Captain America 2.