Thursday, June 26, 2014

Marvel's live-action universe expands with 'SHIELD'

(June 26, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

“Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD,” the 22-episode TV spin-off of Marvel Studios’ movies, gives fans of the blockbuster superhero films their action-suspense fix, if slowly. The show focuses on a small team under the agency SHIELD (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division), a group of human operatives shining separately from the big, showy sci-fi-fantasy flicks. The show is cocreated by Joss Whedon (“Avengers,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”).

Like many Whedon endeavors, there is an almost-consistent balance between mostly flippant dialogue and intelligent storytelling, although there have been a few misses, episodes that dragged due to various factors. Still, the season-long arcs merge quite fantastically near the end, rewarding those viewers who stayed despite some less-than-stellar chapters.

Lead character Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) heads the 616 SHIELD team, tasked with investigating and analyzing superhuman or extraordinary occurrences. Forming his trusty team are the reliable field agent Ward (Brett Dalton), combatant extraordinaire May (Ming-Na Wen), brilliant science geeks Fitz and Simmons (Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge), and plucky “hacktivist” Skye (Chloe Bennet).
The show expands Marvel’s live-action universe by centering on Coulson, who was slain by Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in “Avengers.” The mystery of his resurrection is very gradually explained, a puzzle that is answered fully by the season’s end.

It utilizes its movie connections wisely by bringing in previously seen characters, played by guests Samuel L. Jackson (SHIELD head honcho Nick Fury), Cobie Smulders (Agent Maria Hill) and Jamie Alexander (the warrior-woman Sif, from “Thor”). But it also is able to create new, interesting main characters of its own, and decent iterations of existing comic book creations.

Events in the “Captain America” sequel, “The Winter Soldier,” have direct and lasting impact on the story lines: The revelation that SHIELD has been infiltrated thoroughly by terrorist Hydra agents gives the series a good jolt, granting viewers the twists they have patiently been waiting for.

The big-budgeted show, while swimming in fancy effects and nicely choreographed punch-a-thons, relies heavily, and benefits greatly, from its dynamic characters, whose loyalties and fortitude are tested by the ordeals in the last few episodes of Season One. In typical Whedon fashion, there’s treachery and trauma, girl power, and heart-wrenching and fanboy moments galore. (De Caestecker and Henstridge, particularly, are really good actors, especially in the season-ender.)

While “SHIELD” started rather unspectacularly but passably, it has gradually become what its creators intended it to be—its own intriguing individual saga that still connects to, and cleverly enhances, Marvel’s tight cinematic mythology.

(“Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD” airs Wednesdays, 8 p.m. on Fox.)

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